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 galore.
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 Beginning in late June, 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.”