A classic taste of summer
Several generations ago, the watermelon you devoured on a summer day may have looked and tasted nothing like the melons grown just a county or two away. The local pride may have been round or oval, large or small, with a thick rind or thin. But it would have been prized for its flavor above all else.
Contrast that with today’s mass-market watermelons found in most grocery chains: red-centered, dense-fleshed, thick-skinned, and bland. Shippable, predictable.
At local farmers markets, though, you’ll find that heirloom melons have started to make a comeback: Moon and Stars (the name comes from its dark rind with yellow spots), Georgia Rattlesnake, Black Diamond. Those old-time favorites, and hybrids like the sweet, multicolored Sorbet Swirl, give us a hint of the watermelon diversity our great-grandparents may have known. Decades of commercial growing have caused massive extinction of plants. “It’s difficult to know what we’ve lost and what is still out there,” says Kathy Kretzinger of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri.
One thing is certain: When a melon is raised for sweetness, not rind thickness, you won’t mind spitting out a few seeds. Look for standout heirloom watermelons throughout the summer from growers like Woodland Gardens (woodlandgardensorganic.com) at Morningside Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore