July 29, 2009 4:07:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
One bite into a cool, crisp wedge of watermelon takes us back in time. We''re kids again, parked at a picnic table or barefoot in the back yard, melon juice running down our chins, trickling between our little fingers. And we don''t have a care in the world.
When it comes to summertime treats, the taste and texture of the weighty wonder is near the top of the list. Every Aug. 3, the big fruit is honored with an unofficial National Watermelon Day. Although not a Congress-sanctioned holiday, many melon lovers nevertheless embrace the opportunity to celebrate.
While many of us are happy tackling a good old-fashioned watermelon with nothing more than two hands and a salt shaker, the National Watermelon Promotion Board wants us to know the plump fruit can be used in more ways -- and at different times of the year -- than we may have thought of before.
With more than 1,200 varieties grown worldwide, the melon can be obtained in almost any season, for a price. Flesh can be red, orange, yellow or white, and sizes can range from one pound to more than 200 pounds. (Guinness World Records certified a 268-pound whopper grown by the Lloyd Bright family of Hope, Ark., as the record holder in 2006.)
A good melon
Watermelon grower Johnny Gilmer, of Caledonia, says it sometimes takes a lot of thumping and watermelon cutting to learn when the fruit is at its peak. Practice makes perfect when it comes to developing gifted ears.
"When you thump them, you want to hear a pretty good hollow sound -- but not too hollow," Gilmer advised. The latter part of August generally signals the end of the best melons, he adds.
Since watermelons are approximately 92 percent water, they should feel heavy for their size. The Old Farmer''s Almanac tells us a melon is ripe when there is little contrast between the stripes. An unripe melon will have a white bottom; a ripe one will have a cream- or yellow-colored bottom. Avoid those with soft spots, bruises or cracks.
To your health
The hydrating watermelon is the lycopene leader in fresh produce, having higher concentrations of the antioxidant than any other fruit or vegetable. Low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol, it can be part of a healthy heart food plan and is a good source of vitamins A, B6 and C.
Creative recipes for the luscious melon abound on the Internet. Several from the National Watermelon Promotion Board (www.watermelon.org) are included here. But whether you''re feeling adventurous in the kitchen, or prefer your refreshing watermelon in simpler form, visit the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market, your favorite roadside stand or your grocer soon for this summer delight.
Whipped cream or light frosting
Berries of choice (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
SOUTHWEST SALSA BOWL
One round seedless watermelon
Dry erase marker
Utility knife or carving knife
Ice cream scoop or other large spoon
Fire & Ice Salsa
Chips, jalapenos, cilantro and lime for garnish
(Serves one to two)
1 cup watermelon purée
1 teaspoon grenadine syrup
Juice from one fresh orange
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups ice cubes
WATERMELON RASPBERRY JALAPENO SALSA
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup fresh chopped scallions
One clove fresh minced garlic
One or two minced seedless jalapeño peppers (to taste)
1 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 cup minced watermelon
8 ounces light cream cheese
Whole grain crisp flatbreads or crackers
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.