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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

I like the taste of a fresh, sweet watermelon in the summertime, but unfortunately, I don't have any watermelon stories to tell. I enjoy eating it, but not in the traditional way. I usually like to eat it cut up in chunks and served on a plate. I know it's not as much fun as biting into a slice and letting the juice run down my chin, but it's also not as messy.

However, the National Watermelon Promotion Board has provided some watermelon handling tips that I thought I would share with you.

How to pick a good watermelon:

• Look it over, and choose a firm, symmetrical melon that is free of bruises, cuts and dents.

• Lift it up. The watermelon should feel heavy for its size - after all, it's 92 percent water.

• Turn it over. On the underside of the melon, there should be a creamy, yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.

What is the proper temperature for storing watermelon?

Store watermelon on the warm side. Compared to most fruits, watermelons need a more tropical climate. A thermometer reading of 55°F. is ideal. Whole melons will keep for seven to 10 days at room temperature. But if you store them too long, they will lose their flavor and texture.

I hope these tips will be useful as you enjoy your watermelon this summer!

Kate Marchbanks

Together With God

Every July, my family went to visit our cousins in Berryville, Va., a mountain town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was thrilling. They had a farm, complete with a mean, old bull that didn't appreciate watermelon rinds.

The boy cousins invented a game one summer that involved throwing watermelon rinds and hitting the bull's backside. I never played because I was only 6, and I could not run as fast as the boys.

Then one day, Aunt Hattie got involved. She witnessed the game while she was rinsing blueberries by the kitchen window. She came running, her fingers stained blue and looking like a mad woman, flailing for us to stop. She put an end to the game, and to teach us an appreciation for animal kindness, she banned watermelon for three summers.

Father, thank You for the animals on this Earth and the responsibility You gave us to care for their well-being. May there always be summers for watermelon juices to run down our chins and blue-fingered women to teach us compassion. Amen.

 - D. Susan Rutz

Cousins had contest

When I was a child, many of my cousins lived nearby. In fact, there were 10 of us. Our grandfather was the leader of the cousins.

A summertime story we like to recall was his call of 'Watermelon!' at the top of his voice every afternoon. The children came running from four different homes to his, to enjoy the treat of watermelons he had sliced for us.

At a reunion a few years back, we had a watermelon-calling contest to see who could sound the most like our grandfather. The winner won a watermelon-shaped ceramic bowl.

I'm sure the neighbors wondered what the sound was coming from our yard.


Son's jumbled garden an unexpected success

When my son was young, he wanted his own garden. The company I was ordering seeds from had a special offer for children - a jumble packet of mixed seeds for just 1 cent.

When it arrived, it truly was a jumble packet. I believe they just swept up the floor and included a little of everything. It became further jumbled as he planted nearly all the seeds in one place.

Time passed, and weeds grew around his garden. I did not have high hopes, and he seemed to have forgotten about it. Then one day, I noticed a large watermelon amidst the weeds. It was juicy, sweet and yellow inside.

It was the only time that we ever managed to raise melons successfully.


Kept waiting for melons to get bigger

When I moved to America from Germany at age 19, I'd never heard of watermelons. On my first trip to a grocery store, I saw the huge, green fruit, and I asked my American husband what they were. He suggested we buy one, and I found it to be delicious.

A couple of years later, we left the city to rent a house in the country, where our landlord let us use a small piece of land for a garden.

The first thing I planted was watermelon seeds. I watched them eagerly as the small fruit grew, but I got impatient when they suddenly seemed to stop while not much larger than a cantaloupe.

Puzzled, I kept waiting for the fruit to grow as large as the one we had bought at the store.

One day, our landlord, who regularly mowed the grass around our garden with a long blade attached to his tractor, knocked on the door. He wanted to know when we'd be picking the watermelons, because he was afraid he might cut into them with his blade.

When I told him I was waiting for them to grow big enough to harvest, he gave me a strange look.

'That's all the bigger that kind of melon gets,' he informed me.

In order to keep all those overripe melons from spoiling, I supplied the whole neighborhood with them, and I was very embarrassed when I had to explain to the country folk that I had to give so many away because I'd been waiting for them to grow bigger.


Family anticipated homegrown watermelons

Like everyone else I know, I have joyful memories of watermelon time in Oklahoma. The wonderful melons ripen from July to frost. When I was a girl, we enjoyed them all summer. Even after school started, we'd occasionally have watermelon when we came home from school.

At the Fourth of July celebration in our county seat town, there were always watermelons cooling in a huge, galvanized tank filled with ice and water. After each family ate their picnic dinner, various officials made speeches about patriotism. Then the watermelons were cut, and everyone ate cold melons with little regard for the juice that ran down our chins and down to our elbows.

My family had a melon patch two miles from our house, across the pastures. Dad planted corn in the sandy field, and when the corn was up, he'd plant watermelon seeds in some of the rows. The corn shaded the melons as they grew, and the melon vines acted as mulch on the ground, so it was beneficial to both corn and watermelons.

The seeds came up, and the vines grew. They set on many melons. We watched the patch so neighbor boys would not get in and steal any. Dad brought a melon to the house every day in early summer, but they weren't ripe yet.

As they approached the perfect time, we dreamed of watermelon. Then one day, Dad came home from the corn patch with a downcast face. The melons had ripened, but raccoons and feral hogs had gone through the patch and broken every melon. The raccoons had dug out the side of most of the melons. The hogs had broken and eaten most of the rest. They had also rooted the vines out of the ground and stomped the corn stalks down to the ground level.

It was an entire spring's work gone overnight, and that summer we had no homegrown watermelons. The next year, Dad set aside a portion of the garden and planted our watermelons close to home.


Fresh watermelon can be the highlight
of a summer feast

Studies suggest that people who eat at least three servings of fruits and vegetables a day have a substantially lower risk of dying from stroke, heart disease and all other causes than people who eat no more than one serving a day.

And fresh is best: Scientists speculate that nutrients found in whole foods, such as natural watermelon, may interact to provide benefits that are greater than those provided in supplements. Cubes of fresh watermelon add color, flavor and exceptional nutrition to salads, entrees and desserts.

This light dessert is sure to impress guests.

Watermelon Heaven

1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup toasted almond slices
7 cups watermelon purée
6 slices angel food cake

In a small bowl, mix together sour cream, vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir in toasted almonds. 

Place a 1-cup pool of watermelon purée on each of 6 serving plates. Place a slice of cake on each pool. Drizzle watermelon purée over the top of cake slices. Garnish each serving with a dollop of sweetened sour cream and almonds. Yields 6 servings.

Sautéed vegetables and chicken topped with zesty watermelon sauce is a perfect summer meal.

Sweet and Sour Watermelon Chicken

2 pounds baked OR fried breaded chicken tenders
1 onion, sliced into thin strips
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups Sweet and Sour Sauce, recipe follows
2 cups seedless watermelon chunks
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Heat oven to 275°F.

On a baking sheet, warm chicken tenders in a single layer.

In a 2-quart sauté pan, sauté onions and peppers in oil. Stir in Sweet and Sour Sauce.

Arrange watermelon chunks on a warm serving platter with chicken; pour hot sauce over all. Sprinkle with sesame seeds; serve immediately. Yields 6 to 8 servings.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

1 cup watermelon purée
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice bran vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.

- National Watermelon
Promotion Board
REFRESHING: Watermelon Yogurt Mint Smoothie is a cool pick-me-up.

Here's a refreshing, pick-me-up drink.

Watermelon Yogurt Mint Smoothie

1 to 2 cups seedless watermelon chunks
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves OR to taste
1 cup lemon yogurt
Dash of cinnamon

Purée watermelon, honey and mint quickly; do not over blend. Pulse in yogurt and cinnamon just until smooth. Yields 1 to 2 servings.

This patriotic salad will be the star of your holiday feast.

Americana Basket

1 large, ripe watermelon
1 ripe honeydew OR white-fleshed melon

Using an oblong watermelon, slice 1/4 inch off the bottom, lengthwise, to provide a stable base. 

- National Watermelon
Promotion Board
MAIN ATTRACTION: Festive and fruity, the Americana Basket will be the star of your feast.

Use a pencil to draw lines for handle placement and basket opening.  Cut the handle first, wide enough to hold stars, then make zig-zag cuts with a paring knife, all the way through the rind (be careful to not cut through handle base on either side). 

Carefully remove sections. Pull out large chunks of flesh and cut them into 3-by-3-inch squares. 

From squares, trim off 3/4-inch-thick slices to use for cutting out stars. To cut stars, use 1 1/2- to 3-inch star-shaped cookie cutters.

Next, cut out 5 large star-shaped pieces from leftover rind (use a paring knife if necessary) for the handle.  Trim off red flesh; attach to basket handle, with white side out, with half toothpicks.

Use an ice cream scoop to remove flesh from inside of basket; cut scoops into quarters for fruit salad. Place in bottom of the basket. 

Cut out white strip from honeydew for salad. Garnish top of fruit salad with watermelon stars, melon strips and blueberries.

A combination of fresh fruit makes a tasty summer salsa.

Watermelon Cilantro Salsa Tropical

2 cups chopped seedless watermelon
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1 cup chopped mango
Juice from 4 fresh limes
1 cup trimmed, chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, toss together all ingredients; season with salt and pepper just before serving. Yields about 4 cups. Serve with chips or on grilled meat.

Children and adults will love this simple treat.

Watermelon Dippers

8 ounces sour cream
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Watermelon sticks OR small wedges

In a small serving bowl, blend together sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Serve with watermelon sticks.