After a solid two weeks of over 100-degree weather, it seems a little ridiculous to be whooping and hollering about the start of summer, but that is exactly what I am here to do.
To be clear, I have a summer aversion. (I was going to write the word hate. But I hate “hate” so “aversion” was as close as I could get). Yesterday I had to lay down for a rest around 2:00. I just don’t have time for that sort of thing, it’s ridiculous. Negative summer feelings aside, there are a couple of magical moments that should be celebrated with the over-the-top jubilation that they deserve, regardless of what season births them. The first watermelon is one of those moments.
I have the privilege and joy of spending quite a bit of my time in the barn at Lattin Farms. Rick and B-Ann Lattin are just the best people (period, dot). Every day I spend at Lattin Farms, I look at Rick a little more like I look at my dad. Hanging at the farm also means that I have a whole lot of conversations about produce, irrigation, farm equipment, and weather. So, I am here to tell you that I have the inside scoop, watermelons are here, and cantaloupes are right around the corner.
Two days ago, I ate my first 2021 slice of watermelon. So freshly picked that it was still warm from the sun, it was perfect. Confession time - as the 2018 Cantaloupe Queen, it makes me cringe a little to shower praise so publicly on a watermelon, but I am going to set my cucurbit crown aside for a moment (along with my cantaloupe proclivities) in order to share some watermelon love with all of you fine people.
I have read a couple of different accounts (in this paper) about how to pick the perfect watermelon. I have a technique learned from multiple generations of “perfect watermelon pickers” that I wish to share with you today. Some people might keep this knowledge to themselves and revel in the fact that they alone hold the secret to selecting the ripest, the most delicious melon specimens but sharing the secret does not mean that my watermelons will suddenly be less tasty only that more people will enjoy the best melons. All high tide, all boats rise.
First, I look for a large yellow spot. The large yellow spot shows that the watermelon grew and ripened without being disturbed in the field. Second, I look for a watermelon with a web of raised brown lines marring the skin. The lines are a result of the fruit being touched by a pollinator. An old-timey adage suggests that more lines mean more bees mean a sweeter melon. In order to test my technique, I asked the Fallon Melon Man.
Scott Goodpasture (the best name for a farmer ever) is the guy who sets up the cantaloupe-colored pop-up on the side of the Reno highway peddling melons throughout the summer. His license plate reads “MELONS” - so he should be THE authority on selection technique. When I told him my process, he replied (a man of few words) “Yep, bees.”
Scott also shared a technique of his own (and I challenge you all to test it out). Let’s call his trick “The Straw Technique.” Scott claims that, while on the side of the highway, he was approached by a watermelon farmer from Texas who determines the ripeness of a watermelon by spinning a piece of straw on the top of the melon. If the straw spins FAST, the melon is not yet ripe. If the straw spins SLOWLY, the melon is overripe. And if the straw spins JUST SO, the melon is perfect. Sounds like some wacky goldilocks bull-honky to me… but Scott claims TRUTH and we all should trust the experts. So be prepared when you stop by his stand to test out the theory and find yourself the best ever watermelon.
If you have been keeping an eye out to the south side of the Reno highway, right around the Frey place, looking for his signature orange stand, I have it on good authority that his first 2021 appearance will happen either this weekend or next. Summer is here!
Watermelon Salad with Mint
1 watermelon - rind removed and cut into chunks
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 bunch mint, chopped
3 T olive oil
1 bag arugula
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz Sand Hill Dairy Queso Fresco
Place watermelon chunks in a large bowl. Finely chop lemon zest. Add lemon juice and half of the zest to bowl with watermelon. Add mint, oil, and arugula (if using) and toss until watermelon is evenly dressed. Season lightly to taste with salt and pepper. (The cheese will add saltiness, so go light on the salt at this stage.)
Transfer salad to a wide, shallow bowl or a large plate and spread out evenly. Crumble queso fresco over the top. Sprinkle with remaining lemon zest. Drizzle with more olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Serve immediately.