Watermelon picking tips
› Spots. The large white spots on the underside of watermelons are called “field spots,” and reveal where the watermelon rested on the earth while growing. The spots vary in color, from pale white to deeper shades of beige/gold. Aim for gold.
› Shape. Did you know watermelons have a gender? “Male” watermelons are longer and more oval, while “female” watermelons tend to be rounder. Male watermelons are often juicier, while females are typically sweeter.
› Size. A watermelon should feel heavy when you lift it. Otherwise, it may indicate that the juicy flesh has dried out.
› Stalk. To determine ripeness, look at the watermelon’s “tail.” A dried stalk indicates a ripe watermelon. If the stalk is green, the melon was harvested too early and will not be ripe.
› Webbing. A brown, spider-web-like pattern on a melon indicates the number of times bees touched the flower. The more webbing, the more pollination. The more pollination, the sweeter the melon.
› Sound. Give your melon a tap. If the melon is juicy and ripe, it will give off a dull, hollow sound. Overripe or unripe watermelons won’t let out the noise.
Consider the humble watermelon: Regarded as both a fruit and a vegetable, watermelon can be found in more than 1,200 varieties — and there are almost as many ways to enjoy it. And did you know that both the rind and the seeds, which are making a comeback, by the way, are edible?
Restaurants offer watermelon as a garnish, in a salad and in specialty cocktails. It can be paired with a salty cheese or used to make a salsa.
At Stir inside the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex on Market Street, they use watermelon pulp in a seasonal Watermelon Margarita they are now offering. General Manager Don Lyle says "it's a really popular cocktail" because it's so refreshing.
"It's made with Altos Tequila Blanco, fresh lime, fresh-cut watermelon and our shaved ice," he says. "It's good stuff."
Bradleigh Dunn, general manager at Bitter Alibi on Houston Street, used watermelon to create a syrup for a cocktail she made for campmates at Bonnaroo this past June.
"I'm going to make a gin and tonic version of it for the bar," she says.
Her Bonnaroo version mixed watermelon with apple cider vinegar and sugar for the syrup and then added gin, soda water and aloe liqueur and poured it over ice to complete the drink.
July is National Watermelon Month, and specialty grocer The Fresh Market reports that its 160 stores will stock more than 300,000 pounds of watermelon during the month. Stores, including Chattanooga's Gunbarrel Road location, will be offering free watermelon samples this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, July 13-14, between noon and 4 p.m.
Watermelons, which were first grown in southern Africa but can now be found in 96 countries, according to facts.net, are not only refreshing but are good for you.
"Watermelon is super hydrating, making it ideal for a hot summer's day. Because it is made up of about 92% water, it also means it's lower in calories. One cup contains about 46 calories," says Meghan Flynn, registered dietitian and director of communications at The Fresh Market. "Watermelon gets its red color from the antioxidant lycopene, which studies show may promote heart health."
Do you miss the good old days of when working your way through a slice of watermelon the size of a hubcap meant spitting out the seeds? Vic Savanello, vice president of produce merchandising at The Fresh Market, says that seeds are having a resurgence.
"Seedless watermelons were born out of convenience, but believe it or not, watermelon with seeds are making a comeback this summer," he says.
"[Seeded watermelons] are actually hard to find on the market nowadays," he says. "The ones we are bringing into our stores are double the size of seedless watermelons, and I personally think have a superior texture and slightly sweeter flavor. Plus, there is the nostalgia factor. Who doesn't remember having seed-spitting contests as a kid?"
Savanello says Southerners who grew up putting salt on their watermelon might like a new twist.
"In the South, it is traditional to sprinkle salt on your watermelon, and we've seen this trend translate in the culinary world with chefs pairing watermelon with salty cheeses like feta or grilled halloumi," he says.
For a simple summer salad, he suggests a mix of arugula, watermelon, feta cheese and mint, along with a balsamic vinegar glaze.
Grilled Halloumi With Watermelon and Pistachios
Halloumi, a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese usually made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk, has a high melting point so it can easily be fried or grilled.
Time: 10 minutes
1 quarter seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into wedges
1 (8- to 9-ounce) package halloumi
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
3 tablespoons mint leaves, finely chopped
2 limes, cut into wedges
Prepare outdoor grill to high heat. Clean grill grates well, and brush with canola oil.
While grill heats, place watermelon slices on serving platter. Open halloumi and lay flat on cutting board. Slice 7 or 8 1-inch pieces. Place halloumi on grill, and cook undisturbed until lightly charred, 1-2 minutes per side. You want to just warm the cheese through; if it begins to melt, remove from heat. Place warm halloumi on top of watermelon.
Drizzle watermelon and halloumi with honey, top with pistachios and mint. Serve immediately with lime wedges.
— Recipe from The Fresh Market
Spicy Watermelon and Berry Salsa
Sweet and spicy go hand in hand. Watermelon pairs nicely with spices like jalapeño.
Time: 40 minutes
2 cups finely chopped watermelon
1 cup finely chopped strawberries
1 tablespoon jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
Stir together all ingredients in a large bowl. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature before serving. Serve with tortilla chips or cinnamon sugar pita chips.
— Recipe from The Fresh Market
Watermelon Gazpacho With Feta Créma
This easy summertime soup, a modern twist on gazpacho, substitutes watermelon for most of the traditional tomatoes.
Time: 45 minutes
4 ounces crumbled feta
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups chopped watermelon
1 large ripe tomato, cored and quartered
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Combine feta, sour cream and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes.
Combine watermelon, tomatoes, onion and bell pepper in a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped, about 10 times. Transfer to a large bowl, and add salt, pepper, oil and vinegar. Stir well, and let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes.
Mash feta into small pieces using a potato masher, and whisk mixture well. Divide soup between bowls, and serve with a dollop of feta crèma.
— Recipe from The Fresh Market
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.