As if to advertise summer itself, supermarkets all over America flaunt pool-size cardboard watermelon bins out front. Sure the fruit they’re heaped with is an emblem of summer picnicking, but how often are those melons good? Picked underripe or stored too long, watermelons can be bland and mealy. But grow your own, or buy from a farmer who knows their fruit, and you end up with watermelons totally deserving of their summer icon status.
The key to getting a good watermelon is buying one harvested when it was truly ripe. Unlike commercial growers, who clear-pick an entire field in an afternoon, small farmers like Ben Lucero, who grows watermelons (along with some of the West Coast’s best tomatoes and strawberries) in California’s San Joaquin Valley, pick melons from the same vine continuously over the long California season, stretching from July through October. Lucero grows several varieties, but his favorite? The deep-red hybrid called Sangria.
Whatever variety you choose, these recipe ideas will give you inspiration when you find your melon languishing half-eaten in your refrigerator.
WATERMELON JUICE WITH FLEUR DE SEL
One of the simplest things to do with watermelon (besides eating it straight off the rind): a slushy-textured purée, whose sweetness is enhanced by a little salt.
This cocktail recipe (pictured) takes the previous idea a step further: Watermelon purée is mixed with sugar, cherry-pit-flavored maraschino liqueur, and beer. This should make even beer-haters come around.
Soju—the Asian spirit distilled from grain or sweet potatoes—keeps a low flavor profile here, letting sweet watermelon (and spicy ginger liqueur) rise to the top. Serve at your next backyard Korean barbecue or casual hors d’oeuvres party.
WATERMELON, TOMATO, AND KALAMATA OLIVE SALAD
In this pretty, classic summer salad, watermelon, ripe tomatoes, and cucumber are tossed together to provide a sweet contrast to the vivid Mediterranean flavors of salty, tannic Greek olives and ricotta salata cheese.
Watermelon adds a surprising (and delicious) sweetness to this reworking of the classic tomato-based cold soup. A garnish of basil oil is a nice herbal complement to the lush fruit.
DRUNKEN WATERMELON POPS
Part garden-party elegant, part frat-party festive: semifrozen cubes of watermelon macerated in a mixture of vodka, Chambord raspberry liqueur, and seeds from a whole vanilla bean. Cooling, tasty, and stimulating.
Photographs by Chris Rochelle / CHOW.com