Late August. Before its all over, lets enjoy one last sweet slice of summer: Local Watermelon.
This time of year I am reminded of a culinary adventure that took place last summer when my husband Tom and I went to visit Nat and Bette Bradford in Sumter SC at Bradford Farms, birthplace and home of the famed late harvest Bradford Watermelon. We walked the fields with Nat and he helped me to find and pick my own. You can click on the link and read about it all in an article I wrote for the Fall 2017 issue of Charlotte Living magazine.
While the Bradford watermelon season is just beginning, the season for many North Carolina watermelons is winding down. But, there is still time to make the most of it! Enjoy watermelon at its best, fresh cut from the field by the slice or wedge just as it is; slice it into smaller bites to pair with local ricotta or goat cheese on top of a salad of local greens; or scoop it into balls wrapped with prosciutto for a great end of summer appetizer.
Or… you can take your “Cooking with Watermelon” adventures one step further and toss 1/2 – 1-inch slices or wedges on the grill or in a saute pan for a whole new twist of local watermelon-y goodness. Read on and enjoy my fun spin on summertime grilling with one of my summertime favorites.
Grilling Fresh Watermelon Adds A Whole New Dimension of Flavor
Grilling, broiling or sautéing brings out the natural sweetness of any fruit and watermelon is no exception. Here the heat and possibly the coals or wood, depending on the grilling method you use, add a smoky quality turning watermelon from sweet to savory.
Shop for local watermelons at any local farmers market and look for Got To Be Nc or Certified South Carolina watermelon in many local grocers as well. Just because school is about to start and the heat -of-summer temps are dropping a bit, doesn’t mean the end of local weekend farmers’ markets. Farmers farm all year long and Watermelons are fresh picked and in season right now till mid to late September.
Preserving The Joys of Summer Watermelon
You can preserve the taste of local Watermelon in several ways. Cut a melon into balls or squares, place in a glass jar and freeze. Frozen watermelon balls make for a a sweet calming treat to soothe a winter cold or sore throat and they are a great frozen addition to any cocktail. You can also pickled watermelon – the fruit ( yes, lightly pickled watermelon balls are a delicious side) and the rind, as well, to serve as a tasty side with any fall or winter charcuterie or cheese platter. As you will see, grilling is a wonderful way to enjoy watermelon and to help savor the flavor for later. Fresh and grilled watermelon purees – like the one in this recipe – may also be frozen, packed away to enjoy again another day.
Chefs sometimes compress fruit in vacuum sealed bags – watermelon in particular – to give it a boost of flavor and a slightly firmer feel to the texture of the pulp – it almost looks like fresh sliced ahi tuna – but grilling on your home grill or on your stove top comes close to achieving the same delicious results. Pat the watermelon slices dry and then brush on your favorite EVOO to take the fruit in a whole different direction. Season with salt and pepper after you grill and the delicious results are just like marinading, but without the wait time. Grilled watermelon is good topped with ice cream, served on salads or as a side with fish, or you may puree it to use it as a base for a cocktail or in this variation of classic gazpacho.
Once You’ve Grilled Watermelon, You Might Never Go Back
Once the watermelon is grilled you can slice it to use in combination with fresh melon on salads, with cheeses and such, or you can puree it and blend it with fresh local late summer cukes, peppers, and more to make my tasty take on Gazpacho. The watermelon, tomatoes, cukes and the Bloody Mary Mix I used in this recipe all came from my friends at Burton Farms. You can shop local with them on Saturdays at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market and Charlotte’s Cotswold Market and NoDa Farmers’s just to name a few. Check their Facebook Page here for more where to buy details.
Watch Heidi Grill Watermelon on TV!
Here is the recipe for my Grilled Watermelon Gazpacho as seen on my cooking segment originally aired on WCNC’s Charlotte Today on Friday Aug 24, 2018… Enjoy the recipe and remember to keep it local. With tomatoes, cukes, peppers and onions all still in season, you’ll find that most of the ingredients at area farmers’ markets as you “Shop Local” this weekend. Enjoy!
Heidi’s Grilled Watermelon Gazpacho
1 ( 3lb.) local watermelon, sliced widthwise in 1 inch slices – keep the skin on if you are grilling outside, or trim it off for indoor grilling
1/4 cup your favorite Extra Virgin Olive Oil ( For this recipe I like Pour Olive’s Blood Orange EVOO)
Outer Banks Sea Salt
2 cups finely chopped, firm but ripe local tomato ( seeds removed as shown in the video)
½ cup finely chopped local green pepper
½ cup finely chopped local or organic celery stalks or lovage leaves
1 cup finely chopped local cucumber ( scoop the seeds before chopping)
1/4 cup finely chopped local or organic sweet white onion
1/4 cup fresh minced Italian flat leaf parsley
2 cups tomato juice or your favorite Bloody Mary Mix ( see my notes below)
Brush the slices of watermelon lightly with the Blood Orange Olive Oil and season with Outer Banks Sea Salt. Place on a hot grill grid or in a hot grill pan a minute or two on each side. Cut the peel from the watermelon and place in a blender to puree. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a large glass bowl or large pitcher – stir well to blend.
Cover. Chill 4 hours. Toss to combine well and adjust seasonings to suit your tastes.
Serve topped with a dollop of Greek Yogurt, or sour cream, and some local microgreens and enjoy this fun spin on a summer favorite.
Local Products and Local Produce
When you shop local farmers markets not only will you find seasonal produce like the watermelon, tomatoes, cukes, peppers and onions called for in this recipe… if you keep your eyes open you’ll find local products as well. When I was shopping for the ingredients for this post, I found the Burton Farms Bloody Mix at the Burton’s booth at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. As I said in the Charlotte Today Video, when farmers have extra produce -like too many tomato – they make a a “value added” product to sell. Case in point, Burtons Tomato Juices and Bloody Mary Mix. I bought the jar on a whim , after all the tomatoes are the best , so how could this product not taste great. My instincts were right on, the tomato juice is a great addition to any sauce and the Bloody Mary Mix, well, Wow! it packs a punch and really delivers on flavor to add to this gazpacho recipe and more. Stock up now – after the season, there won’t be any more till next year! #TellThemHeidiSentYou
“Watermelon is everyone’s favorite low calorie food… basically celery in a Lily Pulitzer dress” …From Grace and Frankie