The Food of August: Watermelon

It’s August. It’s hot and sweaty, and the temperatures even at night are warm and damp from the humidity. But Arkansas has a blessing of a bounty that comes to market at this time of year… the glorious watermelon.

Other states claim watermelon as their own, and indeed the green-globed gourd does come to us out of Africa. We have close ties to it here, though, and we celebrate it all through the month of August.

There are two competing festivals the second week of the month to honor the sweet, wet treat. Head to Cave City for what’s been determined to be the World’s Sweetest Watermelons. This is no idle claim. Researchers with the University of Arkansas have compared melons raised in the sandy earth around Cave City with melons from all over the US and the world. Somehow or another, the sugar content from the Cave City fruit is higher than all the rest. Come to town for the festival and enjoy gospel and country singing, an auto show for professionals and amateurs, a parade and pancake breakfast, lots of vendors and a big lawn to park your keister and relax. At four in the afternoon, area growers offer slices of ice-cold watermelon for free, as much as you can eat.  Check out more about the festival here.

Down in southwest Arkansas, the largest melons around are feted at the Hope Watermelon Festival. And I do mean big. We’re talking more than 200 pounds for the top melons. In fact, in 2006 Lloyd Bright’s 268.8 pound melon was registered as the world’s largest by the Guinness Book of World Records. You have to pay for your big old slice of melon at the festival, a couple of bucks, but it’s ice cold and it’s served the entire festival. And it’s vast — row after row of vendors, kids racing tiny cars, seed spitting, quilt showing and what-not. It’s also a little longer than the Cave City Watermelon Festival, and to get the best of both worlds go to Hope on Friday and Cave City on Saturday.  Find out more information here.

You don’t have to wait til a festival to enjoy a nice cold slice of watermelon raised right here in Arkansas. Our farmers markets already have them out and ready to purchase. You’ll also see roadside stands here and there, advertising where they got their melons and such. Prices seem to be ranging in the $8-15 range this year for a decent size one. Chilling is not necessary but sometimes prudent. I eat mine over the sink or out in the yard in a t-shirt I don’t care too much about.

Some folks will argue what goes on a melon. There’s a camp of people who swear by salting their melon — and others who insist sugar is the appropriate spice. Me? I like mine cold and by itself and plenty of room to spit the seeds.

Wondering what to do with your watermelon rind? Here’s a recipe for making watermelon rind pickles… or, if you’d rather compost your rinds, the Bryant Packing Company sells Old South Watermelon Pickles made right here in Arkansas.

Kat Robinson is the communications manager for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism's tourism division. She is a lifelong Arkansawyer with years of residency in Little Rock, Russellville and Jonesboro.

Posted in Food and Drink

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