What’s Fresh in August? Wonderful Watermelon
Seeds the day: These watermelons are here to come out and play
By Maddie Bane
Watermelons have a very deep-rooted history in South Carolina, specifically in Sumter County. In 1840 Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford created the Bradford, a sweet variety of the popular summer fruit. In the 1920s they became commercially unavailable due to their soft skin making them difficult to transport. This heirloom variety would have disappeared forever, but luckily the Bradford family continued to grow them in their backyard for several generations. Today they are once again being grown commercially. Celebrate National Watermelon Day (Aug. 3) and the remaining hot months of the year in the Lowcountry with this refreshing fruit. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll be able to track down a Bradford.
How to grow them
If you’re growing your own watermelon, be sure to plant the seeds five to six feet apart in rows that are spaced six to eight feet apart. The seeds need a soil of 60 to 65 degrees in order to grow. Black plastic mulch comes in handy for this, warming the soil quickly. That type of mulch also will provide weed control and will reduce fruit rot. Watering is the most important (hence the name). Roots grow in the top 12 inches of soil, and that’s how far down the water needs to reach. Many factors go into it, but it takes roughly 35 days for the fruit to fully ripen.
How to eat them
Your options are truly wide open. Eat them fresh, grill them, shake them up in a cocktail, make salsa with them, mix a sorbet or a smoothie, freeze icicles. There seems to be no limit when it comes to ways to enjoy this summertime favorite.
Watermelon is loaded with crazy cool stuff. Lycopene, an antioxidant that gives the fruit its red color, can (at least a little bit) shield your skin from those nasty sunburns, the same way it helps protect plants from the sun. It’s also got beta-cryptoxanthin, a natural pigment that has been shown to prevent inflammation in your joints. Don’t be afraid to smear some watermelon juice on your skin either. Mixing one tablespoon with equal parts of Greek yogurt makes for a great face mask. Vitamins A, B6, and C will help keep your skin feeling soft and smooth.
3 steps to picking a good watermelon
- Look it over. Find a firm, symmetrical watermelon that has no bruises, cuts or dents.
- Knock it. Knock on your stomach, forehead and chest. A ripe melon will feel the same as your chest.
- Flip it. You should find a yellow spot on the belly of the melon where it has been sitting on the ground.
Where to find them
- Yellow watermelon from Barefoot Farms (St. Helena Island), available at Lowcountry Fresh
- Bluffton Farmers Market and other markets
- Grocery stores and roadside stands
Where to order them
Salty Dog Cafe
Lowcountry Cooler: Locally cloud-sourced Hilton Head Island vodka with watermelon puree and citrus soda.
Don’t rind if I do
An unusual yet nutritious thing to do with watermelon is to eat the rinds. In China they julienne the rinds and stir-fry or stew them with ingredients like chives, honey, soy sauce, garlic or ginger. In the Middle East the seeds are dried and roasted, just like we do with pumpkin seeds. Pickling the watermelon rinds is also popular in some regions.
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Watermelon summer salad
1 cup watermelon, cubed
1 cup orange slices, halved
1/3 cup radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil vinaigrette
Fresh cilantro, to garnish
Directions  Add watermelon, orange slices, radishes and red onion to a bowl. Pour in vinaigrette and toss to coat.  Add in feta cheese and garnish with cilantro leaves.
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Watermelon & cheese toast
1 container spreadable cheese (garlic and herb)
French bread, sliced
Fresh thyme, chopped
Directions  Toast your bread slices as desired.  Spread on preferred amount of cheese and top off with watermelon slice. Garnish with thyme.
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Chocolate-dipped watermelon
3 cups watermelon, cubed
1 cup melting chocolate, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Almond slices, to taste
Shredded coconut, to taste
Directions  Place cubed watermelon on a lined tray and insert toothpicks into the top of each. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  In a double boiler or in the microwave, melt chocolate.  Dip each watermelon cube into the chocolate. Tap off the excess and sprinkle on sea salt, coconut shreds, almond slices, or a combination of the three. If not serving immediately, be sure to place it back in the freezer.