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Watermelon (c)2012

I grew up in the soupy heat of southern summers, and though each year takes me farther away from my childhood in Arkansas, biting into a slice of ice-cold, crisp and sweet watermelon brings me right back home. Watermelon is a simple, cheerful fruit, a symbol of the height of summer. A large oblong watermelon, with striped green rind and shockingly pink flesh, is reason enough to gather with friends in an effort to cool down on a breezeless summer day. It’s the simplest, most universal kind of entertaining. All you really need is a knife to divvy up the fruit and you can feed a crowd of hot, thirsty people. Watermelons come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from mini-round varieties weighing less than 5 pounds to huge oblong specimens up to 35 pounds. The rind is either solid green or striped light and dark green, with a flesh that ranges from hot pink to red, orange, or yellow. Seedless watermelons actually do have a few seeds, which tend to be softer, smaller, and edible. This week at la Domestique, you’ll find inspiration for cooking with all parts of the watermelon, from the flesh to the rind and even the seeds.

According to The Produce Bible, watermelons are different from all the other melons (cantaloupe, muskmelon, and honeydew), belonging to the citrullus lanatus group, originating in the Kalahari Desert of Africa. Peak season for watermelon harvest is from mid-June till the end of August. The melons need plenty of space, full sun, and a nutrient-rich soil. Watermelons are known as “heavy feeders” pulling a lot of water and nutrients from the soil. Smaller watermelon varieties can be grown in space-restricted gardens. When selecting a watermelon at the farmer’s market or grocery store, look for a dull (not shiny) skin, and a melon that is heavy for its size. Another sign of ripeness is a hollow thump when the watermelon is slapped. Also, the pale underside where the watermelon rested on the ground may have a yellow tint. The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion notes that contain a lot of tiny white seeds are immature and not yet ready to eat. Whole watermelon can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days before deteriorating. Cut watermelon dries out rapidly, and will only last a day in the fridge, tightly wrapped in plastic.

Check back here tomorrow for 10 Ways Tuesday, a collection of fun, refreshing watermelon recipes for the heat of summer. Let’s not go back to school just yet, hang on to summer with a slice of sweet, succulent watermelon by the pool.

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