Melon mania: Jazz up Labor Day with watermelon, outside the box

August 22, 2012 11:22:42 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


What summer superstar is green and oval, weighs an average of 15 to 30 pounds and is harvested in quantity on more than 2,400 acres in Mississippi? Watermelon, of course. As the last of the season's locally grown melons come in from the field, this is a good time to say sayonara to summer and juice up a Labor Day celebration with something out of the ordinary.  


Doil Moore of Prospect Produce Farm in Houston is a regular vendor at Columbus' Hitching Lot Farmer's Market and enjoyed a good watermelon crop this year. A warm early spring got the melons -- which generally require 90 to 100 days to grow and ripen -- off to a good start and resulted in many growers' harvests wrapping up a little sooner than usual. 


"But you'll still find watermelon in the store and even at roadside stands. Some will come from Florida, California and Mexico, and you'll have some (local) people still growing," Moore said. 


We looked into Southern Living's "22 Best Watermelon Recipes" to find ideas both sweet and savory, from appetizers to desserts, and even drinks.  


For a stand-out appetizer, blue cheese and salty prosciutto make a tasty combo with sweet melon. Grilling wedges of melon enhances the sweetness and brings out a smoky flavor. Be sure to brush the watermelon with oil to keep it from sticking to the grill. 


A layered melon and mozzarella salad is as pretty to look at as it is refreshing to eat. Layered in a trifle bowl, this makes a colorful, elegant addition to any brunch, luncheon or dinner spread. 


Punch up a traditional fruit salad idea by making a sweet, salty and spicy watermelon refresher. This dish made with peppers, onion, cantaloupe, watermelon, mangoes and more took honors as the 2012 Side Dish Smackdown winner for "Best Surprise." 


Got a blender and ice cream freezer? Then for a flavorful dessert, how about a watermelon sorbet? Better yet, create a rainbow of sorbets made with fruits like pineapple, orange, cherries and strawberries.  


A simple search for Southern Living watermelon recipes will take you to more creative menu suggestions, like grilled grouper with watermelon salsa, beef-and-watermelon stir fry and watermelon-mint margaritas. 




Tune in  


Rick Snyder, a vegetable specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, says consumers can learn to tell how to judge melon ripeness. 


"You can tune your ear to the watermelons," Snyder states in a June Mississippi Crop Report from MSU Ag Communications. "I will usually select five watermelons and slap them with my fingers, and I take the one with the lowest pitch -- you're looking for a low, hollow sound like it has a big empty stomach. We're looking for a bass, not a soprano." 


Even if you're not in the mood to try a new recipe, there's always the tried-and-true, chin-dripping method of savoring the last of this season's local watermelon harvest. Just don't forget the napkins. 




Did you know? 


  • The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt. 


  • Early explorers used watermelon as canteens. 


  • The first cookbook published in America in 1776 contained a recipe for watermelon rind pickles. 


  • According to Guinness World Records, the world's heaviest watermelon was grown by Lloyd Bright of Arkadelphia, Ark., in 2005, weighing in at 268.8 pounds at the Hope, Ark., Big Watermelon Contest. 


    (Source: National Watermelon Promotion Board; 








    3 cups water 


    1 cup sugar 


    4 cups seeded, chopped watermelon 


    1/4 cup lime juice 




  • Bring 3 cups water and sugar just to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Cool. 


  • Process sugar syrup and watermelon, in batches, in a blender until smooth. Stir in lime juice. Cover and chill 2 hours. 


  • Pour mixture into the freezer container of a 1-gallon ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. 


  • Grapefruit sorbet: Substitute 3 cups fresh grapefruit juice and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint for watermelon and lime juice. Proceed as directed. 


  • Pineapple sorbet: Substitute 2 cups chopped pineapple for watermelon and lime juice. Strain and discard pulp after processing mixture in blender, if desired. Proceed as directed. 


  • Lemon sorbet: Substitute 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice and 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind for watermelon and lime juice. Proceed as directed. 


  • Orange sorbet: Substitute 3 cups fresh orange juice and 2 teaspoons grated orange rind for watermelon and lime juice. Proceed as directed. 


  • Strawberry sorbet: Substitute 5 cups fresh or frozen strawberries and 2 tablespoons lemon juice for watermelon and lime juice. Proceed as directed. 


  • Cherry sorbet: Substitute 1 (6-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate, prepared, and 1 (16-ounce) jar maraschino cherries for watermelon and lime juice. Strain and discard pulp, if desired. Proceed as directed. 


    (Source: Southern Living 2003) 






    Prep time: 20 minutes 


    Makes 4 servings 




    3 (1/2-inch-thick) watermelon rounds, quartered 


    1 tablespoon olive oil 


    Kosher salt 


    Freshly ground pepper 


    4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto 


    4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled 


    Fresh basil leaves 


    2 teaspoons bottled balsamic glaze 




  • Preheat grill to 350-400 degrees (medium-high) heat. Brush both sides of each watermelon quarter with olive oil, and season with desired amount of salt and pepper. Cut prosciutto into thin strips. 


  • Grill watermelon quarters, without grill lid, 1 minute on each side or until grill marks appear. 


  • Transfer watermelon to a serving plate; top with blue cheese, prosciutto strips and fresh basil. Drizzle watermelon with balsamic glaze. Serve immediately. 


    (Source: Virginia Willis, Southern Living August 2012) 








    Prep time: 50 minutes 


    Makes 10-12 servings 




    1/4 cup fresh lime juice 


    1 tablespoon turbinado sugar 


    2 tablespoons fresh orange juice 


    1 jalapeƱo or 2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced 


    1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt 


    1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper 


    1 small red onion, diced 


    1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro 


    2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint 


    1 small seedless watermelon 


    1 small cantaloupe 


    2 English cucumbers 


    1 jicama 


    2 mangoes 




  • Combine lime juice and next 5 ingredients. 


  • Place red onion, cilantro, and mint in a large bowl. Dice watermelon and cantaloupe into 1-inch pieces; add to bowl. Peel and dice cucumbers, jicama, and mangoes; add to bowl. Stir in lime juice mixture. Cover and chill 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. 


    (Source: Carolyn Kumpe, El Dorado, California, Southern Living June 2012) 








    Prep time: 30 minutes 


    Makes 8-10 servings 




    3 cups peeled, coarsely chopped fresh peaches (about 1 1/2 lb.) 


    1 (8-oz.) tub fresh small mozzarella cheese balls, cut in half 


    3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil 


    3/4 cup Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing 


    4 cups seeded and cubed watermelon 


    4 cups cubed honeydew melon 


    3 cups sliced fresh strawberries  


    2 cups seedless green grapes, cut in half  


    Fresh raspberries and mint leaves for garnish 




  • Toss first 3 ingredients with 1/4 cup Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing. 


  • Layer watermelon, peach mixture, honeydew, berries, and grapes in a large glass trifle dish or tall glass bowl. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 8 hours. Toss with remaining 1/2 cup dressing just before serving. Garnish, if desired. 


    (Source: Southern Living August 2010)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.