Cooking with Kay: Watermelon is summer’s sweet treat

Kay Harrod, State Journal Food Editor, Published:

The Farmers Market at the Independence Courthouse in Kenton County is charming and full of delicious food items. Somewhat smaller than our Farmers Market, it is no less so when it comes to varieties of homegrown fruits and vegetables.

Kenton County is one of several Kentucky counties that have two courthouses — the other is in Covington. The Independence Courthouse Market, with its massive shade trees and a parking area just begging to be used, is filled with growers and shoppers on Saturday morning.

There was even a greeter when I entered the grounds. “Good morning. Welcome to our Farmers Market,” she said, smiling. “I hope you find everything you are looking for.”

I did and more.

Reta’s Kitchen was preparing both breakfast and lunch. It was a busy area as people chose to eat breakfast at the picnic tables consisting of sausage, biscuit and gravy or breakfast tacos, stuffed with fresh eggs, sausage, and homemade salsa.

To-go boxes were filled with fried green tomatoes, fried eggplant, cole slaw and pork sandwiches. One man with several boxes in a bag told me he came every Saturday to pick up lunch.

At one stand I purchased Brandywine and Cherokee purple tomatoes. These heirloom varieties were perfectly formed and left nothing to waste as some heirlooms often do.

Also at the stand, I bought apples I was not familiar with, Ruby John. They were a beautiful reddish wine color. I also purchased beautiful unblemished sweet potatoes, just the right size for baking.

At another stand, a sign by several bushels of white corn advertised it had been picked that very morning. How’s that for farm to table. She also had several varieties of green beans including pole, two types of Romas and one called contenders. 

Lesson in watermelon

It was owners Gregory and Charlene Hallu of Awesome Place Farm that gave me a lesson in watermelon. Their melons were quickly going out of the lot.

Just that week they had won a Blue Ribbon and Best Overall at the Alexandria Fair with their Black Diamond watermelon.

As for those of you who may be curious about a county fair being so late in the summer, I have learned over the years that many are. These fairs are the beginnings of the next year’s fair cycle. Greenup County has the first following the State Fair.

“Sweetest watermelon you will ever eat,” Greg told me.

With varieties such as Sun, Moon and Stars – a sweet yellow melon and Moon and Stars, its red sister, I was captivated by their colorings. Dark green with yellow dots on the Moon and Stars and dark green with small yellow dots and bigger yellow dots about the size of a quarter or larger marked the skin of the Sun, Moon and Stars. 

He also told me the seeds for these two melons had been lost until several decades ago a man found them growing in Missouri. The farmer allowed the man to purchase them with one stipulation. He said that if they became popular or if he sold them commercially, he must attach the farmers name to them — therefore, they are Van Doran melons.

There was also a Crimson Sweet, which was an oblong dark and lighter green stripe.

Seeds?

Yes, in all of them. Greg told me with the heirloom seeds used to produce these watermelons, they do come with seeds. “They’re so good, you won’t mind spitting the seeds out,” he said.

I chose the grand prize winner, the Black Diamond and it was loaded in my car. “You can’t lift this,” and he was right.

In fact, when I got back to Frankfort, a neighbor had to get it out of my car. It was a big watermelon, weighing in at more than 30 pounds according to my bathroom scales. As far as I was concerned it was a bargain at $5.50.

I talked to Greg’s wife, Charlene, about plugging watermelons, as I mentioned last week that my dad did years ago.

Charlene said when they go into a growing area, they randomly select a few melons and plug them, just to make sure of their ripeness and flavor. 

Needless to say, with a watermelon as large as the one I purchased, it had to be shared. On this past extremely warm weekend, it was absolutely refreshing.

I’m making the watermelon salad I have shared with you before and watermelon rind pickles — my favorite of all pickles especially with turkey at Thanksgiving.

Since watermelon is plentiful right now, but soon gone from local growers in the next couple of weeks, take advantage of this sweet treat. It’s another food product, like tomatoes, that speaks summer to me.

 

Recipes that will make your mouth water

Watermelon Cake

I found this recipe while searching the web. It’s now the next cake I will try. If you need to see cutting instructions for the watermelon go to paleocupboard.com.

Ingredients:

1 large seedless watermelon

2 cans full fat coconut milk (left in fridge for 6 hours or more)

½-tsp. vanilla extract

1 T raw honey

1 cup sliced almonds or shredded coconut 

Seasonal fresh fruit for topping

Coconut Whipped Cream

Make sure to place the cans of coconut milk in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (or overnight). This will cause the cream to separate from the milk. The cream will be at the top of the can.

Open the can of coconut milk and scrape out the cream into a medium sized bowl. Hint: Open the can from the bottom and pour the milk out into a separate container before scraping out the cream. You can use the saved milk for smoothies and other recipes.

Add the vanilla and raw honey to the mixture. Whip the cream with a hand mixer on medium speed and work your way up to high speed until the cream is fluffy, about five minutes (it will not be as fluffy as dairy whipped cream). Place the bowl of whipped cream in the fridge until ready to use.

Toasted almonds or coconut

NOTE: I think I will use both.

Place a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat and allow the pan to get hot. 

Add the sliced almonds or shredded coconut and toss in the pan until they are toasted and turn a light brown color. Remove quickly from pan and set aside to cool. 

Assembly

Remove the top and bottom from the watermelon and remove the rind from the middle section. You should be left with a cake-shaped piece of watermelon. Cut the watermelon “cake” into the number of wedges/slices you want. Recommended is 6-8 slices depending on the size of the watermelon.

NOTE: You can leave the watermelon intact if you plan on traveling with it or do not want to cut it. Slicing a cake ahead of time just makes it much easier to dip the edges into the icing and then into anything else you want to adhere to the icing, such as the almonds or toasted coconut.

Pat the outside of the watermelon dry with paper towels. This is important because it will help the coconut whipped cream adhere better.

Dip the outside edge of each slice into the coconut whipped cream and then into the toasted almonds or coconut, and reassemble the wedges into the cake shape on a serving platter. Top with more whipped coconut cream and your favorite fresh fruit like blackberries, strawberries and kiwi. Serve or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 

 

Watermelon Smoothie

With its water content, watermelon needs a bit of care to create a creamier smoothie; the freezing helps. Into blender place:

3 cups of  ½-inch-size pieces of watermelon, frozen

3 T maple syrup

1 cup cold milk

½-cup vanilla yogurt

Blend and serve.

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