Summertime. Canberra. 1960s. My childhood. Life was carefree and simple--and when it came to keeping cool there were only a couple of rules according to my parents: 'Go outside and play under the sprinkler'. And, 'Come, eat some fresh watermelon', or dinnye (diɲːɛ) as it is known in Magyar.
The days were hot in Canberra during summer in the 1960s. In fact, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, 'the highest recorded maximum temperature was 42.2 °C on 1 February 1968, followed closely by 41.4 °C on the previous day, that being 31 January 1968'. To compensate for the heat, my father always made sure that there was plenty of soda water or szódavíz, and a watermelon or two in the house. Fresh watermelons (usually the size of a small zeppelin) were kept in the laundry, which was south-facing and had cool cement floors covered by chic black and white linoleum tiles. My mother made brawn or kocsonya from pig's trotters, onions and carrots, and I remember that she would always place dishes of her brawn on top of the double cement tub in the cool of the laundry to allow the mixture to set to jelly. How the family loved that brawn! Ah, but now see I have digressed.
My family ate watermelon in the European way—that is, you were given a wedge of melon bigger than the biggest dinner plate, along with a small blunt fruit knife. With a tea towel tucked into the neckline of your shift or your shirt, you'd sit and cut cubes of watermelon and eat them from the end of the knife. It was the ONLY time we were allowed to eat with a knife in this way and we did this with rockmelon (sárgadinnye), too.
As parts of Australia swelter with temperatures well into the mid 40s, Canberra has now hit the 40 °C mark too. As such, there's a good sized (seven kilogram!) watermelon chilling in my fridge. The fruit is fresh, juicy and sweet—and a fast, refreshing summertime treat. Watermelon teams beautifully with lime, mint and pomegranate, such as in my Watermelon and Vodka Crush with Pomegranate. Indeed, the combination of watermelon and lime is so mind-blowingly good that Peter's eyebrows go up as he eats it with gusto! I use a similar combination of ingredients to prepare a salad made from watermelon with pomegranate, lime and mint, which I'm sharing here. I remember that I first tasted this type of salad in the 1990s, when one of the chefs that I'd invited to the cooking school served it with a barbecued lamb back strap. Here's how I like to prepare it.
The recipe or method...
This is so simple, you really don't need a recipe, but I know that some of you will ask, so here we go.
WATERMELON WITH POMEGRANATE, LIME AND MINT
6 cups cubed watermelon*
seeds from one pomegranate
3 tablespoons mint leaves, shredded
juice from 2 limes
wedges of lime and mint sprigs, to garnish
Combine the cubed watermelon with the pomegranate seeds in a serving bowl. Sprinkle over the shredded mint leaves and sprinkle with the lime juice before serving. Serves 4-6. *I use the flesh cut from from 3.5kg watermelon.
To 'dessertify' this salad, add lime zest and some sliced strawberries, and perhaps some brown sugar and rum. For a more savoury salad, add crumbled feta, some caramelised onion or eschalot, and dress with a drizzle of olive oil. Perfect with grilled salmon or barbecued lamb.
Watermelon and iced gin a la Lyndey:
For something deliciously different and extra special for adults only, home cooking 'hero', Lyndey Milan, loves to serve watermelon with iced gin. Simply cut watermelon into wedges and serve on a plate beside a shot glass of iced gin. Lyndey says it's imperative that the gin is of very good quality, such as Tanqueray, Bombay, Sapphire or Gordons. Dip the watermelon wedges into the gin if you’re feeling really decadent!
Watermelon teams beautifully with lime, mint and pomegranate...
Watermelon = fresh, juicy and sweet...
To be eaten with gusto...
Tell me, is it hot in your part of the world right now? What are you doing to stay cool? And what rules did your parents set down in the summers of your childhood?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.