Hats off to Tyler Florence for the inspiration for this recipe.
I can’t really claim that I followed Tyler’s recipe. But the basics are his. It can be made entirely without turning on the stove…with one caveat*. Everything goes into the blender in easy steps that might take all of 10 minutes. Then chill it for 30 minutes and you’re there. Tasting as I went along, I changed quantities quite radically, both up and down and even added an ingredient I think is essential to any gazpacho—Vinaigre de Jerez, Spanish Sherry Vinegar. Spanish dish, Spanish vinegar.
Is Watermelon All-American? Not by a long shot.
Gazpacho may be Spanish but Watermelon strikes me as American as apple pie. Not so. It was originally domesticated in West Africa. Even then, there is evidence of watermelon seeds left in Pharoah’s tombs in Ancient Egypt. If you remember your history, years were spent preparing the Pharoah’s elaborate resting places with everything they might use in the afterlife. This included food, preserved for all eternity. Watermelon must have been highly-prized as it appears on walls of these tombs. And it is still grown worldwide in over 1000 varieties. The prize for the country that grows the most melons goes not to the United States. China produces two-thirds of the world’s watermelon.
What is America’s connection to Watermelon?
In the 17th century, Watermelon was planted in Europe in home gardens for personal consumption. Immigrants to America brought seeds with them to the Colonies. Spanish settlers brought them to Florida about 1576. The Massachusetts Bay Colony grew watermelon by 1629. Considering its West African roots, we might assume that slaves had brought a variety from there. But these poor West Africans were stripped of any possessions by their captors. It’s almost poetic justice then that in the Civil War era, free African Americans grew watermelons. They became one symbol of the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, after losing the Civil War, whites maligned African Americans for their taste for watermelon. It devolved into a racist stereotype. One that was so hurtful, it was too painful for contemporary African Americans to eat.
Our dear friend, Yvonne Durant, wrote an entire article for Gourmet Magazine about eating Watermelon in public for the very first time.
“Sitting in Cannes one sizzling afternoon…there it is, juicy-red and refreshing-looking—a great big slice of watermelon. Suddenly I am ten years old, sitting in our old Brooklyn kitchen listening to a conversation between my mother and her cousin Bobby. “June,” he says, “You know why I don’t eat watermelon? Because years ago, whenever summer rolled around, they’d find the darkest kid in town, give him a pair of new overalls and a big ole slice of watermelon, and tell him to bite into it and grin. They’d hang that poster everywhere.” The story, which I encourage you to read in full at http://www.gourmet.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/magazine/2000s/2001/08/pride_and_prejudice.html. ends “ The waiter asks “And what can I get you, mademoiselle?” I give the beach a once-over. I don’t spot anybody I know. And everyone looks European. I assume the entire beach won’t turn around pointing their fingers and laughing at me. “I’ll take the watermelon, please.” My fruit arrives, accompanied by a silver knife and fork. And then, at the age of 35, I dig into my watermelon with the whole world looking on. And it tastes fantastic.”
So does this which I am tempted to call “Gazpacho Durant.” Here is the recipe:
* Oh the caveat: I am a little Italian when it comes to tomatoes. I prefer them peeled, a process that involves scoring an X on the bottom of each tomato, then putting them in boiling water so the skin slips right off.
A great summer cooler, this quick recipe requires no cooking at all and produces a perfect starter at dinner or a light lunch all by itself.
- 3 ripe medium tomatoes, skins removed ( a personal preference which you can ignore)
- 2 Cups of Seedless Watermelon, cubed
- 1/2 Serrano Chile
- 2 tbsp. Vinaigre de Jerez (Sherry Vinegar) or Red Wine Vinegar
- 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 cup Red Onion, diced.
- 1/2 cup chopped seeded cucumber
- 3 tbsp. minced dill
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Crumbled Feta Cheese
- Step 1 Puree tomatoes, cubed watermelon, and serrano pepper in a blender.
- Step 2 Add Vinegar and Olive Oil and pulse.
- Step 3 Add Red Onion, cucumber, and dill and purée again. Season with Salt and Pepper
- Step 4 Chill at least 30 minutes. Loosen with water. Garnish with dill, crumbled Feta Cheese and more cubed Watermelon. Serve in chilled bowls or cups to keep the soup nice and cold