The Watermelon on the Side of the Road
Watermelon means summer, right? I know they are available (though not very good) all year round now, but what is more summery than ice-cold juicy watermelon? Pink juice dribbles down your chin, and even your mama doesn’t mind too much when you spit the seeds.
When I was a kid at summer camp, we used to have races in the pool with a big ol’ watermelon, teams trying to bat the melon down the length of the pool. When I was old enough, and purely legal mind you, we would spike a melon. That is to say, cut out a plug and stuff a bottle of vodka or rum in the hole to soak in, then we’d eat the slices. This skill put me in good stead both at college in Connecticut and at grad school in England.
In the summer in the South, the best watermelons come from the side of the road. Men in well-worn pickup trucks pull up on country highways and sell big, striped green watermelons from the bed, just picked out the patch that morning, still warm from the sun. I can’t always find one of these watermelon men when I need a melon, but I search them out and always stop when I see a sign, handwritten on a piece of cardboard box.
Though big slices of watermelon are still my favorite way to chow down, I also love those carved watermelon baskets full of little balls of melon, though I can’t imagine myself ever taking on such a project. When I have a wedge of melon in the fridge, the chunk leftover after a party or a piece I cut and put by for myself, I tend to just pop off a chunk with a spoon every time I open the fridge until there’s nothing but some dog-eared rind left. But I have gotten somewhat more sophisticated, frequently mixing cubes of bright pink watermelon with salty feta cheese and fine green mint picked from the garden. And when I am really feeling fancy, I make this magnificent cold soup.
Southern Summer Gazpacho
4 pounds seedless watermelon, rind removed, cut into chunks (about 7 cups)
½ cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup blanched slivered almonds
3 garlic cloves
4 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a blender, place the mint leaves topped by the watermelon chunks and puree. This may need to be done in batches. Strain the watermelon puree through a wire mesh strainer into a pitcher or large bowl, scraping on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible and to remove any stray seeds.
In the blender, puree almonds, garlic, red wine vinegar and salt. Tear the bread into small chunks and place in blender with about 1 cup of watermelon puree. Puree until smooth, adding olive oil in a slow steady stream and watermelon puree (as much as the blender will hold). Pour this gazpacho mixture into the remaining watermelon puree and stir until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves 6 – 8
Feel free to add a splash of white rum or vodka
8 cups chopped watermelon, with seed removed
one 12 ounce can frozen pink lemonade concentrate, undiluted
juice of two limes
2 (25 ounce) bottles lime flavored sparkling water
In a blender, process watermelon and lemonade concentrate until smooth. This may need to be done in two batches. Pout puree into pitchers. When ready to serve, stir in sparkling water. Serve immediately over ice. Garnish with lime slices.
Makes 14 cups