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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Watermelons: It’s What the Angels Eat

By Sherrie Norris

Mark Twain had the right idea about many things, and in particular one of my favorite summer treats. He once stated, “When one has tasted watermelons, one knows what angels eat.” I have to believe it.

And nothing says “summer” better than a big juicy watermelon. With its deep pink flesh, slick black seeds and thick green skin, the simple, sweet watermelon has been enjoyed for centuries around the world.

We have certainly eaten our share of watermelons this summer, and are loving that our grandchildren seem to enjoy it as much as we do.

History tells us the first recorded harvesting of watermelon was about 5,000 years ago in Egypt, where watermelons were grown and regarded not only for their flavor, but for their beauty, as well, and often depicted in early paintings.

From Egypt, watermelon’s popularity spread with traders who sold the seeds along Mediterranean routes as they made their way into Italy and Greece.

In later years, watermelon was lauded for its sugary flavor, which intensifies in hotter climates, like those in China.

By the 13th century, the harvesting and eating of watermelon had spread into the rest of Europe. Apparently, the word “watermelon” first appeared in the English language at around 1615, according to John Marianis who tell us in his book, “The Dictionary of American Food and Drink,” that watermelons have been cultivated not only in the middle East, but also in Russia, for thousands of years.

Food historian John Egarton, relates in his book, “Southern Food,” that the United States acquired its love for watermelons from the African slaves who brought it along as they first made their way across the Atlantic Ocean, in addition to okra and sorghum.

  1. S. President Thomas Jefferson grew watermelons at his home in Monticello, in Virginia and, during the Civil War, the Confederate Army split watermelons and boiled them down as a sweetener for their food. Watermelons were also once called “August Hams” in the South because of the time of their harvest and their large size.

In the United States today, watermelons can be found growing in 44 states with California, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona ranking as the country’s top producers, averaging about 819 million pounds annually. There are currently about 50 varieties grown in the US and Mexico and over 500 worldwide. The US ranks fourth in worldwide production, after China, Turkey and Iran.

Watermelon vines seem to have circled the globe from their origins thousands of years ago, and today remains one of the most delectable summer treats found anywhere.

Slice it, slurp it, eat it by the chunk . . . just make sure you get all you want while it’s available!

For the best results when choosing a watermelon, look it over good, make sure it’s free of bruises, cuts and dents. It should be quite heavy. Underside should have a slightly yellowish color, though the remaining rind should be a dark, shiny green.


Frozen Watermelon Cups

4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon

6-oz. can frozen fruit punch concentrate, thawed

2 cups lemon-lime soda

Place watermelon cubes in a blender and blend into a smooth puree. Pour into empty ice cream maker. Add punch and soda. Stir until well blended. Freeze for about 2 hours and stir vigorously. Continue to freeze until slushy consistency. Serve in paper cups.


Watermelon Fruit Shake

1 (8 oz.) container lemon yogurt

2 cups cubed, seeded watermelon

1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled

1 medium banana, peeled and sliced

In blender, process yogurt, watermelon, strawberries and banana until smooth and frothy. Serve immediately. Serves 4.


Watermelon Fruit Fantasy

1 watermelon

1 cantaloupe

2 bananas

1 can pineapple chunks

1 (12-oz.) bottle lemon-lime carbonated drink

Cut watermelon length-wise; scoop balls from center with melon scoop. Halve cantaloupe; remove seeds. Scoop balls from cantaloupe. Cut bananas into bite-size pieces. Drain pineapple chunks. Combine fruits in half the watermelon shell; toss lightly. Chill covered until ready to serve. Pour chilled lemon-lime drink over the fruit; serve immediately.


Quick and Easy Watermelon Pie

1 can sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup lime juice

2 cups watermelon balls

4 oz. container refrigerated non-dairy whipped topping, thawed

1 (9-inch) graham cracker crust

Fold together milk and topping. Add lime juice. Fold in watermelon balls, reserving about 5 balls for a garnish. Pour into graham cracker crust. Place remaining watermelon balls on pie to garnish. Chill for 2 or more hours before serving.


Watermelon Salad with Celery-Nut Dressing

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped

11/3 cups celery, thinly diced

3 cups watermelon balls, chilled

Bright green lettuce leaves

½ cup pecans chopped

Beat cream cheese with mayonnaise until smooth and fluffy. Fold into whipped cream; add celery. Arrange watermelon on salad greens and top with celery-cheese dressing. Sprinkle with chipped pecans.