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Monday, August 29, 2011

Watermelon Ride

My grandparent's house was nestled on a slight hill surrounded by patches of trees and rolling fields on a lake in Western Kentucky. White-washed wooden planked fences separated the main house and work buildings from the fields, creating idyllic panoramas for the property. After we moved back to Kentucky to live with my grandparents, one of the first things my father did was haul out the Bush Hog, attach it to my grandfather's tractor, and mow a large square area around a huge oak tree on one side of the house beyond the white-washed fencing. After leveling the knee high hay, he climbed aboard a riding lawn mower and mowed the same area until it resembled a well manicured lawn.  I had no idea what he was doing. I really didn't care. At the time, restless catfish jumping around our murky moss-laden pond fascinated me a lot more.

The next morning, he fastened  thick grass rope to an old tire, climbed the tree (with the help of my brother), and secured the rope over the thickest arching limb from the oak tree.  He made a tire swing.  I'd never seen one before.  Being an  eleven year old boy, it certainly grabbed my attention. I assumed he created it for me, so I happily played on the swing for several days until the catfish lured me back to the pond.  The swing hung lifeless in the tall grass  for the duration of  autumn and winter.

The following spring, he was back out there Bush Hogging, mowing, and manicuring the tire-swing lawn in preparation for an upcoming Memorial Day family cookout. During our first few years living there, he repeated the ritual twice a year for family cookouts on Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Memorial Day was the usual  pot-luck affair, but the Labor Day cookout was his baby.  After everyone gathered under the oak tree, lounging about in those old timey brightly colored aluminum folding lawn chairs, he'd light the fire and grill onion studded cheese-stuffed hamburgers and  husked-wrapped buttered field corn. Condiments, hambuger fixings, Hamburger buns,  potato salad, and his un-worldly Boston baked beans were meticulously lined up on his fold-out Coleman's camping picnic table.

Dessert was always sliced and chunked sun-kissed watermelon straight from the garden served atop leftover newspapers to catch the mess.

The tire swing was in constant use during those picnics, its rope rhythmically squeaking around the worn tree limb from the weight of the people riding it throughout the day. Summer sounds.

After a few years, the picnics slowly faded away until they stopped all together. Toward the end of what was to become our final picnic, I somehow managed to wrestle the rights to the tire swing.  Seizing the moment, I grabbed an end chunk of warm watermelon, climbed onto the tire, pushed my feet to the ground for acceleration,  and lazily flew through the air chomping on watermelon while spitting tiny black seeds into the newly mown grass. 

"You need to use these watermelons.", Michael said the other morning, referring to small yellow striped and  small red sugar baby market watermelons I had sitting on the kitchen counter.  He was right.  I'd intended to grill them or make a salad with them, but had done neither. I did need to use them.  That night, while Michael was out with friends, I took the melons on a little ride.

Watermelon Granite.

I cut the rinds from both melons and tossed them into the refrigerator.  After removing the seeds, I sliced the flesh, keeping the two melons separate.  Using a blender, I pureed each melon with fresh lime juice and 1/4 cup of sugar.  When  liquidfied, I poured the watermelon water into two separate metal containers and slid them into the freezer.

At hourly intervals, I used a fork to gently scrape the watermelon ice into incredibly fluffy  frozen watermelon crystals. After three hours, I spooned the granite into stemmed sherbet glasses with a sprinkling of zested lime. Both flavors were fabulous. With  hints of lime acidity  cutting through the natural sweetnees, the granites were light, luxurious, and refreshing. Having the mouthfeel of grown up Sno-Cones (without the straws), the tiny frozen jewels popped with familiar watermelon flavor before melting into nothing. Fun!

Watermelon Chutney.
The following morning, after cranking up on strong coffee, I pulled the reserved watermelon scraps from the refrigerator, carefully removed the green peels from the rinds, and sliced the rinds into one inch pieces. 

I minced a couple of garlic cloves, two small red bell peppers from the garden, and a small knob of ginger. After heating 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar, 3/4 cups sugar, and 1 1/2 cups water in a dutch oven until boiling, I tossed the sliced watermelon rinds, peppers, garlic, ginger and a handful of dried cherries into the rolling  cauldron.  After thuroughly mixing the the ingredients together, I turned the heat down to a simmer and let it bubble away for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 After 50 minutes, the dried cherries had plumped and dyed the chutney a deep crimson red. I pushed the pot from the heat and let the watermelon chutney cool completely before spooning it into small glass jars. Just before sliding the jars of chutney into the refrigerator to marry the flavors, I gave it taste. Tart.  Sweet. Luscious.
What a ride! 

almost used every part from the  two innocent watermelons. 
Perhaps I should have fashioned a beaded necklace from the seeds.

Or shoveled them into my mouth to spit from the back deck.
 Maybe next time.

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