It’s Always “Watermelon Season” Somewhere
From the U.S. to Mexico, the fruit that refreshes and awakens year-round.
Simply put, it’s a classic. We can thank the superfruit for the reason behind the crowning of watermelon queens and the country croon about a certain crawl. It’s now common to spot watermelon in retail stores and on restaurant menus year-round. And few can resist the simple nostalgia of a simple watermelon slice or wedge. Finish the wedge off, and you’re left with a watermelon rind in the shape of a big grin. The fruit can’t help but make people smile.
Always In Season, Year-Round
While the word “watermelon” alone conjures up moments of free-spirted summertime—family BBQs, lazy beach days, and seasonal soirees—the reality is that watermelon is always nearby. This is thanks to the diversity of climates that enable watermelon to grow and thrive within arm’s reach of U.S. grocery stores and restaurants.
Over 30 U.S. states grow watermelon, with harvest starting on the East Coast and rolling westward and north across the country over the course of several months. As the U.S. watermelon harvest is complete and farmers focus on tending to their fields, preparing their soil, and planting for the next growing season, neighbors to the south (namely Mexico) are harvesting perfectly ripe watermelon, delivered to the U.S. within just a few days of picking.
New in 2022 - A Twist on Tradition
With a long growing season and well-suited weather, California ranks as one of the top watermelon-producing states in the U.S. Throughout the Central Valley, watermelon bask in warm sunshine during the day before cooling off in the chill of the night. Even harvesting watermelon in California takes on a unique approach, with crews running in the morning and during the night to avoid the hottest part of the day. While whole, fresh watermelon reigns supreme, growers and processors in California are finding new ways to bring watermelon to customers across the country through fresh cut and juice formats.
Not far from the agricultural lands of California live some of the most vibrant cities and food scenes on the West Coast – and many restaurants are bringing those nearby fresh flavors into their kitchens and behind the bar, preparing a variety of sweet and savory dishes, fresh spins on classic cocktails and new, innovative beverages.
A Community Symbol
In Lakeland, Florida, the watermelon is arguably on par with the orange as an agricultural star in the Sunshine State. From watermelon festivals to watermelon races, the fruit is a mainstay in community events. Mark Twain has said it best: “The true Southern watermelon… is not to be mentioned with the commoner things. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.”
In Florida, watermelon farming is a multi-generational affair with grandparents, parents, and grandchildren often working alongside each other for many years. The family commitment to stewarding the land ensures that the farm and the relationships built through the farm can sustain the family’s livelihood over many generations. But the family ties aren’t bound to blood relatives—watermelon farming takes an enormous extended family of farmworkers who care just as deeply for the land and this delicious fruit. In fact, many of the farmworkers have stayed with the same farming family for decades.
A Mexican Icon
One-third of the watermelon supply in the U.S. is imported from Central American countries, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Mexico. This ensures the fruit’s year-round availability. In Mexico, the watermelon (“sandía” in Spanish), is one of the most beloved every day fruits. It’s found throughout markets—large or small—and is a common fixture in Mexican street food where it’s served mixed with other fruits, topped with chile and lime, or served plain and simple.
Popular in Mexican still life art, watermelon is often showcased in artwork related to the Dia de los Muertos celebration or “Day of the Dead.” Frida Kahlo’s notable painting Viva la Viva depicts the vibrant joyful color in watermelons, a juxtaposition as it was completed eight days before the artist’s death. Food culture runs deep in Mexico and Mexicans are passionate about watermelon—there’s even a legend that the colors of the Mexican flag were inspired by the colors of watermelon. And as one Mexican watermelon farmer told us, “God and watermelons have been my best satisfaction and nothing else.”
No Wrong Way to Eat a Watermelon
While there’s arguably no wrong way to eat a watermelon, innovative menu concepts ranging from sweet to savory are popping up all over the U.S. and Mexico. While watermelon has been deemed the unofficial fruit of summer, enjoy it year-round in these culinary applications.
A watermelon salad with feta and basil is a perfect synergy of traditional flavors, while the unexpected pairing of watermelon with dairy showcases the fruit’s flavor diversity. Watermelon skewers stacked with Mozzarella balls and slices of tomatillos with a honey lime vinaigrette creates an updated spin on a traditional caprese salad. Served alongside various cheeses, watermelon brushed with honey, flash-grilled, chilled and topped with a drizzle of balsamic makes a delicious grilled watermelon salad – a popular side dish in several American restaurants.
In Guadalajara, Mexico, a modern take on watermelon gazpacho presents with ingredients cut into cubes instead of pureed—visually showcasing watermelon’s identity as the source of fresh flavor. For small bites or appetizers, watermelon is carved into little handheld “cups,” stuffed with goat cheese, and topped with cantaloupe and toasted coconut. And a decomposed watermelon salad appears sculptural—watermelon sliced geometrically with shaved jicama and cucumber, garnished with beet microgreens.
In Mexico, meals are often washed down with aguas frescas and drinks flavored with fresh fruit. It’s not uncommon to stumble upon Watermelon Agua Fresca or Guadalajara Punch, a “party punch” which is served throughout the region of Jalisco in large, wide-mouthed clay bowls, called cazuelas.
Synonymous with summertime celebrations, watermelon enhanced with alcohol is popular in the U.S.—watermelon margaritas and daiquiris are about as quintessential to summer as it gets. Stepped up a notch, frozen, cubed watermelon is a game changing substitute for ice cubes.
Paired with the umami in a shrimp salad, alongside prosciutto, or even on a pork slider compliments the bright, clean, and crisp flavor of the fruit. Grain salads compliment watermelon with their earthy, nutty flavor. Equally as appropriate for a brown bagged lunch as a picnic basket accompaniment, try a farro salad tossed with cubed watermelon, basil, and a yogurt dressing.
While tradition runs strong in Mexican culture, chefs honor the past with forward-thinking applications of everyday ingredients: watermelon “steak” provides colorful contrast to the tuna steak it sits beneath, and watermelon tartare replaces the steak all-together for a brilliantly colored plant-forward main course.
Watermelon granitas and paletas play upon the fruit’s naturally cooling and refreshing nature. To make your own Watermelon Mint Paletas, blend together watermelon with mint, lime juice and zest, and a sprinkle of sugar before pouring into ice pop molds. For a granita? Blend the same ingredients and freeze the mixture in a bowl for about 30 minutes before serving. Easy, refreshing, and delicious.
In recent years, watermelon cakes have gained some momentum. The seedless variety is shaped into the base of a cake and then commonly topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. Equally as beautiful as it is delicious, watermelon sorbet and watermelon yogurt parfaits are also healthful dessert options.
So while it’s true that there is no wrong way to eat a watermelon, there’s no wrong time either. Perfectly ripe and vibrant twelve months of the year. The sweet balance to savory. A refreshing twist on traditional. A healthy moment, any time. Watermelon is nature’s year-round gift of inspiration.
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