Watermelons. Are you a thumper? A tapper? Do you believe in the evidentiary value of the white spot that some believe is a sign of sugars collecting in a perfectly ripe melon? Not me. I am more of a grab one and have faith guy. Thus, in my home, watermelon purchases are usually left to my wife, Julie, a self-proclaimed expert.
Last week, though, I broke ranks, and using the grab method, brought home a watermelon. Unfortunately, I picked a bad one: it was bad outside, with a thin rind, and worse inside, overripe and limp.
Dutifully, I cut it into large chunks, considered the benefits of compost, but ultimately decided, although imperfect, it was still edible. I wrapped it in plastic and put into the fridge. Now, I expected Julie to have some comments, and perhaps a chuckle or two at my expense, but, I kid you not, she spent the better part of a weekend semi-annoyed, pontificating on her superior skills of fruit selection. “You just don’t understand the ephemeral nature of watermelons,” she said, and with a straight face.
That may be, but I do know what to do with a sweet, but overripe watermelon. Restaurant work has taught me to always have a plan “B,” which, in this case, is Aguas Frescas, the simple-to-make Latin fruit punch. Immensely popular in the hottest reaches of Mexico and Central America, these cooling concoctions are hard to beat as temperatures and humidity rise. Vendors selling Aguas Frescas in Latin America are as ubiquitous as snooty baristas here in Minnesota.
Traditional Aguas Frescas makers use a fork to pulverize fruit and sugar into a thick puree base. I prefer a blender. Water should be added to the base as needed, and stirred with a wooden spoon to get a thin, more punch-like consistency. It is important to withhold most of the water until the end if you don’t want the power of your blender to create a frothy mess. Lastly, strain the mixture, or not (I prefer not), add lime, or not (I prefer lime), and serve over ice.
Here is a recipe for Agua Fresca de Sandia (watermelon). Remember, as sweetness and water vary from melon to melon, so do the amounts of sugar and water needed.
• 2 cups diced seedless watermelon (You can use seeded, but allow the pulverized seeds to settle to the bottom of the blender before carefully decanting.)
• 2 cups water for blending and 4 cups water to finish
• ¼ cup sugar
There are nearly as many types of Aguas Frescas as there are fruits. Some of the more exotic ones use guava, cucumber, and even dried hibiscus flowers (in Spanish, known as Jamaica), and rice and vanilla for Horchata. This time of year I use seasonal fruits that are both plentiful and affordable.
So I don’t know how to pick a watermelon; and I don’t consider myself an expert on any inanimate objects of nature, ephemeral or otherwise. I am a city boy, after all. But, Julie, in the end, did have to drink some humble pie—I wonder if she enjoyed it?