Keeping cool with summer favorites

Watermelon Soda, photo by Christine Gardner

I tend to be a hopeful individual and believe that positive signs yield positive results, but our recent weather has proved me wrong. I was pleasantly surprised when we enjoyed mild temperatures into May and even a late frost in April. Maybe, I thought, we will have a cooler summer, with temperatures in the upper 80s or at the most, low 90s. But here we are, it's the middle of June and the humidity is high, air is thick and temperatures will soon hit triple digits.

Oh well, so much for wishful thinking. Time to find ways to keep cool wherever we go — in the kitchen, on the patio, by the lake and anywhere that isn't air-conditioned.

A cool drink is what we go to first, but the thing I've been finding the most refreshing is watermelon. Sweet, light and cool — it's a favorite part of summer that many enjoy, and a delicious favorite for kids and adults.

It is a little early for the favorite melon of summer, but the one's I have tasted recently already are very sweet. And yes, they were Texas-grown watermelons.

When I'm not eating it by the slice, I also like to puree it and use it in a drink, freeze the juice into popsicle molds, or put it in a salad. I've even seen some recipes where the watermelon is grilled or stir-fried. I will have to try that soon.

When choosing watermelons this summer, here are a few facts to consider:

According to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center, each summer 4.1 billion pounds of watermelons are grown in America. The top producing states are Florida, California, Texas, Georgia and Indiana.

On average, Americans consume 15.4 pounds per person annually. Most of that is consumed fresh, but that also includes pickled rind and watermelon juice.

The National Watermelon Board recommends that you use a different method for choosing the perfect watermelon than the usual way of thumping the melon and listening to how it sounds. Instead, they offer a look, lift and turn method that is more reliable.

LOOK: Your watermelon should be firm, symmetrical and free of major bruises or scars. Some minor scratches are OK. After all, the purpose of that thick rind is to protect the delicious contents inside. The outer rinds of ripe watermelons also should be dark green in color.

LIFT: The ripest watermelons have the most water. And since watermelons are 92 percent water, your watermelon should be relatively heavy for its size.

TURN: Turn your watermelon over and check out its bottom, which should have a creamy yellow spot (also called the ground spot). This is where the watermelon rested on the ground while it soaked up the sun on the farm. If this spot is white or greenish, your watermelon may have been picked too soon and might not be as ripe as it should be.

According to the National Watermelon Board, seedless watermelons were invented more than 50 years ago. Genetic testing of male and female watermelons and crossbreeding of various hybrids created a seedless variety.

To make a long story short, growers discovered a way to create a breed of watermelon that results in a sterile, or seedless, version.

When referring to seeds they mean the black ones and the white seeds are not actually considered a seed. They are the seed coats where a seed did not form. They are edible and perfectly safe to eat.

With or without seeds, everyone has a preference, but did you know the average watermelon has 350 seeds?

What's your favorite way to enjoy watermelon? And what foods or drinks do you enjoy during the hot months of summer? Next week in FLAVOR I will be featuring favorite summer drinks and a few frozen treats.

Email your favorite cool drinks and frozen treats to I am also looking for your favorite recipes using fresh homegrown summer fruits and vegetables. There are so many wonderful things available at farm stands, in the produce aisle and at the farmers market. For the next couple of weeks I will be taking recipe submissions for a Taste of Summer feature that will come out in July.


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