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A la Carte: The Fruits of Summer

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Watermelon is a refreshing treat, and healthy for you as well. PHOTO BY FLOH KEITGEN VIA UNSPLASH

By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST

I’ve never been a fan of the heat. When temperatures rise, I need shade and a breeze, a cool body of water in the immediate vicinity, or someone to fan me with palm leaves and feed me grapes (it’s a paid position — no forced labor here).  I also find it very hard to work up an appetite. And you’re kidding me if you think I’m about to cook a meal inside. 

So what does one turn to for sustenance when the sun’s rays are already baking everything around you? Something light and refreshing, of course… Namely, that king of summer fruits: the watermelon. 

My mind goes back to reunions on the old family farm, where giant watermelons bobbed in a horse trough filled with icy water and anticipation tingled as I waited for someone to cut into a melon so I could feel the cool sweetness on my tongue. I see why Harry Styles likens new love to “Watermelon Sugar.”

And did I mention how good for you they are for you? According to an article touting “The Wonders of Watermelon” on the Mayo Clinic website, watermelon has more of the antioxidant lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Responsible for the red color of the melon, lycopene also lowers risk of cancer and heart disease. Delicious and nutritious, indeed. 

To reap the health benefits while maximizing tastiness, one must first choose their melon. This is an art. The ideal is naturally sweet and bursting with watermelon juice. You may be tempted to find the most perfect, shiny melon with no blemishes. Problem is, some marks on the outer surface are actually clues pointing you to watermelon greatness. The first is the ground spot, discoloration in the place where the watermelon touched the ground as it grew. The ground spot yellows as the melon ripens, so you want your watermelon to have a yellow (not white) spot. Another seeming blemish to look for is the webbing, light brown textured areas that begin to form when bees pollinate the plant. Also known as sugar marks, these indicate a sweeter melon. 

You’re looking for a melon that is uniform in shape and, but with the “blemishes” mentioned above. If two are the same size, go with the heavier one. Shiny is also a no-go; watermelons dull as they ripen to perfection.

I also use sound as a means to make this choice. I am absolutely the person at the grocery store tapping on all the available watermelons. It’s a simple technique that helps determine the water content and ripeness. Give it a quick rap with your knuckles like you’re knocking on a door. If it just sounds like a thud, this is not the melon for you. You’re looking for a watermelon that sounds hollow, hitting your ears with a deep, soothing tone. 

Now you have your watermelon—, what to do you do with it? 

My favorite is pairing watermelon with a bit of cheese. Watermelon could substitute for tomatoes in a caprese salad, layered with mozzarella and basil and topped with a balsamic glaze. It is delightful with a bit of cotija, lime juice and Tajín (the chili lime spice from Mexico). And let’s not forget the dish that inspired me to start experimenting with watermelon combos: Watermelon feta salad. I make mine with lime, onions and copious amounts of mint. 

A somewhat surprising pairing is watermelon and tomatoes. Try adding watermelon to a gazpacho, or create a salad of the pairing with fresh basil and your favorite vinaigrette. 

If you have any left over, drinks are a solid choice. Blend watermelon into smoothies or your daiquiri mix. Boil it up with some sugar water and mint to make a simple syrup, something I tried last month when looking for something to amp up sparkling water and tequila. I now keep a jar of the syrup in my fridge for further drink-making adventures. 

No matter how you slice them, watermelons are a tried and true summer fruit to help beat the heat. And at 92% water, they’re hydrating too. 

Rachel Hergett is a foodie and cook from Montana. She is arts editor emeritus at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and has written for publications such as Food Network Magazine and Montana Quarterly. Rachel is also the host of the Magic Monday Show on KGLT-FM and teaches at Montana State University. 

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