Food for Thought
Why Texas watermelon is No. 1: Chefs delight in showcasing the state's top cropwith summer wows
I don’t care what the calendar claims: It is officially summer.
Driving down the street recently, I saw some landscapers breaking for lunch under a large oak tree. One of the men was pulling a giant watermelon out of the truck and carrying it over.
The perfect summertime treat. Cold, delicious, refreshing and good for so many dishes.
I think the first time I tasted it I was a child at my grandparents ranch down in Poteet, a town renowned for strawberries but also a great place to grow watermelon. I remember being outside and chomping into a big slice that my Grandfather Sutton had chopped off a big green and yellow melon and being shown how to spit the seeds out, as Grandpa warned us that if we swallowed them a watermelon would grow in our stomachs.
Of course nowadays they grow seedless watermelons. Round watermelons. Mini-watermelons. Even square watermelons. Yes, really.
Farmers in Japan started growing the melons inside glass cubes and in 2010 a Panama produce company starting importing them to the U.S. The square melons are easier to transport and fit better inside your fridge. But they are more costly and frankly I want a watermelon that looks like a watermelon. Not a like a Frankenstein fruit.
It’s the state’s largest annual horticultural crop with more than 42,000 acres in 100 counties dedicated to growing watermelons.
Fear not, Texas watermelons are the real deal. And they are plentiful this time of year. The Lone Star State ranks third in U.S. production of watermelons, churning out $50 million worth a year. According to Texas A&M, it’s the state’s largest annual horticultural crop with more than 42,000 acres in 100 counties dedicated to growing watermelons.
The season runs from May through July and growers stretch from the Rio Grande Valley to the Rolling Plains area. And, this being Texas, we have plenty of food festivals to celebrate this summer crop. I’ve been to the annual Lulling Watermelon Thump but haven’t made it to the Stockdale Watermelon Jubilee, one of the oldest watermelon festivals begun in 1937. Closer to Houston there’s the Hempstead Watermelon Festival that turns 23 this July 21.
Get Your Melon On
But you don’t have to wait for a festival to enjoy this juicy treat. Check out any farmers market or grocery store and you’ll find piles of big melons just waiting for you. Local chef are into the spirit as well —with watermelon dishes and drinks popping up on menus all over town.
Watermelon juice is the perfect sip of summer and makes a great base for any hot weather cocktail from martinis to margaritas.
If you hit up the dinner-only Spindletop, the revolving restaurant at the top of downtown’s Hyatt Regency Houston, this summer you can slurp up chef de cuisine Drew Yeckley’s Chilled Texas Watermelon Soup. It’s a yummy blend of fresh blended watermelon, honey, rosemary, mint and fresh citrus juices. Plus a splash of champagne. A perfect palate cleanser between your appetizers and entrée.
And for the month of June at both locations of RA Sushi Bar Restaurant, you can get a twofer of chilled melon delight: the Watermelon Kiwi Shrimp and Melon-Kiwi-Tini combo.
The salad features layers of watermelon, kiwi, orange slices and lychee, topped with shrimp. It’s a light and healthy summer meal.
The cocktail is a blend of Monin Watermelon, Svedka Citron, Shochu and a splash of citrus soda muddled together and served with a garnish of fresh watermelon and kiwi slices.
Watermelon juice is the perfect sip of summer and makes a great base for any hot weather cocktail from martinis to margaritas. Sure, you buy it but why not make your own watermelon aqua fresca at home?
Here’s a recipe from Whole Foods Market:
Six to eight pounds seedless watermelon, cut into two-inch pieces, two cups cold water, divided, one tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, one tablespoon agave nectar or honey (more or less to taste), ice cubes, lime slices and mint leaves for garnish (optional)
Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender, process half the watermelon pieces with one cup of water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon and water. You should end up with about eight cups of juice. Stir in the limejuice and agave. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint.
Oh, and add some chilled vodka to the glass for a delightful taste of summer in a glass come cocktail hour.
Bottoms up summer!