Ode to Watermelon
Our celebration of the summertime gourd in words, recipes and festivals.
According to South Carolina’s Watermelon Board, plantation owners in the 1800s grew watermelons in the sweltering summers as a means of hydration. The pink-fleshed vegetable contains 90 percent water and also served as food, animal feed and fermentation for alcohol production. Today, the state’s watermelon harvest begins in May and lasts through August. Other Southern states also embrace and celebrate the watermelon during the summer months. The Sugartown area of Louisiana in Beauregard Parish is famous for its melons, while the town of Mize, Mississippi, has been holding its annual Watermelon Festival for 34 years. Alabama has its own Watermelon Association, complete with a queen as its spokesperson, as does Florida. We met a representative from the National Watermelon Promotion Board at Food Blog South in Birmingham earlier this year and were inspired to create our own ode to watermelon. When a Texas poet sent in a poem about melons, we knew it was a go. Enjoy!
A poem by Gregory Luce
January in Washington:
I catch a scent
blink and it’s Dallas
in July my grandparents’
deep green Bermuda grass
brilliant at 10 a.m.
already too hot to do anything
but search for garter snakes
in the shade of the house
and scratch for worms
in the dirt next to the shed
then my grandmother
calls me in for lunch
and after it’s too hot
for even a nine-year-old
boy to play outside
so I make domino forts
and bombard them
with poker chips
then crawl onto the sofa
and read until the
cartoons come on
and finally my grandfather
gets home and it’s dinnertime
fried chicken or pork chops
with greens and potatoes
and biscuits and afterwards—
Gregory Luce was born in Texas and still resides below the Mason-Dixon line in Washington, D.C., where he works for the National Geographic Society. He is the author of two chapbooks, “Signs of Small Grace” and “Drinking Weather.” His poems have appeared in Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Juke Jar, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, Buffalo Creek Review and in the anthology, “Living in Storms.” To find out more, visit his blog or follow him on Twitter @dctexpoet.
Watermelon Rind Pickles
8 cups water
2 Tbsp coarse salt
5 cups peeled watermelon rind (leave a thin layer of pink), cut into 1/2 x 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp colored peppercorns
8 pieces whole cloves
1/2 tsp pickling spice
2 pieces long slices fresh gingeroot
In a large pot, bring water and salt to boil over medium-high heat. Add rind pieces and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain. Transfer rinds to a large metal bowl. In a saucepan, combine sugar, cider vinegar, peppercorns, cloves, pickling spice and gingerroot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer for 15 minutes, until slightly reduced. Pour over watermelon rinds in bowl. Place plate over top to keep rinds submerged in liquid. Cover and refrigerate for one day. Transfer to a glass jar and keep sealed in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Makes about 4 cups.
Pink Watermelon Chardonnay Sparklers
Combine ingredients in a wine glass and serve immediately. Serves 1.
*To make the watermelon puree, remove seeds from fresh watermelon and cut into large chunks. Place in a blender and process until smooth and well pureed.
Watermelon Glazed Mini Barbecued Meatballs
24-36 frozen, prepared mini meatballs
1 cup prepared barbecue sauce
1 cup watermelon puree* (see above)
Heat the oil in a large heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat or electric skillet set on 325 degrees. Sauté the mini meatballs until browned and hot. Reduce heat to low. Mix together the barbecue sauce and watermelon puree. Pour over the meatballs and simmer for a few minutes. Serve hot. Serves 6-8.
2 thick slices of bread (your choice), toasted
2 Tbsp pesto sauce
2 slices cheddar cheese
1 2/3-inch thick slice seedless watermelon, about the same size as the bread
2 thin slices of tomato
4 slices cooked crisp bacon
2 butter lettuce leaves
Spread the pesto over one side of each slice of toast. On one slice of toast, stack the cheese, watermelon, tomato, bacon and lettuce on top of pesto. Place the other slice of toast, pesto side down, on top of the lettuce. Cut in half and enjoy. Serves 1.
Carytown Watermelon Festival – August 5 in Richmond, Virginia
DeLeon Peach & Melon Festival – August 7-11 in De Leon, Texas
6th Annual Watermelon Festival – August 9 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Hope Watermelon Festival – August 9-11 in Hope, Arkansas
Cave City Watermelon Festival – August 9-11 in Cave City, Arkansas
Franklin County Watermelon Festival – August 17-18 in Russellville, Alabama
Winterville Watermelon Festival – August 22-25 in Winterville, North Carolina
Yoakum County Watermelon Roundup – September 1 in Plains, Texas
Monroe County Watermelon Festival – September 1 in Tomkinsville, Kentucky
Photo credits: All photos, except the Winterville Watermelon Festival logo, courtesy of the National Watermelon Promotion Board.