Food Friday: Watermelon Reflections


The pleasures of childhood are fleeting. Do you remember spitting watermelon seeds? It was a great past time of mine. Finally I could get my older brother back for for being taller, older and more sophisticated. He could sink a basketball, shoot rubber bands, flip baseball cards and catch pop balls much better than I ever could. But I could aim and deliver a watermelon seed with deadly accuracy. At short range, at least. And sitting on the back steps, keeping the sticky, dripping watermelon juice outside, away from parental oversight, was the perfect spot for getting even. Tempus does fugit. My brother and I are not likely to try to even up the score with watermelon seeds these days. Now we tend to be very kind to one another.

Today there are seedless watermelons. Where is the fun in that? I was wandering though the grocery store today and spotted New Belgium Juicy Watermelon Lime Ale. Again, I must ask, where is the fun?

And now that I am too old to play with watermelon, I must find more adult uses for it. In pursuit of my utopian ideal of not cooking much beyond the necessary nutrients in the summer, I tried out a fantastic recipe from our fabulous culinary experts at Food52 this week. Mr. Friday has suggested that we put it into our meal rotation, so I guess he is a new fan of this watermelon and arugula salad.

We did decide that the Aleppo pepper substitute I concocted was overwhelming, and not to be repeated. The next time I make this salad I will just use a little sprinkle of paprika. I was trying to compensate for not living in the vicinity of a Whole Foods where there is probably an Aleppo Pepper aisle, but our grocery store does not stock such esoteric goods. The internets provided me with an answer – sweet paprika and cayenne combined are supposed to approximate the flavor of Aleppo pepper. Maybe I should have read all the way down to the section about the ideal proportions (4:1) instead of the 1:1 ratio I employed… (1/8 of a teaspoon of cayenne and 1/8 of a teaspoon of paprika – fire-y stuff!) Life is a constant science fair experiment in our house.

We were able to harvest the basil and mint and a few tomatoes from the back porch container garden to use in the salad. Note to self: next season plant tarragon and rosemary. The tiny little plastic shells of those herbs were hideously expensive at the grocery store. Now I am trying to root some. That’s how we got our mint plant – I rooted a couple of leafy stems from our Kentucky Derby Mint Julep episode. And I just got a hydrangea to root. Next year’s garden is going to look swell!

This is my kind of recipe:

Watermelon Gazpacho Salad

4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese, optional
Combine watermelon, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and jalapeno in a large bowl. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt, and cumin; drizzle over watermelon mixture and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour. Sprinkle with cheese before serving, if using. Makes 4

This next recipe violates my basic summer tenets, but perhaps you would enjoy eating something cooked this summer:

Back in my Washington College days we had a legendary Reid Hall party that featured a spiked watermelon. We thought we were so daring and original! At least it was a step up from our Purple Jesus Punch party. Martha never served anything so banal. Here is her spin on spiked watermelon:

Perhaps this is the route my brother and I should take out on the back steps these days:
I’ve even got the homegrown mint!

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.
Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

-John Tobias

About Jean Sanders

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