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APPLE TIME

September 25, 2016
apples

Clare and I live in the home built by my grandfather in 1937, just after the Great Depression. Soon after Mammy and Pappy moved here they planted an apple tree in the backyard near the railroad track. By the time I was old enough to climb the tree, the branches bore delicious apples every fall. The apples from that tree were not bright red, market pretty. In fact, I doubt that many other children would have been interested in the knotty yellow fruit with brown splotches. But I knew what would happen to the ones I picked. Mammy would make the best lattice-top apple pie the world has ever known. I am almost sure there will be apple pie topped with ice cream in heaven.

Before the American Revolution, William Mills planted fruit trees and became the first apple grower in Henderson County, North Carolina.  In 1782, Asa and Samuel Edney married the Mills daughters. The Edney brothers were among the first settlers in the community east of Hendersonville that bears their name. Edneyville was soon known as the core of the North Carolina apple industry.

The tree in the backyard was gone before our family moved into the old home place. In the fall, Clare and I enjoy driving to the Blue Ridge Mountains to buy apples. At our favorite roadside stand, we have found up to thirty different varieties. The fruit ranges in color from deep burgundy to red to green to yellow. Beautiful even to a colorblind man! We have found dessert apples and baking apples, apples tart and apples sweet.

Each year in early September, the town of Hendersonville hosts the North Carolina Apple Festival. The good folks of Saluda, just a few miles to the south, hold their own celebration. In the mountains of North Carolina, the expression “Let’s talk about apples” means, “Let’s forget about our troubles and think about something pleasant.”

The ancestor of our domestic apple is native to the mountains of Central Asia. A major city in the region where apples are thought to have originated is called Alma-Ata, or father of the apples. Descendants of the original wild apple trees are still found in the mountains along the border between China and the former Soviet Union.

The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated. Apples have continued to be an important food in many parts of the world. Apples can be stored for months while still retaining much of their nutritive value.

There are more than 7,500 known varieties of apples. The delicious fruit can only be grown in temperate climates. The trees will not flower without sufficiently cool weather.

Many old cultivars have excellent flavor, often better than most modern varieties. These old-fashioned apples are still grown by home gardeners and farmers. Their conservation efforts continue the tradition of John Chapman, an American pioneer. For more than fifty years, he roamed the Midwest. He earned his nickname, Johnny Appleseed, by planting apple trees across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Apples as a fruit or as a symbol are everywhere. They have played an important role in science and medicine. Sir Isaac Newton, upon witnessing an apple fall from its tree, was inspired to conclude that a similar universal gravitation attracted the moon toward the Earth as well.

A leader in the development of cyber technology, Apple Computers adopted the apple as a logo for their company.

An old proverb attests to the health benefits of the fruit: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Research suggests that apples may reduce the risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. Like many fruits, apples contain vitamin C, as well as a host of other antioxidant compounds. They may also assist with heart health, weight loss, and cholesterol control. The chemicals in apples may protect us from the brain damage that results in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Clare and I both have fond memories of our grandfathers peeling an apple with a pocketknife. The skill was to shave a thin layer of apple skin in a long, continuous curved strip without breaking it. It is a feat that I have attempted on the backporch with my own grandchildren. I find it amazing that children can be so entranced by the curls of an apple peel. Once the trick is completed the children enjoy eating the peeling. Then I slice the apple into wedges, and we eat those together.

“Let’s talk about apples,” may be the way southern mountain folk try avoid discussing troubles, but in history and in myth, apples have often been at the center of trouble.

Though the forbidden fruit mentioned in the book of Genesis is not identified, popular tradition has held that it was with an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to disobey the Almighty. As a result, the apple became a symbol for temptation.

The larynx in the human throat is called the Adam’s Apple. The origin of the name came from the notion that it was a chunk of the forbidden fruit sticking in the throat of Adam.

Swiss folklore holds that William Tell courageously used his crossbow to shoot an apple from his son’s head, defying a tyrannical ruler and bringing freedom to his people.

Snow White, the fairytale princess, slept in a deep coma induced by a poisoned apple, a gift from her wicked stepmother.

On the other hand, the apple has been identified as symbol of love and affection. Venus is often depicted holding an apple.

In the legend of King Arthur, the mythical Isle of Avalon is the Island of Apples.

According to Irish folklore, an apple peel, pared into one long continuous ribbon and thrown behind a woman’s shoulder, will land in the shape of her future husband’s initials.

An apple is a traditional gift for a beloved teacher.

In Ancient Greece, a man throwing an apple to a woman was a proposal of marriage. If she caught the fruit, it meant she accepted the proposal.

When I was a boy, there was an old apple tree in the yard of an abandoned farm house down a dirt road beyond our house. In the autumn of the year, the ground was littered with rotten apples. Apple fights, spontaneous frays, were great fun. Late one September afternoon, beneath the old apple tree, the battle was joined. All went well until a buddy of mine threw a rotten apple at me. I ducked.

The apple sailed over my head and toward his girlfriend. It was certainly not a marriage proposal, and she didn’t catch it. The rotten apple hit her in the face! As you might imagine, my buddy was no longer the apple of her eye!

THE ELECTION AND MARK TWAIN

September 18, 2016
mark-twain

“Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain.  Someone once asked my grandfather whom he was going to vote for in a presidential election.  His comment was, “I’ve hardly ever been able to vote for anybody.  I almost always have to vote against somebody.”

Many of us feel the same way this time around as an important election approaches   in November 2016.   The presidential political contest is serious, yet, in some ways, it is comic. The comedians of America have played a significant role in the campaign that precedes the election. The candidates have been the subjects of stand-up routines and half-hour satires. They have appeared on late-night talk shows. “Saturday Night Live” features regular spoofs of both Democrats and Republicans.  Comedy has been a significant force as voters make their decisions.

Beginning in the year 2000 Time magazine has published a special issue. In the past “The Making of America” series has featured Lewis and Clark, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. This year, 2016, the magazine featured Thomas Edison. The seventh annual issue featured Mark Twain, the first American writer to achieve the kind of fame normally accorded presidents and generals. Read more…

THE PLIGHT OF HONEYBEES

September 11, 2016
honey-bees

Last Christmas, I received a quart jar of local honey from a friend who is a beekeeper. The sweet elixir came with a block of honeycomb. My friend expressed a concern. “I’m worried about my bees,” he said. “Something is killing them.” His concern reflects a nationwide problem. Honeybees are disappearing.

These last days of summer are alive with activity in the insect world. I personally have seen more butterflies and bumblebees than I have seen honeybees. My beekeeper friend made an unusual request. “If you hear of anybody who has a problem with a swarm of bees invading their home, please call me. I need to replenish my hives.”

Over the last ten years some commercial beekeepers in the United States have lost 90% of their colonies. Dr. Mike Hood, Professor of Entomology at Clemson University, has been following the epidemic known as colony collapse since 2007. Honeybees have been in decline since 1950. At first this was attributed to an increase in the use of pesticides. Now, bees are disappearing at an alarming rate, and scientists don’t know why. Agricultural production across the United States depends on these tiny workers. Crops from almonds to apples to avocados depend on the insect. Read more…

BOILED PEANUTS

September 4, 2016
Boiled Peanuts ii

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter assigned each of her students to do a report on a scientist. That day when I went by the lumberyard on my way home from school, I saw a paper bag of boiled peanuts that had been placed on the counter. While my grandfather and I ate goobers, I told him about Mrs. Fairbetter’s assignment. Pappy suggested, “Kirk, you ought to do a report on George Washington Carver. He’s a fellow who did more with peanuts than anybody.”

I learned from a biography of George Washington Carver that this former slave became a scientist and discovered three hundred uses for peanuts. A teacher with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute, Caver devoted his life to conducting research projects connected with Southern agriculture. His work revolutionized the economy of the South by liberating it from dependence on cotton. Carver suggested that peanut derivatives could be used as adhesives, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, fuel briquettes, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, meat tenderizer, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving cream, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder, and wood stain, to name a few.

So many uses, but the best use is to eat them, boiled, roasted, parched, dried, fried, salted, or unsalted!

I am the eldest of eight children. Dad and Mama were the proud grandparents of forty-five grandchildren. When we have a family gathering, it is a big event. Even when some cannot attend, we still have a crowd.

Clare and I attended a bridal shower and potluck supper for a niece and her fiancé.  The buffet table was laden with an abundance of many of our favorites. My brother Bill, who drove from Eastern North Carolina, brought ten pounds of boiled peanuts.

My family gathered around to shuck and suck boiled peanuts. Inevitably, somebody’s eyes are bigger than their stomach. They gobble enough goobers to make themselves ill.

Soon my sister Mamie was moaning and groaning after eating a double ration. “Sorry you’re feeling bad,” someone sympathized.

“It’s okay. It’s kinda’ like having a baby. The joy of the experience more than makes the pain worth it.”

She should know. Like her mother before her, she’s the mother of eight. Mamie really likes boiled peanuts!

Several years ago, Clare and I hosted a passel of guests over the Labor Day weekend. Most of our visitors came from places north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Other than a family member from Nashville, Tennessee, and Clare’s brother, Ben, who lives in Maine, we had a house full of Yankees.

Ben has deep roots in South Carolina. When he returns to this part of the world, he starts drooling for Southern cuisine. By the time he arrives in the Palmetto State, he is ready for delicious, salty boiled peanuts.

We placed a bowl overflowing with the delicacy on the coffee table in our den. Ben helped himself. So, too, did several of the others who were completely unfamiliar with boiled peanuts. Bless their hearts! Ben gave a demonstration to the uninitiated, showing them the fine art of sucking goober peas, which is a little like eating raw oysters on the half shell. You just let them slide around in your mouth a second before gulping them down.

Some of our guests enjoyed them; others turned away in disgust, saying, “Those things are so gross!”  By bedtime the bowl was empty.

Peanuts have long been a Southern staple. A handful of salted peanuts funneled into a glass bottle of RC Cola, Pepsi, or Coca-Cola makes a concoction my Uncle Will called Dixie Drizzle. A paper bag of parched or roasted peanuts is perfect at a baseball or football game. But hot peanuts, boiled to perfection, are the crème de la crème of Southern snacks.

My father-in-law, Mr. Jack, had great success raising peanuts in his spacious garden in Leesville, South Carolina. My mother-in-law, Miz Lib, parched a good many to serve as snacks. She also kept a good supply of boiled peanuts in her freezer for those times when Ben returned home from places too far north and too far away.

Peanuts require a long, hot growing season. They need a well-drained, light, sandy soil with plenty of organic matter. The soil should be loose, not clayish and hard. Soils in the Sandhills and Lowcountry area are excellent.

The peanut is a legume. The flowering plant produces underground pods that contain the delicious seeds. Peanut plants have been in continuous cultivation for over 3500 years. They originated in South America and were carried to Africa by early explorers. Traders took them to Spain and North America. In the Colonial period peanuts were used as food aboard ships because they were cheap and of high nutritional value.

The peanut comes in four varieties.

Virginia peanuts have been grown in the eastern region of the United States since the establishment of the Jamestown colony. Virginias, also called big whites, have the largest kernels and are the most commonly sold snack peanut.

Spanish peanuts have a smaller kernel with red skin. My grandfather had a peanut machine at the lumberyard. Deposit one penny in the slot, turn the knob, and a handful of red Spanish peanuts magically dropped from the glass globe into your waiting hand. A nickel would buy an ice cold Coca-Cola, the perfect companion for the salty redskins.

Because of their high yields, Runners are the most dominant variety in the United States. Grown commercially throughout the Deep South, most runners are used for peanut butter and peanut oil.

The Valencia variety features a bright red skin and small kernels. Valencias are sweet. Though excellent when roasted in the shell, they are even better when boiled.

No one knows just why Southerners started boiling peanuts, a folk practice in the South since the nineteenth century. In late August, when the peanut crop came in, surplus peanuts were boiled. Extended family and neighbors gathered round to share the feast of goober peas, a name derived from the African word for peanut, nguba.

At one point, they became a necessity. After Union General William Tecumseh Sherman marched through Georgia, the Confederacy was split in two. Rebel soldiers were deprived of much needed supplies. In order to feed the Army, the Confederate government provided peanuts, which the soldiers boiled over their campfires. A well-known folk song tells the story.
Sitting by the roadside on a summer’s day

Chatting with my mess-mates, passing time away

Lying in the shadows underneath the trees

Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas.

 

Just before the battle, the General hears a row

He says, “The Yanks are coming, I hear their rifles now.”

He looks down the roadway, and what d’ya think he sees?

The Georgia Militia cracking goober peas.
I think my song has lasted just about enough.

The subject is interesting, but the rhymes are mighty rough.

I wish the war was over, so free from rags and fleas

We’d kiss our wives and sweethearts, and gobble goober peas.

 

Late summer into early fall is prime time for boiled peanuts. In the Southern clime, roadside stands or pickup truck peddlers offer bags of the tasty treat. For the last twenty-seven years, the town of Pelion has thrown a Peanut Party every August. The local Ruritan Club boils nearly 130 bushels of peanuts.

Like okra, black-eyed peas, collard greens, grits, and pork barbecue, boiled peanuts are indigenous to our Southern culture. Much like a fish fry, a pig picking, or a Lowcountry shrimp boil, a peanut boil became a social occasion.

Last Saturday our family celebrated a birthday for our grandson at a neighborhood pool. Carl Bostick is our son Kris’ father-in-law. Not only do Carl and I share three grandchildren, we both enjoy good food. Carl brought a big bag of boiled peanuts to the party. While other adults and children enjoyed a cool dip in the swimming pool, the two grandfathers – Carl and I – like our confederate ancestors, sat in the shade and feasted on good old goober peas.

PEACHES IN THE UPSTATE

August 28, 2016
gaffney-peach

In early June, Clare and I purchased the first peaches of the season, a cling variety grown in Spartanburg County. Last week, we had late season O’Henrys, one of the best South Carolina varieties. Sun-kissed peaches are delicious and nutritious, and good for you. A tree-ripened peach is soul food.

The first bite of a fresh peach tastes exactly the way summertime is supposed to, sweet and flavorful with juice dribbling down your chin. In my case, a double chin.

The peach is the state fruit of South Carolina and Georgia. Georgia is known as the Peach State. South Carolina produces more peaches than any other Southern state. Whatever corner of the Palmetto State you visit, you’ll find roadside stands selling peaches.

Across the Upstate, you see green hills covered with peach orchards. Abbott Farms, Belue Farms, Cash Farms, Cooley Farms, Cotton Hope Peach Farm, Fisher Orchards, Gramling Farms, Peach Country, and Ragan Orchards all suffer from an occasional spring freeze. Some years the peach crop has been greatly diminished by weather-related causes. This year there are plenty of peaches!

The South Carolina Peach Festival in Cherokee County has become the premier summer event in the Upstate. From an inauspicious weekend in 1977, the Peach Festival has grown into the current extravaganza. The Festival first gained national attention in 1978 when volunteers prepared the World’s Largest Peach Pie.

In 1981, the largest of all peaches was unveiled. A one million-gallon water tank, the Peachoid, located along Interstate 85, serves as the gateway to South Carolina.

The South Carolina Peach Festival salutes the peach industry with concerts, sporting events, a parade, truck and tractor pulls, and delicious peach desserts.

At Cooley Springs on Highway 11, travelers find an oasis. Strawberry Hill offers, not only ripe red berries in spring, but also blushing peaches in summer. The stylized peach shed features fresh produce most of the year. When Clare and I are cruising, Cooley Springs is a favorite stop.

James Cooley, a recent Farmer of the Year honoree and a third generation peach grower, has an establishment that is the epitome of Southern hospitality. Visitors are greeted as if they were friends and neighbors. While members of the Cooley clan and other employees wait on retail customers, James will probably be on his forklift, loading pallets of peaches on tractor trailers headed for markets across the southeast.

The peach is a fuzzy fruit that comes in many varieties of either yellow or white flesh. The nectarine is a non-fuzzy cousin.

The scientific name persica derives from an early European belief that peaches were native to Persia. The consensus now is that they originated in China, and were then introduced to Persia and the Mediterranean region along the Silk Road.

The peach was brought to America by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century. In Queen Victoria’s day, many a meal was made complete with a fresh peach presented in a cotton napkin.

Although Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello, farmers in the United States did not begin commercial production until the nineteenth century. Today, peaches are second only to apples as the largest commercial fruit crop in the States.

I was reared enjoying Upstate peaches. I can still recall my dad and granddad reciting a simple rhyme when they saw one of us kids eating a juicy fresh peach.

Peaches, Peaches,

My nose itches.

Yonder goes a boy with a hole in his britches.

Miz Lib, my mother-in-law, made peach jam that was the perfect companion to her melt-in-your-mouth, made-from-scratch, biscuits.

I still enjoy fresh sliced peaches on breakfast cereal or as a companion topping to a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese. Better still, are peaches served with vanilla ice cream. My dad made the very best homemade peach ice cream. Not to be outdone, my mother made the best peach cobbler in the world. Though her original recipe probably was slightly different, the one below is close.

MAMA’S PEACH COBBLER

The Filling

8 fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced into thin wedges

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons cornstarch

 

The Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/4 cup boiling water

 

The Sprinkle Topping

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. For the filling, grease a 2 quart baking dish with butter. Combine peaches, almond extract, and lemon juice into the greased dish. Try to retain as much of the peach juice as possible.
  3. In a separate bowl mix 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch.
  4. Pour into the baking dish stirring to coat peach slices evenly.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
  6. For the crust, in a large bowl mix 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter pieces with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in water until just combined.
  7. Remove peaches from oven, and drop spoonsful of batter mixture over the hot peaches.
  8. For the topping, in a small separate bowl mix together 3 tablespoons white sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  9. Sprinkle over the top of the entire cobbler the sugar and cinnamon mixture.
  10. Pop the baking dish back into the oven.
  11. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  12. Serve this peach cobbler warm with vanilla ice cream.

 

I’ll make you a promise. If you eat enough of this peach cobbler, you, too, can have peach juice dribbling down your own double chin.

THE PIANO MAN

August 26, 2016
PIANO MAN

I attended the meeting of the Rotary Club of Spartanburg. Being a member of the group, I enjoy good friends, good food, and consistently good programs. Dave Zabriskie, a local banker who is also a Rotarian, usually plays a grand piano while the rest of us enjoy a delicious meal.  As I ate and talked with friends seated at the table with me, I noticed that Dave was playing a familiar tune. It was written and recorded by Billy Joel. The song, “Piano Man,” brought to mind a story I remembered from nearly ten years earlier.

On April 7, 2005, an unidentified man was picked up by police as he was wandering the streets in Kent, in England. Dressed in a suit and tie, he was soaking wet. He was unresponsive to their questions, remaining silent. The police took him to Medway Maritime Hospital.

There, he was presented a pen and paper by the hospital staff in the hope he would write his name. Instead, he drew a detailed sketch of a grand piano. When they took him to a piano, he played music of various types ranging from classical music by Tchaikovsky to pop tunes by The Beatles. He played for four hours.

He was admitted to the psychiatric unit and dubbed the Piano Man by the hospital staff.

The name given the troubled man came from the lyrics of the song by Billy Joel.

Sing us a song, you’re the piano man.
Sing us a song tonight.
Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody,
And you’ve got us feeling alright.

The Steinway Company has brought some of the world’s great pianists to America.  Vladimir Horowitz, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Arthur Rubinstein, and Jan Paderewski are among the most famous.  Today, Steinway artists include Van Cliburn and Billy Joel.    The Steinway Company wants their pianos to be played.  Any visitor to Steinway Hall in New York City may sit down to play.

Wishing to encourage her young son’s interest in the piano, a mother took her boy to a Paderewski concert at Steinway Hall.  After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. Seizing the opportunity to explore the concert hall, the young boy left his seat and made his way through a stage door.
The houselights dimmed. The concert was about to begin. The mother returned to her seat and discovered that her child was missing. The stage curtains parted. Spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway Grand Piano.

Horrified, the mother saw her son sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

At that moment, Paderewski made his sweeping entrance. Quickly moving to the piano, he whispered in the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.”
Then leaning over, the master pianist reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part to the boy’s simple tune. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child as he added a running treble counterpoint.  Together, the old master and the young boy transformed an awkward situation into a creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.

It is an important message of hope, a word of encouragement for every person in a difficult circumstance.

“Don’t quit. Keep at it. You are not alone.”

ICE COLD WATERMELON

August 21, 2016
WATERMELON II

Last week Clare and I took an afternoon to cruise the blue line highways of the Upstate. We made a special effort to find good homegrown tomatoes. We stopped at several roadside stands and found delicious heirloom tomatoes at several of our favorite places. We also found a few figs, an abundance of late summer peaches, and early fall apples. At every stand we saw watermelons. In one place they were advertised as ice cold.

My mother was allergic to watermelon. Even a small spill of the sticky pink juice on her kitchen counter caused her to break out in hives, so we never had watermelons in our home. You no doubt have heard the wise old saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” In our family that was the gospel truth.

As far as I know it is next to impossible to eat watermelon without the juice running down your chin and off your elbows. If we had watermelon at all it was in the backyard where everything contaminated by watermelon drippings could be washed away with the garden hose.

My brothers and sisters and I were, of course, exposed to watermelon in other circumstances. Most of our cousins enjoyed the summertime fruit and looked forward to a big wedge of watermelon with the same anticipation as a cone of homemade peach ice cream.

Elaine was one of my classmates at Cooperative Elementary School. Her birthday was right after the beginning of the new school year. She invited every student in Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter’s fourth-grade class to her party.

Even though I was scared of girls, Mama said I had to go to Elaine’s party. She was our neighbor. Not going to her party would be rude. Reluctantly, I went. There were thirteen girls there. I was the only boy who attended.

I guess Elaine’s daddy felt sorry for me. He told me I could help him cut the watermelon. That was just fine with me. I liked watermelon, and I didn’t like girls. Turns out the girls were too prissy to eat watermelon. Elaine’s daddy said I would have to eat the whole thing by myself. I ate as much as I could. I got as sick as a dog. I have never liked watermelon since that day.

Summer is watermelon time. Roadside produce stands have bright green melons prominently displayed, tempting passersby to stop. Watermelon season extends well into September.

Charles Fredric Andrus, a horticulturist at the United States Department of Agriculture Vegetable Breeding Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, set out to produce a watermelon resistant to disease and wilt. The result was the Charleston Gray. Its oblong shape and hard rind made it easy to stack and ship. Its adaptability meant it could be grown over a wide geographical area. It produced high yields and was impervious to the most serious watermelon diseases.

Today, farmers in approximately 44 states in the U.S. grow watermelon commercially. Almost all varieties have some Charleston Gray in their lineage.

Carolina Cross, a variety named for the state, has green skin and red flesh. About 90 days from the planting of seeds, fruit between 65 and 150 pounds is ready to harvest. Carolina Cross is the variety of watermelon that produced the current world record weighing 262 pounds. It was grown in 1990 by Bill Carson of Arrington, Tennessee.

A cold slice of watermelon on a muggy summer day hits the spot. It is not uncommon for such an occasion to be followed by a seed spitting contest. There are two categories in seed spitting proficiency – distance and accuracy.

I remember a hike to Dead Horse Canyon with several of my buddies. The garden behind our house included a watermelon patch. We picked one medium sized fruit that was ripe. We had to cross a creek on the way to the Canyon. In order to get the melon cool, we floated it in the creek. One of the guys thought it should be submerged all the way under water. Where a wild cherry tree grew on the creek bank, we pried loose a root and pinned the watermelon under the root beneath the surface of the water.

After a hot messy dirt clod flight in Dead Horse Canyon, we stopped by the creek to enjoy our cool watermelon. Something had eaten holes all through the ripe red fruit. Crawdads were crawling around inside the tunnels made through the flesh. My best guess is that a muskrat had his fill of our watermelon leaving the rest to the crustacean critters. We left it floating in the creek.

Watermelon is as nutritious as it is delicious. Though it is 92% water, the red flesh is packed with vitamins and minerals. The deep red varieties of watermelon are loaded with lycopene, an anti-oxidant that protects the heart and prostate, and promotes skin health.

Citrulline is among the phyto-nutrients found in watermelon. It has the ability to relax blood vessels, much like Viagra does. It can help those who need increased blood flow to treat angina, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems.

Red juice running down his chin, a lad took the last few bites of a piece of watermelon.

“Save me the rind!” his friend begged.

“Ain’t gonna’ be no rind!”

The inner rind of the watermelon, usually a light green or white color, is commonly pickled in the South. The rind is edible, has a unique flavor, and contains many nutrients. Sometimes used as a vegetable, the rind can be stir-fried or stewed, as well as pickled.

Recipe books have an interesting array of serving ideas. Watermelon salsa is a summer garnish. A carved watermelon can become a basket for fruit salad or centerpiece for a party. The sweet red juice can be made into watermelon wine.

Two fellows, both unsuccessful in business, were out of work. It was early summer and they needed to find a way to make some money.

“Let’s sell watermelons,” one suggested. “I have a pickup truck. We can go to Charleston and buy a load of early watermelons. Then we can haul them back up to Spartanburg and sell them before the grocery stores have any.”

“Great idea!” his friend said. “I have a cousin in Charleston who can tell us where to buy them.”

Off to the Lowcountry they went. They bought a truckload of watermelons at a bargain – two for a dollar.

Back in the Upstate, they sold every watermelon at fifty cents apiece.

When they tallied up, one said to the other. “Not counting the cost of gasoline, we broke exactly even.”

After a thoughtful pause his business partner responded, “You know what? We’ve got to get a bigger truck.”