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Heirloom Watermelons Coming Back
Josh Fitzwater, the editor of Southern Grit, a Virginia-based food publication, has made it his mission to travel the South and beyond to find tasty watermelons.
“It started when I moved from Norfolk to Richmond, Va., and I started visiting local farmers’ markets where I tasted a Moon and Stars watermelon with orange flesh. It tasted different from any watermelon I’d tasted before.”
Fitzwater’s partner Deb Freeman, a fellow food writer, was researching the Bradford watermelon, another heirloom. Soon the two were on the hunt, looking for more and celebrating them in story form in Southern Grit. As they met more watermelon farmers and tasted their products, the interest became a passion.
“We think we have tasted as many as 40 or more,” says Fitzwater.
One of Fitzwater’s favorites is the Red-N-Sweet developed at the Louisiana State University Calhoun Research Center. Researchers there bred several melon lines, releasing the Red-N-Sweet in 1987. While not an old melon, he reports it’s a great one and one that was almost lost.
“The outside of the melon is striped and has a relatively thin rind but is ideally named as its vibrant crimson flesh and sugared taste are immediately evident,” recounted Fitzwater in one of his watermelon articles. “The melon is so sweet that it routinely measures between 12 and 14 on the Brix scale, while the average watermelon measures between 8 and 9.”
“The crispest melon I’ve tasted is the Ali Baba,” says Fitzwater. “It was introduced from Iraq about 20 years ago, where the parental line is thought to have been lost due to war.”
The Ali Baba has hard, light green rinds ideal for shipping or storage. The light color is resistant to sunburn, and the flesh is described as sweet, luscious and very crisp.
“For full flavor and complex notes, I’d go with the Bradford watermelon, selected in South Carolina in the 1850’s, or perhaps the Crookneck, developed in Arizona in the 1900’s,” says Fitzwater. “It’s complex with multiple flavor notes.”
“I’ve crossed a Crookneck that was grown in Pennsylvania with the Ali Baba,” reports Fitzwater. “The result was a really dynamite watermelon. I’m working with the seed, selecting to create a truly Virginia-based watermelon.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Southern Grit (ph 757-805-1297; southerngritmag@gmail.com; www.southerngritmagazine.com).

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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #5