Monday, May 18, 2009
Watermelons minus water equal tasty treat
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel May 18, 2009)
"I just ate the most delicious watermelon," my daughter told me last week. "I asked the guy at the produce stand to pick out a good one, and he really knew what he was doing."
Despite my best efforts, I never know what I'm doing when choosing watermelons. A ripe melon should sound hollow when tapped, but my aging ears must lack acuity. To me, one thumped melon sounds like another.
Another much-touted technique is to select a melon with a flat yellow patch on its underside. A yellow or cream-colored spot purportedly indicates ripeness, while a white patch means the melon is still green. My success rate with that method is about 50-50.
I've tried pressing my thumb into the indentation left by the stem. If the impression gives, the melon is supposedly ripe. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn't. My less-than-stellar record at judging ripeness has affected my desire to buy watermelon. Why waste money on an oversized edible that takes up valuable fridge space without yielding a reliably flavorful reward?
My attitude changed when I discovered drying.
Have you ever tasted dried watermelon? Unless you have a home dehydrator – an inexpensive kitchen gadget readily available in stores — the answer is probably no. You won't find dried watermelon lining the shelves of your local market alongside apricots, pineapples or any of the other more common dehydrated delicacies. That's unfortunate because dried watermelon is manna for the mouth! Evaporate the liquid — watermelons are 93 percent water — and what remains is the sweet flavor of summer fun.
My son Timmy was the first person in our family to try dehydrating slices of the pink flesh. Before Timmy's experiment, we used to juice unwanted melons, but juicing is a messy process. Although the liquefied drink is tasty and refreshing, the work involved is hardly worth the effort.
But dried melons, now that's a different story.
"Oh, my gosh!" I moaned after my first bite. "This is unbelievable!"
After three to six hours of drying, a chunk of watermelon about an inch thick and a few inches long turns into a flat red slab. Although seedless melons are obviously better suited to dehydration, fruits with seeds also can be used if the seeds are first removed. The dried product can be refrigerated or frozen for later use, but in our house, that rarely happens.
"It's so good, I can't stop eating it," I told my husband this morning after finishing off one full rack and beginning another.
I hadn't planned to dry that melon. We purchased it for a family outing, and although nine of us attended the picnic at Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon, most of the melon went untouched.
"Not a very good one, is it?" Ralph asked after slicing off a sliver and giving it a taste.
For the following three days, the bottom shelf in the fridge grew stickier as the volleyball-sized orb took up valuable space. My annoyance grew each time I opened the door.
"Why do I keep buying these things?" I muttered to myself. Then I remembered the dehydrator.
It took my husband about 15 minutes to cut the melon's flesh into bright-colored chunks and layer them on five of the dehydrator's plastic racks. He switched the power on and a stream of warm air immediately flowed through the cylindrical container. The dehydrator ran for about three hours before Ralph turned it off for the night. In the morning, he switched it back on.
I shuffled toward the kitchen, still rubbing sleep from my eyes, when my senses grew excited. My ears picked up the hum of the motor while I inhaled the aroma of summers past. I lifted the dehydrator lid to uncover a rack filled to perfection with nature's own candy.
I ate the dried equivalent of about half a watermelon that day. I'm a sucker for sweets, especially the make-them-yourself, all-natural variety.
Watermelon season is just beginning, and although we try to pick the ripest fruit, it's easy to misjudge. It's also easy to correct our mistakes. When concentrated, even the blandest melon is sugar-sweet. Seek the essence and discover excellence. Now's a great time to give drying a try.