Friday, September 4, 2009

The Last Watermelon Days of Summer

This August we didn't eat as much watermelon as I'd hoped with all of that mess and cutting–but were encouraged by a study in July that said that watermelon actually boosts metabolism because it is arginine-rich.
We still have some held back in the mud room that we can refrigerate and enjoy throughout the month. Most Old Order Mennonite farmers in Casey County grow acres of watermelon and cantaloupe to sell at their produce stations, auction and even Walmart: cantaloupes (or "mush melons" as they are often called here, and they do get mushy–for more on how I found that out, read here) are picked in July and watermelons throughout August. It seems that watermelon is just a part of summer and here in Kentucky they grow them big and in abundance. There is nothing like getting a watermelon fresh out of the patch, throwing it in the fridge or on the cellar floor, and eating it whole hog.

This was the second year that we helped with the melon harvest at our friends' farm. Mostly my husband and boys–but I did a bit of melon washing and some of the noon dinners–and Henry often drove the horse-drawn wagon as he did last summer, too. August arrived hot and humid after a cool and rainier June and July (which actually had affected some of the melons) so the shady shelter of their sorting shed was welcome.

I've heard that in meteorological world that the seasons are divided as follows: September-November (Autumn), December-February (Winter), March-May (Spring), June-August (Summer). This seems to jive more with our weather patterns although, light levels aside, summers are long in Kentucky and winters are shorter and more like one extended New England November. With Labor Day weekend upon us, I wanted to blog about watermelon and savor, a bit, our August days spent harvesting and eating it.

Enjoy this last official weekend of summer with your friends and family. Around here it seems to be a traditional family reunion and homecoming time, which makes me rather envious and homesick for something, apart from my immediate brood, that I no longer have in the real kinfolk sense of things. So embrace your loved ones and hold them close as you hunker in for a fall and winter ahead or send your wee ones off for another year of school or college–but first make sure to have one last wedge of watermelon! [And to my dear departed Dad, a Happy 73rd birthday and I hope the heavenly choirs were in full tilt today and that your celestial organ is cranking.]

What follows is a series of photos on the watermelon process–from field to bin–as well as a recipe from a friend for "Watermelon Coolers." There are also some poems (so don't forget to scroll all the way to the bottom of this blog posting for those extra goodies).

There was a favorite poem about watermelons that Mrs. Ann Royce read to us in middle school English (and that we had to write an essay about, I'm almost certain) back in the mid-1970s at St. Patrick's School in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and where I attended for 7th and 8th grade after moving from Ohio. Perhaps you, too, remember reading the poem in your English class?

This was the title poem to an anthology of poetry for young adults, Reflections On A Gift Of Watermelon Pickle (published in 1967 and still in print after all of these years–I have just ordered one for our son Henry's 12th birthday in November and one more for another friend's son). According to the book notes, Tobias' poem was originally published in the New Mexico Quarterly in 1961. I remember how that book helped bring the power of poetry to me for the first time: the revelation of how words, when combined, can be like luscious pairings–a good recipe. And watermelon can still bring out the child in all of us. [NOTE: The photos of our two boys, with a friend, below were taken in May 2006 at our house in New Hampshire–a perfect early summer day with friends...but I'm guessing the watermelon was an import!]

Reflections of a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity
by John Tobias

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite;
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

You might also remember this poem from the same anthology:

How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam

Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.

It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

"Watermelons ruled...
Thick imperial slices

Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part...

...The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other..."
[from The Gift of Watermelon Pickle by John Tobias]

"Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin."

[from How to Eat a Poem]

And finally, here is an easy recipe for Watermelon Coolers that my friend Rosemary sent along. They are light and refreshing. Sugar is optional as is the extra addition of water which I found made it a bit too liquid. You could also add rum, gin or any bit of clear alcohol or ginger-ale in place of the water:
  • 3 cups diced watermelon (preferably cold)
  • 2 Tbsps. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp sugar (optional, or add sweetener)
  • 1 cup crushed ice (or throw in a few cubes)
  • 1/2 cup water (this, too, is optional)
Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and garnish with fresh mint sprig or lime wedge. Makes 4 cups or two big servings.

Summer in a glass! Farewell!


Anonymous said...

I recently found your blog and I absolutely adore it. So much good stuff!

I am also a transplant from Jaffrey to below the Mason Dixon - my family and I have lived in a small town in West Georgia, - outside of Atlanta - for the past six years.

I love, love learning about all of the things you share in your blog, and am always thrilled when you mention Jaffrey. Even all of these years later, I miss it; treasuring the trips home. I didn't go to St. Pats, but I did work at Tower, Bean & Crocker which is located directly across the street. I don't even have to close my eyes to see either!


Teashop Girl said...

Wonderful post. I just had some watermelon today and I'm happy to find out about its metabolism-boosting benefits!

Francis Bell said...

WOW-great site-I really enjoyed the pictures !! Thanks for brightening my day! Francis