By Sherrie Norris
Mark Twain had the right idea about many things, and in particular one of my favorite summer treats. Twain has been quoted to say, “When one has tasted watermelons, one knows what angels eat.” I have to believe that is true.
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.
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 remembered 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 in Russia for thousands of years, and eventually made their way to America by way of Africa.
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 last year alone. 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 the fruit 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.
3 cups watermelon balls, chilled
4 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbs. mayonnaise
½ cup whipping cream
1 ¼ cups diced celery
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup pecans
Blend cream cheese with mayonnaise until fluffy. Whip cream to soft peaks and fold into cream cheese mixture. Add celery and bell pepper to make dressing. Place watermelon balls in dessert glasses and spoon dressing over top. Sprinkle with pecans.
May add sugar to dressing for a sweeter salad.
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 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 fruit in half the watermelon shell; toss lightly. Chill covered until ready to serve. Pour chilled lemon-lime drink over the fruit; serve immediately.
4 cups watermelon cubes
4 small paper cups
4 popsicle sticks
Remove seeds from watermelon cubes and puree in blender. Pour into cups. Place sticks in cups and freeze until firm. To eat, tear paper cup from the frozen pop.
Quick and Easy Watermelon Pie
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 oz. (half container) refrigerated non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
¼ cup lime juice
2 cups watermelon balls
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
1 1/3 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 chopped pecans.