Y’all know I love to garden, and each year, I try my hand at growing something new. I was walking my 11-pound Shih Tzu, Ewok, through the neighborhood one spring evening, when a friendly neighbor was outside watering his plants. He asked me if I liked watermelon and offered to give me a few plants he had recently purchased. Now, my little community is like Mayberry, filled with good people and plenty of porch sitting. I had never grown watermelon before, but of course I took him up on it. With a little advice to plant them a few feet apart and give them lots of water, he said I’d have fresh watermelons in about 90 days. So, off I went excited to plant them in my backyard.
I wish I could tell you I went on to grow the biggest, juiciest watermelons I’ve ever tasted, but unfortunately, that’s not exactly what happened. I planted two watermelon plants, so I had a 50/50 shot of getting at least one good one. The growing started out strong, with sprawling vines and pretty little yellow blooms. The first plant seemed to grow faster than the second, and I had a nice golf ball-sized watermelon growing away. I would come outside to check on it every day and was happy with its progress. Then, my husband decided to cut the grass, and to my dismay, the first plant didn’t survive (it’s a wonder he did!).
The next plant soon caught up, and this time I had a tennis ball-sized watermelon. Tropical Storm Ida came through and we had a tree fall down in the backyard, right over the top of it, but nevertheless it soldiered on.
One day I walked outside, and the watermelon was there growing on the vine. The very next day, the little green ball was gone, with only a puny little vine left limply on the ground. I don’t know what kind of critter made its way through our picket fence and got away with it, but I sure hope the little thief enjoyed that bite.
Georgia may be the Peach State, but we’re also among the leading five states in the U.S. that consistently produce watermelons. According to GeorgiaGrown.com, Florida, Texas, California and Arizona are the other top producers.
An iconic symbol of summertime with a thick rind and fleshy center, the sweet, juicy fruit comes by its name honestly. Watermelon has an extremely high water content, approximately 92%, giving its flesh a juicy and thirst-quenching texture while maintaining crunch. The fruit is also packed with nutrients (watermelon has more lycopene than tomatoes!) and boasts some pretty impressive health benefits. In Georgia, nearly 40,000 acres of land make up our watermelon production and the top five producing counties include Dooley, Crisp, Tift, Wilcox and Worth. China is number one in global production, while the United States ranks fourth.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture says famed missionary explorer Dr. David Livingstone first found watermelons in the 1850s growing wild in central Africa.
We’re on the backend of watermelon season now, but I couldn’t think of a better fruit to kiss summer goodbye. This Labor Day weekend when I’m sitting on the beach, I’ll be tipping back this watermelon cooler, thinking about how to grow a better crop next season.
1 1/2 pounds (4 cups) sliced seedless watermelon, rind removed
1 cup lemon sorbet
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 cups cold water
Watermelon wedges and mint, for garnish
In a food processor, blend watermelon, sorbet and lemon zest until very smooth. Stir in 1 1/2 cups cold water; cover and refrigerate until very cold. Serve over ice and garnish with watermelon wedges and mint.
Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a private chef and the author of the best-selling memoir “Some Kinda Good.” Featured in Forbes, on Food Network and ABC, she writes about Southern, coastal cuisine, locally sourced and in-season. Connect with her on social media by liking Some Kinda Good on Facebook, or follow @SKGFoodBlog on Instagram and Twitter. To learn more, visit RebekahLingenfelser.com.