Watermelon not just sweet - it's a healthy treat for summer

Published 11:21 pm Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By Staff
This is a repeat of an article I wrote in 2006 and feel that the information is still very timely.
One of my favorite childhood memories was the big Fourth of July picnic lunch my grandmother always packed for our family's celebration. We looked forward to this celebration because of the chance to see to friends and relatives, play games, watch the fireworks, and eat watermelon. You see, we were not allowed to eat watermelon until the 4th of July. Today it's different because of the new research and variety of watermelons available in the market all year; not just during the summer months.
A good ripe melon is firm, well-shaped, fresh looking, free of bruises, cuts and dents. Lift it up - the watermelon should be heavy for its size. Watermelon is 92 percent water, which accounts for most of its weight. The rind color should be characteristic of the variety. Turn it over - on the under-side there should be a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground. If the melon has a hard, white, or very pale green underside, it is probably not ripe. James Miles, Regional Extension Agent for Commercial Horticulture, stated that if the tendril (stem) on the vine closest to the melon looks dry or wilted then it's ripe and ready to be picked. If the melon has been picked then look at the stem; if it's curly, dry looking or has a clean smooth break (from the stem) then it should be ripe. Also you can try the thump method. James says the melon you thump should make a hollow, dull sound.
A cut melon should have a crisp red or orange flesh (some varieties have yellow or orange flesh). The flesh should not be mealy or water-soaked. Seeded watermelon varieties should have dark brown or black seeds. Seedless melons have edible white seeds that look like cucumber seeds.
Once picked, watermelon will not ripen easily. If unripe, try putting the whole melon in paper bags un-refrigerated. This sometimes works to ripen them. Watermelons can be kept for short periods of time, up to 2 weeks, uncut at room temperature. Wash watermelon with soap and water before cutting. Once cut, package what is not eaten in closed plastic containers or plastic bags and put back in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Remember that cut melons are aromatic and their smell will penetrate other foods.
Nutritional Facts
There are so many good reasons to include watermelon in your daily eating plan. It's light, delicious and so good for you. Really! It's a quick and easy way to fulfill your five-plus servings of fruits and vegetables a day. It's a good source of vitamin C, A, B6 and potassium. Watermelon is also fat free, nutritionally low in calories, considered an ideal diet food, high in energy … making it a great energy boost!
Carved Melon Basket
A pretty carved melon basket, filled with a variety of colorful fruits or punches brightens any occasion. They are perfect for holiday buffets, dinner tables, parties, bridal and baby showers and pot-luck suppers at church. Carved melon baskets are easier to make than you think. Why not call the Escambia County Extension Office at (251) 867-7760 and ask for the free pamphlet called Watermelon Carving Tips Circular ANR-784.
Here are two refreshing recipes that your family will surely enjoy on a hot July afternoon. Hmmmm! Source: CDC
Watermelon Sherbet
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cups diced seed watermelon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup whipped cream
Combine sugar, lemon juice, watermelon, and salt; refrigerate 30 minutes. Spoon mixture into an electric blender container; process until smooth.
Soften gelatin in cold water; place over low heat and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Add to watermelon mixture, stirring well. Add whipping cream, and beat until fluffy. Pour into freezer can of a 1-gallon hand-turned or electric freezer. Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Yield 1 quart
Watermelon Salad
1 large watermelon
1 cantaloupe
1 honeydew melon
1 pineapple
2 fresh peaches (or nectarines)
2 cups fresh blueberries (or other berries)
Honey-Lime Sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup ginger ale
With melon ball cutter, cut balls from watermelon. Remove seeds and refrigerate.
Cut balls from cantaloupe and honeydew melons (about 3 cups of each) and remove rind and core from pineapple. Cut pineapple into bite-sized pieces. Mix with cantaloupe and honeydew balls; covert and refrigerate.
Just before serving, peel and slice peaches. Drain melon balls and pineapple chunks. Combine all fruit large bowl. If desired, toss with honey-lime sauce. Pour fruit into your favorite serving dish or carved watermelon bowl.