Sweet As Summer

This month ushers in the local season for watermelon, one of summer's most refreshing treats.



Photos by Laura Petrilla

Gently sweet and deeply thirst-quenching, watermelon is essential summer eating. Now begins the peak season to find it locally grown, and just in time: Sitting in the shade to eat a few cool, refreshing slices can ensure happy survival during the dog days of August. Watermelon is the most-consumed melon in our country, and for the most part, we eat it fresh.

Although it has been cultivated through the ages-watermelon is native to Africa, and the Egyptians were eating it as long as 5,000 years ago-there are very few ways to transform it in recipes, perhaps because 90 percent of the fruit is water.

Watermelon rinds can be pickled, certainly, and the fruit may be salted or incorporated into such refreshing drinks as Mexican horchata or summer cocktails (see recipe below. But overall, there's little to be done but eat as much as possible in one sitting and take up most of your fridge storing the leftovers.

frozen watermelon margarita
Beat the heat with this recipe for frozen watermelon margaritas.

The large, sweet watermelons we know today are the result of improvements made to the fruit primarily after its arrival from Europe in the New England colonies in the 1600s. Native Americans as well as the colonists immediately took an interest in the crop and bred for size and lack of bitterness.

In the centuries since then, a slice of the fruit, with its crisp, tender pink or red flesh with black seeds and marbled pale-green rind, has become an iconic American food. In a fascinating essay in Rooted in America: Foodlore of Popular Fruits and Vegetables, which details the cultural significance of watermelons, author Patricia A. Turner rightly points out how intrinsic the fruit is to summer merchandising. Slices of watermelon, along with white wicker furniture, breezy curtains and glasses of icy lemonade are images meant to put us in the mood to spend our way through hot weather: Look around, and you'll see watermelon prints everywhere from bathing suits and toddler dresses to picnic ware and beach towels.

Of course, the very best way to enjoy this fruit is by eating it. It's good for you, too: The classic watermelon is dark red because of the cartenoid lycopene and is in fact a much richer source of this antioxidant than tomatoes. Check with grocers who stock local produce or at farmers markets during August to find fruit from regional growers, who this month and next will harvest everything from huge, striped watermelons that weigh 20 pounds or more to smaller 10-pound varieties such as Sugar Baby.

watermelon slice

All About Watermelon

As you'll see after just one trip to a local farmers market this month, summer's ultimate refresher comes in all sizes. There are huge 30-plus-pound watermelons and cute, smaller varieties that weigh10 pounds or less.

In addition to the classic type dotted with shiny black seeds, there are many "seedless" varieties (these actually contain small, undeveloped seeds and were first bred in Japan in the 1930s). The fruit can be round, oblong or elliptical, with the outside color varying from solid dark green to mottled or striped green to nearly white.

What's most important? Selecting for ripeness and getting them as fresh as possible from the field-read on for more helpful hints.

Shop Local: You'll find freshly picked watermelons at many local farmers' markets this month, including at the Farmers' Cooperative Market of East Liberty (344 N. Sheridan Ave.; open Saturdays 5 a.m.-noon). There, growers including Zang's, Kennedy's and Kistaco Farm will offer varieties such as Sugar Baby, a comparatively small type weighing between 8 and 12 pounds with soft, sweet red fruit and a dark-green rind; Yellow Baby, also miniature in size but with soft, golden-fleshed fruit that works especially well in cocktails and smoothies; and Crimson Sweet, a larger watermelon between 20 and 25 pounds with sugary bright-red flesh.

The watermelon season in the region starts this month and stretches into September.

Select for Ripeness: At peak ripeness, the patch on the bottom where the watermelon rested on the ground will be yellow instead of white or pale green. Look for a dull, waxy bloom rather than a very shiny skin. It's a good sign if the watermelon has a nice symmetrical shape and feels heavy for its size. Another option, although not always foolproof, is to try knocking on the watermelon. A solid thud indicates the melon is ripe; a hollow sound indicates it's still got a way to go.

Support Farmers: The watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, is a different species than other types of melons like cantaloupe or honeydew, which are both cucumis melo. That is partly why an organization of watermelon farmers is working hard to have the FDA place the two fruits in different food-safety regulation categories: While food-borne illness outbreaks have plagued such crops as cantaloupe, leading to strict (and sometimes costly for farmers) rules regarding crop management, watermelons are among the safest and most contaminant-free types of produce. To support the farmers' cause with a letter to Congress, visit nationalwatermelonassociation.com

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.
Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.
The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.
Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

According to a financial advising site, Pittsburgh is both affordable and a good place to find a job for those fresh out of college.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

The Abbey on Butler — part coffeehouse, part restaurant, part bar — could prove to be a major Lawrenceville destination.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

The Bucs’ wild-card failures the last two seasons have cast a shadow of doubt if not impending doom over a season that otherwise ought to be ripe with promise.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Local fashion line Kelly Lane has the perfect dress to kick off your summer style.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Reviews of "Mother's Day," "Keanu," "Green Room" and local film news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

The Tech Savvy program from the American Association of University Women aims to interest middle school girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Comments