Big, Red, Ripe, Juicy Watermelon

Although not certified, Growing Strong Farm uses organic techniques to grow some of Hawaii’s difficult crops on three acres in Moloaa. Dylan Strong’s parents, Michael and Candace, farmed on Kaua’i for 25 years.

What’s growing now: Apple bananas, Anaheim chili peppers, bell peppers, beets, carrots, cucumber, French melon, green beans, kale, lettuce, poblano chili peppers, tomatoes, watermelon.

WATERMELON

On the Mainland, water-melon is a sure sign of summer. The dark-green spheres with bright-red centers fill grocery store shelves and farmers markets stands. In Hawaii, a good crop is difficult to grow because the fruit fly “stings” them by burrowing a hole inside and laying eggs. The “sting” is evidenced by a small hole bored into the melon that’s sometimes covered by a small bump. Inside, and around the sting, the melon is rotten.

Strong employs a secret technique that prevents the watermelon from being stung. Strong grows a variety called Sugar Baby that produces 6- to 10-pound fruits, which are considered small and fit easily in the refrigerator. Red-orange flesh is crisp, rich and sweet with small, dark-brown seeds.

Season: It takes 80 days to grow from seed to table. Strong grows water-melon from May through November.

What to look for: There are many things to consider when determining if a watermelon is ripe, so it’s best to know your farmer. Generally, the thin, hard, tough rind has distinct stripes when immature, becoming almost black when ripe. Watermelon should be regularly shaped and free of cracks, stings, soft spots or bruises. There will be no smell until you cut it open.

A watermelon will not become ripe if picked when immature, so if you have a problem, let Sheala Murphy know right away. She works the farmers market stand and sells them for $1.25 a pound.

Storage: Store whole at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to a week. Slice right before eating. Cut water-melon can be stored in an airtight container for several days.

Tip: If you leave an uncut, just-harvested melon on the counter for two to four days, it will turn softer and juicer.

Preparation: The best way to enjoy watermelon is to cut up or scoop the red flesh and eat it raw. If you like, serve it slightly chilled, but if they are very cold, you’ll miss their full fragrance. Watermelon rinds can be pickled and yield a tangy, crunchy treat. For a refreshing summertime drink, blend cubes of chilled watermelon flesh at low speed and strain. Enjoy straight or mix with sparkling water.

Watermelon pairs well with savory flavors, and grilled watermelon is delicious. Brush 2-inch-thick slices (keep rind intact) with a blend of 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of minced, fresh rosemary. Grill 5 minutes per side, until flesh is lightly caramelized and dried out a bit. You also can use 2 tablespoons of chili powder instead of rosemary.

Health benefits: Ripe watermelon is high in lycopene, a phytonutrient that’s important for cardiovascular and bone health. Citrulline, an amino acid found in watermelon, improves blood flow. Watermelon is high in beta-carotene, as evidenced by the vibrant red color, and is a rich source of vitamins A and C. One cup contains 45 calories.

Growing Strong Farm’s produce can be found at: Farmers Market: Kapaa (Wednesdays, 3 to 4 p.m.) Restaurants: The Garden Cafe, Oasis on the Beach, Java Kai, Kilauea Bakery. Grocery: Hoku Natural Foods, Papaya’s Natural Foods & Cafe.

For more information, email Dylan Strong at dylancarlstrong@hotmail.com.

SWEET AND SAVORY WATERMELON SALAD

I know it may sound a little crazy, but this salad is utterly delicious! Salty feta cheese, zesty kalamata olives and spicy red onion combined with juicy, sweet watermelon makes a super summertime salad. Makes eight servings.

* 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
* juice from 2 limes
* 3.5 pounds watermelon, seeded and cubed
* 9 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
* 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, minced
* 1 bunch mint, minced
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
* black pepper

Steep onion slices in lime juice for five minutes. Combine everything and add a good grinding of black pepper. Serve right away.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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