Around the Table – May 22, 2019

Ode to the Watermelon

So…is it a fruit? Or a vegetable? Or what?
Watermelons grow like fruit and are commonly considered fruit because they are sweet. However, watermelons are known to grow in the garden right next to the corn, squash, and peas. The watermelon is actually botanically classified as a gourd, which family includes the cucumber, squash, and pumpkin.

Go ahead and eat the whole thing!
The sweet flesh of a chilled watermelon is the ultimate warm weather snack. We all typically nibble right up to the rind and then move on to the potato salad. But hold on there a minute! Don’t throw that rind away! Did you know that watermelon rind can be a tasty pickled or candied treat? If you didn’t, this will blow your mind: stir-fried watermelon rind with tamari, grated ginger, a sprinkle of raw sugar and a dash of fish sauce. I’m not kidding. You’ll love it. Even the seeds can be dry-roasted and salted—the perfect snack to munch on while you binge-watch the latest Law & Order marathon.

Drink up to hydrate
A watermelon is 92 percent water, which gives you even more reason to enjoy it! If you enjoy it more with a little vodka or in this delightful Watermelon Mohito from Food & Wine, I have no quarrel with that.

Variety is the spice of life
There are 1,200 known varieties of watermelon. The four major categories are seeded, seedless, or mini or “icebox,” and yellow. Some favorite varieties are:

round, deep red, firm-fleshed, early maturing

Large, seedless, red flesh and deep green rind

Harvest Moon
Oval, dark green with yellow markings (moons), early to ripen

Very large, seedless, deep red color, sweet

Modify your watermelon? No way!
Seedless watermelons are not genetically modified. They are hybridized, and hybridization is a natural phenomenon. (Whew!) As a result, once hard-to-find seedless watermelons are now commonplace. The little white seeds you see in a watermelon are empty seed coats that are perfectly safe to eat.

South Carolina’s own heirloom watermelon: The Bradford
The sweet Bradford was created by Nathaniel Bradford of Sumter County in the 1840s. Because of its soft skin, it was very difficult to transport and became commercially obsolete. The Bradford family was able to keep it going for generations and, thanks to the great, great, great grandson of Nathaniel Bradford, it is now available on the market for you to enjoy.

The humble watermelon…State Vegetable of Oklahoma
The Oklahoma State Senate named the watermelon as its State Vegetable for its contribution to their agriculture, but quite controversially so. It lost out as State Fruit to the already-designated strawberry (likely leading to many an argument and perhaps a bar fight or two). If you happen to find yourself in Oklahoma on the second Saturday in August (and, really, who hasn’t?) be sure to visit the annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival and Rodeo, held continuously since 1948, to watch competitors vie for coveted honors in the seed-spitting contest.

There can hardly be a more perfect food than watermelon—well, at least not one whose seeds are quite as much fun to spit! -Chef Robert Wysong

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