Monday, July 30, 2012

Eating Omily: What a Melon!

You know how our culture often seems to be ahead of the game: Christmas decorations in November, Spring fashion sales in February?  Well, fruits and vegetables aren't like that.  They take their sweet time, and nothing you can do will put pressure on them to grow any faster.

Which is why now, on the cusp of August, and not June fifth, as some would have you believe, is the height of Summer.  A share stuffed with greens and fast-growing roots has been replaced by all the decadence the vegetable kingdom can offer: round, juicy tomatoes, ponderous eggplants, peaches so sweet you have to shake the honeybees off before you can put them in your bag, tables covered in blueberries and blackberries, summer squash coming out of everyone's ears, and of course, the poster child of summer: watermelon.

Now, anytime I've ever ordered a fruit cup in a restaurant, I've left half of it there, and at weddings and graduation parties, I'm the annoying person hovering over the bowl plucking out grapes, strawberries, and pineapples one at a time.  I don't like melon.

However, as part of my campaign to learn to like to eat everything (curse you, olives!), I picked up a small watermelon on Friday, and carried it home.  I've learned that one of the best ways to get young kids to stop being picky eaters works for grown-ups, too: if you get intimately acquainted with a food, if you're the one that preps it from field to table, and it's nigh unto impossible not to like it.

So I thumped it onto my cutting  board, took my biggest knife, and was immediatly thrilled with the easy give of the melon's flesh once the knife had gone through the rind.  It fell into two bright, icy pink halves, studded with seeds.  One half got carefully removed from it's rind, de-seeded, and chopped for fresh eating, and the other half got mostly the same treatment, but was then plunked in a blender with water and sugar.  The first half was tossed with chopped roasted, salted almonds, and curls of aged gouda cheese for a light, refreshing lunch salad, served with buttery bought-that-day-at-the-market corn on the cob.

After sucking translucent pink juice from four pounds worth of watermelon rind, I proceeded to devour at least half of the watermelon salad (and the sad remains the next day with my fingers, in front of the fridge), and learned something new: watermelons are like tomatoes: If you think you don't like them, it's because you've only ever had the sad kind picked rocked hard and transported to parts unknown before being gassed to give it the right color.  Of course tomatoes and watermelons taste shitty when treated so poorly!  These sugary fruits need to be left in the warm sun, and allowed to come of age on the vine, and in that delicate condition, they can't be transported far.  You're only going to find watermelon like this, sweet and pink as bubblegum, at your farmer's market.

But whatever happened to the watermelon relegated to the blender??  Glad you asked.
Ladies and gentlemen, watermelon granita.  Sweet and pink as bubblegum?  Try cotton candy!  And if scooping it into a glass and eating it weren't satisfying enough, pouring a shot of rum or tequila over it turns it into a slushy, frozen daiquiri or margarita, just like magic!  I'm pretty sure I've named about five different concoctions as the perfect summer drink in 2012 alone, but seriously, this might be it.

Take your time de-seeding your watermelon before it goes in the blender, but don't drive yourself crazy either; they're perfectly edible.  For half a four pound watermelon, I put in a quarter cup of water, and something like 1/3 cup sugar.  In terms of flavor, you can do without it entirely I suspect, but it does help to maintain the granita texture by not allowing it to freeze solid.  The recipe I was working off of (which came from, as all my preserving recipes do, Put 'em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton) called for one four-five pound watermelon, half a cup water, and one cup sugar.  Your call.

Blend the ingredients all together, and then pour them in a shallow baking dish.  Slide the dish into your freezer, and every twenty minutes (or less often if you're willing to put some serious elbow grease into it) pull the pan back out and stir or scrape the mixture so it doesn't freeze solid.  When it's ready, scrape it into a container with a lid, and keep it in your freezer for up to six months.  It will need to sit at room temperature a bit so it can be stirred back to its snow cone texture before enjoying...unless you're impatient like me and don't mind picking it up piece by piece and sucking it into oblivion.

It's not even August yet, and we can count on our favorite Summer treats to keep hanging out at the market into September.  Stop trying on jackets for Fall, and go strike while the weather's hot at your Farmer's Market!

~em


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