LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 19. Follow us all summer long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce.
by CHEF JAY PIERCE
There are many types of melons in the market this time of year, and the first thing that folks want to know is how to pick out one that is ripe. Regardless of how much conviction someone has when they explain their system for selecting the perfect melon, nothing is fool-proof.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Visit the farm to buy your melon.
- Barring that option, visit the farmer at a farmers’ market and choose a melon that is heavy for its size.
- If you are inspecting melons outside at a farmers’ market, there should be a delicate aroma.
- Korey Erb of Guilford College likes the Crimson Sweet and the Sangria varieties, and we agree that we like the size to be just a touch larger than a basketball.
- Inspect the belly for some yellowing, as opposed to fish-belly white.
- If none of the melons instill confidence in you of their ripeness, ask the vendor, they’ve usually got an inkling of how the melons have been trending.
- A good friend of mine from Morganton recently reminisced about his father and grandfather cutting a triangle-shaped “plug” out of a watermelon to check on its ripeness and popping that plug back in if the melon wasn’t quite ready. I’m not sure that behavior is still culturally acceptable.
A word about a Cantaloupes
Cantaloupes require inspecting the skin beneath the netting to look for more yellow than green, and skin that seems to yield to the pressure of your squeeze. Folks around these parts tend to prefer the Athena variety, but if you come across a Charentais or a Turbeville from the Danville area, scoop them up.
Once you get the melon home, what do you do with it?
- Store it at room temperature for a day or so, to help insure that sweet succulence that you are hoping for. The melon will continue to ripen, if stored outside of the refrigerator.
- Don’t be tricked into eating or serving ice-cold watermelon; you can’t taste it. The frigid temperature numbs your taste buds and is a ploy to get you to accept less flavor in your melon, just like American Lager advertisers attempting to convince you to drink your beer ice-cold; the only thing that achieves is preventing you from tasting it.
- Cut up your melon and taste it. If you’d prefer it a sweeter, try adding a pinch of salt and/or a drizzle of honey.
- If the rind of the watermelon is nice and thick, make some pickles (we’ll post a recipe next month).
- If you’d like something a tad bit different, wrap the melon slices in tissue-thin ham and grill.
- If you want to leave the decisions to us, stop in and order our Whimsical Watermelon appetizer, it might just knock you out of your chair.
Whimsical Watermelon and Backroads Bibb Salad both feature Watermelon in the new Endless Summer Menu, August 22 – October 2 at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen.
Watch Chef Jay Pierce make Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s Whimsical Watermelon on WFMY News Channel 2, and follow the recipe below.
A southern antipasto–this dish puts a southern spin on the Italian tradition of serving fresh cut cantaloupe with prosciutto.
2 cups diced watermelon
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh mint chiffonade
1 ounce country ham chiffonade
1 ounce ricotta cheese
Cut watermelon pulp into 1 inch cubes. To a bowl, add watermelon, vinegar, oil and 1 teaspoon mint; mix well. Transfer to a chilled soup bowl. Top with ham, cheese and remaining mint.
Makes – 1 serving