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Now and Then - Dr. Roger Branch Sr.
'Watermelon moon' of July?
Dr  Roger Branch March WEB
Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

Every full moon has been given a name. In some cases, several. In late summer and autumn, full moons are noticeably larger and brighter, thus more likely to have their names used even when names vary by month and season. September is greeted by either the Harvest Moon or the Fruit Moon. October’s full moon is the Hunters Moon, but it hasn't been the Harvest Moon in some years.

July’s moon can be Buck, Thunder or Hay. I propose another label — Watermelon Moon — because that was the time of year when watermelons were plentiful when I was growing up. Then, the melons, fruits and berries that delighted us were available only in season, the time when nature provided them in our place. Now, they are imported from all over the country and beyond and can be found in stores almost all the time.

My wish to honor watermelons with a July Moon designation stems from the fact that I always liked them so much and they were so abundant that I could eat my fill every day. They were available longer than most other natural treats, matched only by peaches. 

Contrary to the “Porgy and Bess” line. “Summer time and the livin’ is easy,” summer time for us was hot, hard work time. But it certainly was a tasty time.

Cash money, from work or credit, was scarce and store-bought things, like soda pop and ice cream, were occasional treats. However, our yards, gardens, fields and woods provided good stuff almost year-round, except maybe “the dead of winter.” Starting with spring, the woods offered dewberries, blackberries, Mayhaws, plums, huckleberries and wild grapes (bullices, bullaces sp?). Later in the fall, there were common haws (mostly seed and little fruit), sparkle berries (ditto) and persimmons (only edible after frost-bitten and barely edible then).

Autumn brought from the fields one of the year’s most abundant, delectable treats, sugar cane to be consumed in varied ways. To be sweet, cane had to remain in the patch until mature. The simple way to enjoy it was to harvest a stalk, peel off the hard outside, cut the remaining juice-filled fiber into rounds and chew it. This is not a delicate process, but it is simple and the juice is good.

At syrup-making time, canes were crushed between round metal rollers and drained into a barrel. Then, juice was available without limit or labor. All that was needed was a fruit jar, glass or gourd to convey juice from mill to mouth. 

At the end of the syrup-making process, thin residues of warm syrup collected on the rim of the boiler, a treat to be taken with a long cane peeling and consumed in limited amounts. In volume, it was a powerful laxative.

The most dependable treats came from yards and gardens. Good homesteads offered peach trees, pear trees, scuppernong grape vines, fig bushes and perhaps pomegranate bushes. Altogether, these lasted through the summer and into autumn. The fruit was eaten with enthusiasm straight off of the tree, bush or vine. Of perhaps even greater importance were tasty foods made from these fruits to enrich meals in ensuing months, even through the dead of winter: jellies, jams, preserves, spiced fruit.

This brings me back to July and watermelons. Well, cantaloupe, musk melons and the like, are included. People who have only seen the little seedless watermelons or the modestly sized green-striped ones might not know that watermelons can be found in a great variety of names, shapes and contents. Cannonball and Congo are round. Stone-mountain and Graystone are slightly oval, while Charleston-gray is oval, bordering on elongated. 

Some, like the Garrison, are definitely elongated, and one of these has excellent “yellow meat.” Another “yellow-meated” variety is called “moon and stars” because of the shapes of yellow spots on its dark green rind.

All of the traditional melons were good, tastier than modern varieties, which were developed for ease in shipping and preferred size for shoppers. My father would choose melons of perfect size and features for seed melons. When we ate them, we transferred mature seeds from melon to newspaper to dry thoroughly. Then, they were sealed in jars against insects or vermin to be planted the next year.

My favorite was the Graystone, a cross between Stone-mountain and Charleston Gray. Like the Stone-mountain, it was large, mostly round, but lighter green in color. The Stone-mountain was usually good, but sometimes “hard-hearted,” meaning that the center, normally the choice part, never ripened fully.

However, it had one favored characteristic. Its white inner rind between the red meat and hard outer rind was thick, just what Mother wanted for making watermelon rind preserves. This was a challenging undertaking because watermelons lack the acidity needed in making preserves, so that a carefully judged measure of lemon juice must be added. Too little and the product would spoil; too much and the lemon taste would overwhelm. She rarely misjudged.

Memory takes me back to boyhood in a watermelon patch, leaning close while Daddy thumped the biggest melon to determine by the sound whether or not it was ripe.

Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.

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