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From a Food Blog: Watermelon Endures, Even Past the Age of Seed-Spitting Contests

  • With the name of her company, Yummy Yammy, shortened on her vanity plates, Lisa Johnson of Norwich plans to attend the Fancy Food Show in New York City looking for buyers and distributors for sweet potato salsa products. "You can eat sweet potato three times a day and not even know it. That's my goal," she said.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    With the name of her company, Yummy Yammy, shortened on her vanity plates, Lisa Johnson of Norwich plans to attend the Fancy Food Show in New York City looking for buyers and distributors for sweet potato salsa products. "You can eat sweet potato three times a day and not even know it. That's my goal," she said.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com

  • With the name of her company, Yummy Yammy, shortened on her vanity plates, Lisa Johnson of Norwich plans to attend the Fancy Food Show in New York City looking for buyers and distributors for sweet potato salsa products. "You can eat sweet potato three times a day and not even know it. That's my goal," she said.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

In my childhood, wedges of ice-cold pink watermelon, dotted with shiny black seeds, were the before-dark Fourth of July picnic dessert. When the fireflies appeared and the bonfire was glowing, we moved on to sticky, hot, sometimes burned, toasted marshmallows. It was important to eat the watermelon before sunset because we needed to be able to see who could spit seeds the farthest. Even the grown-ups enjoyed the contest and so, spitting, limited to seeds at picnics, was exempt from the general prohibition against it. The distance-spitting competition usually deteriorated into a melee of targeting siblings, rivals and unsuspecting pets.

Late in the afternoon, on July 3rd, my dad would bring home a block of ice. He used an awe-inspiring ice pick to break up the ice for the food cooler, the drink cooler and the metal tub that held the watermelon. For many years, I ate watermelon plain, not even dusted with salt. Watermelon juice dripped from my chin and down my arms. It was sweet, pink, crisp, cool.

Watermelon is an inexpensive fruit loaded with vitamins C and A and is also a source of the anti-oxidant lycopene. Historians believe that it originated in Africa. Today, China is the world’s largest producer. When I was traveling in Shanghai in the summer of 1985, the garbage collectors were on strike. Watermelon rinds were piled 10 feet high in empty lots across the city.

There are more than a thousand varieties of watermelon, ranging from less than a pound to gigantic fruits that weigh more than 200 pounds. Watermelon flesh may be red, orange, yellow or white.

I still love watermelon even though it rarely provides ammunition for spitting competitions or target practice. I have progressed from serving plain chunks of watermelon to serving it sliced and dusted with smoky herbs, and have used it in salads, salsas and drinks. A sprinkle of seasoning and a squeeze of citrus made slices of watermelon sing. Here’s how I did it:

Spicy Watermelon Slices

I trimmed all of the green and most of the white rind from a wedge of watermelon before I cut it into quarter-inch slices. I sprinkled a combination of one teaspoon of chili powder and a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt onto the watermelon that was arranged in one layer on a platter. A generous squeeze of fresh lime juice on top added a finishing zing.

On a warm evening last week, I served colorful watermelon salsa made with both red and yellow watermelon as a cool side dish with grilled chicken.

Watermelon Salsa

I cut two cups of watermelon into half-inch dice and combined it with two tablespoons of thinly sliced scallions, one finely diced jalapeno pepper without its seeds, a handful of chopped cilantro leaves, a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. This salsa is easy to put together and best eaten the day it is made. If I have a red onion in the pantry, I use it instead of the scallions.

Cooling lemonade with frozen watermelon cubes gives pink lemonade a new look without diluting the flavor.

Watermelon Cooler

I put a single layer of watermelon chunks on a foil-lined cookie sheet and froze them. I used the watermelon cubes instead of ice cubes to chill my favorite lemonade. I have also used watermelon cubes to chill fruit punch and seltzer water. I store frozen watermelon cubes in a plastic freezer bag and like to add one to a glass of orange juice at breakfast.

Watermelon has been cultivated since the second century B.C. Although watermelon is not depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics, many watermelon seeds were recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Perhaps he got to be pharaoh because he could spit seeds farther than anyone else.

Carol Egbert lives in Quechee, where she paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com.