This July 4th will mark the 240th anniversary of the United States of America. Many Americans commemorate Independence Day with parades, festive firework displays, and gatherings of family and friends. It almost goes without saying that no Independence Day picnic or barbecue would be complete without a fresh, juicy, refreshing watermelon. Though much of the year you can say that “nothing is as American as apple pie,” this week at Oliver’s Market we feel good about saying that “nothing is as American as watermelon!” Mark Twain loved watermelon and described it as the “chief of the world’s luxuries…when one has tasted it, he knows what angels eat.”
To help round out your July 4th meal, our Produce Departments are overflowing with Fresh California Seedless Watermelon for only 29 cents a pound. Read on for all that you ever wanted to know about this summer fruit, as well as some unique ways to use it.
Watermelon is commonly thought of as the quintessential American summer fruit. However, watermelon is native to southern Africa, where it grows in the wild.
The watermelon has been around for a long time. The ancient Egyptians were cultivating the fruit in the Nile River Valley as early as 2,000 BCE. Paintings of watermelons have even been found on the walls of Egyptian tombs. The watermelon is believed to have arrived in Europe sometime around the 8th century with the arrival of the Moors. They most likely picked up watermelons as they rode across Africa, on their way to conquer Spain and Portugal.
Watermelons were introduced to North America by the Spanish. With the seeds passed along from native tribe to native tribe, watermelons quickly spread across the country. They were flourishing in Florida, Georgia and even the Rio Grande Valley. A Jesuit missionary found watermelons growing along the banks of the Mississippi River in 1673; and were mentioned by a tourist to Virginia in 1732. Today they are enjoyed in many countries all over the world.
Aside from being exceptionally delicious, the watermelon is packed full of health benefits. They have high levels of Vitamin A, which is good for skin and eyes, Vitamin B6 which helps immune function, and Vitamin C which is an antioxidant that can help boost immunity. A watermelon is 92% water, which helps your body to stay hydrated. The antioxidant lycopene that is found in watermelons can help aid in sun protection. The amino acids in watermelons can help maintain blood flow as well. Throw in that they’re cholesterol-free, fat-free, sodium-free and only contain 80 calories per serving, and you have an all-around healthy snack.
Picking out a watermelon is a lot easier than you might think. First, look the watermelon over. You want it to be firm, symmetrical and free from bruises, dents or cuts. Second, pick it up. The watermelon should be heavy for its size. Remember that it is 92% water, which is where the weight comes from. Finally, turn it over. It should have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground during the growing season. How long your watermelon lasts after you get it home really depends on where it was grown, and how long it took to get to the store. Once cut from the vine, a watermelon typically will last about 3-4 weeks.
When it comes to enjoying your watermelon, you can go the traditional route and slice it up and enjoy it on its own. Or, you can get creative with it. Here are three different ways to enjoy your fresh watermelon.
Watermelon Gazpacho with Feta, Mint & Basil
* 16 ounces cubed watermelon, plus extra for garnish
* 2 tomatoes, hulled and quartered
* 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
* 1/2 Serrano chili, seeded and chopped
* 2 tablespoons diced shallots
* 8 Basil leaves, roughly chopped
* 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
* 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* Salt and Pepper
* 6 ounces feta, crumbled
* 4 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
* Cube watermelon, saving 12-16 pieces for garnish. Hull and quarter tomatoes and add to a separate bowl, along with the cucumber, shallots, and Serrano chili. Pour vinegar over the vegetables and marinate 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
* Add the vegetables and basil to a food processor and pulse until well blended. Add watermelon, olive oil, salt and pepper and pulse again until blended. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled.
* When ready to serve, divide the Gazpacho among the four bowls. Place 3-4 watermelon cubes in the center of each and place the feta on top of them. Sprinkle each with the freshly chopped mint and serve.
Makes 4 drinks
* 8 1-inch watermelon chunks
* 4 limes
* 8 teaspoons sugar
* 8 ounces silver rum
* Ginger Ale
Muddle 2 watermelon chunks, the juice of 1 lime and 2 teaspoons of sugar in each glass. Stir in a handful of mint leaves. Add 2 ounces of rum and ice. Top with ginger ale and garnish with mint.
Spicy, Smoky Grilled Watermelon
* 1 watermelon, cut into 1 inch wedges
* 1/4 cup honey
* 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
* 2 teaspoons Cayenne pepper
* 1 teaspoon Chipotle chili powder
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
* In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients except watermelon and mint.
* Heat your grill to high heat. Clean and oil the grill grate. Brush each side of the watermelon with the sauce. Grill watermelon slices for about 2 minutes per side.
* Remove from grill, sprinkle with mint and serve.