Summer arrived long before the Summer Solstice did in the heart of Texas. The heat, humidity, and mosquitos made an entrance early in May. Our only redemption is that we have had beneficial rains and some reasonably sensible temperatures at brief intervals.
It’s definitely summer and people are turning their thoughts to staying cool, maybe taking a plunge in a pool or wading in a stream along a hiking path. And, there’s always sweet tea and lemonade on our minds!
But there’s more – summer means fresh vegetables and cold, sweet and juicy watermelons. Last week I made a 40-minute drive to a large produce market that sells not only their own produce, but vegetables and fruits from all over the Texas Hill Country. Plus they sell various kinds of pickled vegetables and jams made right there in their own kitchen. It’s always fun to walk in their door and see what has “come into season” that week! But my favorite part of this trip were the rows of large sunflowers almost ready to be picked and sold inside the markekt. To me there’s nothing that says summer more than sunflowers!
There’s something so refreshing about a bite of ice-cold watermelon on a hot afternoon.
Recently I bought a small watermelon to chill and slice. The stores market them as “personal size” melons which always makes me smile, but they are ideal for just one person to eat over a few days. It had been a while since I bought a whole melon, but decided it was ridiculous to pay the price of an already sliced bowl of watermelon when it would only take a few minutes to cut up the small personal size melon. As I cut into it and the juice spread rapidly over the cutting board I had a flash flood of memories of summer watermelon cuttings and also the quick memory of why we always cut them outside on a nice stack of newspapers!
As I sliced I remembered my grandfather’s large sun-browned fingers and how expertly he could thump a watermelon to select the best choice. He knew exactly the right thump and no one ever argued with him. The melon would be brought home and stored in the old refrigerator in what was called the utility room of their house. Late afternoon when the heat and humidity was at its finest the melon and a large butcher knife would be taken outside to the concrete table in the backyard. There, on the stack of newspapers, the melon would yield its red or yellow fruit.
The adults offered plates and forks as well as a shaker of salt. However, the kids always declined all offers. I preferred to bite into the slice and knaw all the way to the rind with juice running down my chin and arms onto my clothes. I knew I would suffer a lecture from my mother about the stains on the clothing, but that would be later. For now it was serious eating on the cool, sweet watermelon. Lasting memories were created on those afternoons under the pine trees.
I remember in particular one round, very dark green watermelon that my grandfather brought in one day. It was still warm from the field and he stated that he got it from a certain farmer and had picked it from the field. As a child I assumed that the farmer was there and told my grandfather to help himself to a fresh melon. It had the darkest yellow meat and as I remember it was the best watermelon I ever ate. When I mentioned this particular melon to my father many years later Daddy chuckled and shared that the adults had all suspected that the melon was not a gift from the farmer (as I had assumed), but that it had been plucked from the field when no one was looking. Stolen!