Among the many glorious things about summer is the abundance of fresh, juicy watermelons that beckon from supermarket bins and farmers market tables.
Nothing quite hits the spot on a hot summer’s day like a cold slice of watermelon, and even if you’re holed up in an office somewhere wishing you were at the pool or the beach, a bite of fresh melon can do wonders to brighten your day and get you in the spirit of the season.
Watermelons are generally available from early May to September, but they’re at their peak from mid-June to late August, and Louisiana-grown melons are just starting to make their debut this week.
While the unseasonably dry weather of the past month has been a problem for some crops, area watermelon farmers say it’s been a blessing for them.
“The key to getting them really sweet is no rain,” said Frank Fekete, who’s hoping to yield 2,500 watermelons this summer from his fields at Fekete Farms in Hungarian Settlement near Hammond. “If they get too much water just before you pick them, it dilutes the flavor and can lead to rot.”
Most Louisiana-grown watermelons belong to one of two varieties, Jubilee or Starbright, both of which are known for being sweet and juicy. Granted, all watermelon varietals make that claim, but Fekete said the varietals grown for large supermarket chains are more designed to last a long time than to taste super fresh.
“The ones the big chains buy from Texas and Mexico are grown for shelf life, not sweetness,” he said. “They do last longer but they don’t taste as good.”
Whether you buy Louisiana watermelons or those grown elsewhere, either is good for you, especially in the heat. That’s because watermelons, as their name implies, are 92 percent water, which makes them a natural hydrator. They’re also a good source of vitamins A and C: A two-cup serving contains about 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance of those vitamins.
What’s more, watermelons are fat free, cholesterol free, very low in sodium, and full of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from damage. Granted, they do contain a lot of natural sugar, which has made them taboo in some low-carb diets, but most dietitians will tell you the health benefits far outweigh the negatives, unless you shouldn’t be consuming sugar at all.
Besides being good for you, watermelons are fun to experiment with in the kitchen. On page 4 you’ll find several creative, eye-catching recipes for drinks, desserts and even a couple of meals that feature watermelon as the star.
If you’ve never eaten watermelon in a dish with chicken or seafood, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The natural sugars and acids in the fruit make it a nice complement to many meats and vegetables.
As for how to select and store your melon, see the chart above.
But don’t store it too long. The best melons are those picked locally, and they’re best fresh off the vine.
How to know if a watermelon is good
•It should be symmetrical without any flat sides.
•It should resound with a hollow thump when slapped. (Yes, this really works.)
•The rind should be dull and just barely yield to pressure.
•The rind shouldn’t have any soft spots, gashes or blemishes.
When buying a pre-cut melon, make sure
•The flesh is brightly colored.
•There aren’t too many small, white seeds, which means it is immature.
•It doesn’t look dry or grainy.
•It is tightly wrapped and refrigerated.