Saturday, July 17, 2010

How to Choose a Georgia Watermelon

Watermelon, perfect for a picnic. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Watermelons fresh from the truck by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

In Georgia, we know a thing or two about watermelon. Crisp, juicy, sweet watermelon - green striped exterior, magenta interior. Things like how Cordele, in south Georgia, a drive-by on Interstate 75, is the Watermelon Capital of the World. Just ask any native of Cordele, and they will happily tell you that the best watermelons come from Cordele in the month of June. Is it serendipity that Cordele is the county seat of Crisp County?

Well, here in north Georgia a few weeks into July, good quality watermelons can still be found. Here’s how I choose a watermelon:

1. Find a pick-em-up truck by the side of the road. Look for the signs that read “Two for $5” or “Watermelons $2 each.”

2. Park my minivan and insist the children stay in the car DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING AND BEHAVE FOR 10 SECONDS, PLEASE.

3. Sigh resignedly when the girls insist on getting out of the car and choosing the watermelon.

4. Engage the watermelon guy and remark about what a good year it is for watermelons. All the rain in the spring and hot days in summer.

5. Look over the melons, lift a few and then start thumping. That’s right, go all Ginger Baker on those melons, thumping and drumming, listening for that solid, heavy thrum that means you’ve got yourself a sun-ripened, belly-filling whopper of a watermelon.

6. Act all demure and girlie hoping the watermelon guy will offer to carry the watermelon to the car. Ignore the preschooler who offers to carry the watermelon. Continue to ignore the preschooler who is saying repeatedly “I can carry it! Let me! Let me! Let me!“

7. Carry the melon to the car, trailing baby ducks. Place watermelon carefully in seat, place seat belt around it. Buckle all children into their respective car seats. Admonish everyone to “PLEASE BEHAVE! IT’S ONLY A SHORT DRIVE HOME!”

8. Arrive home and remind the little angels “you know that watermelon is no good unless it's cold, we’ve got to put this guy in the fridge for a few hours so it will be good to eat.”

9. Get all the kidoodles out of the car, and lastly the precious watermelon and heave it into the “watermelon fridge” the extra refrigerator that seems to exist for restaurant leftovers, bottles of IBC root beer, the Thanksgiving turkey in defrost mode and watermelons in the summer. Offer kids popsicles from the freezer.

10. Forget about the melon for a day, maybe two, and then have at it - wash and dry the watermelon first, then cut it in half across the equator. Quarter the halves, then remove the flesh from the rind. If you’re clever, cunning, resourceful or cheap, or maybe have just read “White Trash Cooking” by Ernest Matthew Mickler, then save the rind for watermelon pickles. Otherwise, save it for the compost heap.

We eat a watermelon a week each week from June through July and into August. Mostly, we keep the slices in the fridge and eat them as snacks, but I’ve been known to serve watermelon alongside a supper that may not pass muster with the kids. (“Sweetheart, give me three bites of cauliflower, and then you can have watermelon.”)

I’ve mentioned before that my children are culinary savants - wanting to try strange concoctions that sometimes taste good - a rich double butter peanut butter toast and a sweet-sour marmalade concoction deemed “marmadip” are two memorable inventions. My children’s creativity with food doesn’t come from me, however - I’m a big fan of recipes and cookbooks. They get the inventiveness gene from my husband, who, upon finding out that this week’s Salon Kitchen Challenge category was watermelon, said “You know what I’ve always wanted to try. Now, you’ll think I’m crazy, but hear me out. I want to try making ahi tuni poke with cubes of watermelon.”

This sent me scrambling to Google to figure out what poke is, and it’s not Gumby’s faithful sidekick. It’s pronounced “poh-kay” and it’s a Hawaiian tuna tartare, part of the great fusion of Hawaiian cuisine. Fresh sushi-grade tuna marinated in a gingery, garlicky soy sauce with a wallop of pepper and chile offset by crisp, juicy sweet niblets of watermelon. Well, we gave it a try, and all I can say is that they laughed at Picasso. Maybe, like his 1906 painting of Gertrude Stein about which a viewer remarked that the portrait looked nothing like Stein, Picasso famously responded “she will.“ My taste buds have grown to crave this - all contrasts- sweet, crisp melon; salty, soft tuna.

Watermelon ahi tuna poke by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Georgia -Style Ahi Poke with Watermelon
Tell the nice person at the seafood counter that you’re making sushi and ask for the freshest ahi tuna available and watch them as they go to the back. Be sure to smell the fish before you buy - if it smells even remotely fishy, ask for another fish or go to a different store.

1/2 lb. ahi tuna, cubed

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grated ginger

2 teaspoons green onion

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon sesame seed

¼ to ½ jalapeno, minced no seeds

Salt to taste

½ cup diced watermelon, in pieces the same size as the tuna

1. Combine all ingredients except for salt and watermelon. Taste for seasoning before adding salt. The dish needs a bit of salt, but remember the soy and sesame contribute to the sodium load.

2. Make sure the marinade completely covers the fish, place in a sealable container and put in the coldest part of the fridge for a few hours up to a day. Before serving, fold in watermelon. Serve with chips, avocado, pickled ginger and sriracha, or like me, chip-sized slices of watermelon.
Text and images © 2010, Lucy Mercer

1 comment:

philandlauren said...

this looks awesome! makes us want a nice cool watermelon, esp in theNY heat. And it goes great with tuna.