I was sitting on my porch this afternoon, rocking and enjoying the shade of a huge red oak tree in my yard, when I noticed a slight coolness in the breeze. Wait…isn't this mid-July? No complaints. The faintly cool breeze and the clear blue sky reminded me that this would be the perfect kind of day to hang sheets out to dry on a clothesline. Days like this lead to clean, fresh smelling dry sheets! I know most folks don’t hang laundry out to dry anymore, but the memory of hanging clothes on the line with my mama brought a smile to my face.
Not that I loved doing it, believe me. When we would hang the linens and towels out on the clothesline to dry in our St. Joe Beach back yard, I grumbled at how the hot sun bore down on us, causing beads of sweat to form almost instantly. The line was put up for mama by dad, so she could use it when she wanted to, and it worked beautifully and effectively in that hot Florida summer sun, that is for sure.
Before the sun set, while it was still hot and humid, we’d go out to the line to take the now-dry laundry down. When I took down towels, I wondered why we would hang them out like that to turn into stiff, scratchy sheets of terrycloth when we had a perfectly good dryer. But that’s just what many people in mama's era did, even if they had a dryer. Admittedly, I did love the way it made the soft, cotton sheets feel; warm from the sun, bleached bright white by its hot rays.
I remember the relief we felt when we brought the baskets full of clean linen inside, reveling in the cool air and the whirring of the fans in each room of the house, a necessity for hot beach summers.
On those steamy summer days, mom or dad would stick a nice, ripe watermelon into the fridge, chilling it in anticipation of moments like that instant when you come in from outside, hot from the sun and the exertion of laundry or gardening or a lovely long day on the beach. They would pick one up as a special treat occasionally, bought from the Piggly Wiggly, Rich’s IGA, or from a guy by the side of the road with a truckload of them, fresh from the Alabama soil.
When the melon was chilled, my little sister and I would happily spread out old newspapers on the kitchen table, and mama would get out her big knife, the one she received as a wedding gift, and give it to daddy. He would cut through the hard green rind, made crisp by the cold refrigerator air, pushing through it until reaching the soft flesh of the watermelon. He always made long, wedge slices for us, and then we’d be sent to the back or front porch with some paper towels to eat the sweet, pink melon, juice dripping down our little girl chins, and we’d spit the seeds to see whose would go farthest.
When we’d gotten as much off the rind as possible, we’d throw them away (mama didn’t like them pickled, as some do) and rinse off the sticky-sweet juice in the water hose in the yard, squirting each other with it and squealing, and sometimes hooking the hose up to the lawn sprinkler to play in its spray for awhile before it got dark.
Remember how free you felt, dancing around the yard in the water sprinkler? Remember laughing and trying not to trip over it as you squealed with delight as the sprinkler hit your warm back with its cold spritz of refreshing water? Talk about childhood joy…that was the perfect distillation of it. Well, that and the cold, delicious watermelon.
Nowadays, as I bring home my small round watermelon with its seedless pink flesh, I still enjoy its deliciousness on my front porch, rocking away, the little girl inside me still squealing with delight and longing for a water sprinkler to dance in, remembering those beautiful childhood days on my beloved St. Joe Beach.
Melon berry salad
4-5 cups watermelon chunks
1 cups sliced strawberries
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 package soft fresh mozzarella, cubed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large serving bowl, combine the watermelon and the strawberries.
Add the cheeses and the basil, and toss well.
Sprinkle the olive oil and vinegar over the salad, and toss again to distribute the dressing throughout the salad.
Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and half teaspoon of pepper, and toss gently to distribute.
Chill for an hour or so while you make the rest of your meal, and serve!
Note: Best served day it's prepared, but I will use it again one day later if there are leftovers.
After that, however, the melon and berries release too much juice and the consistency is no longer optimal.
Refreshing Watermelon-Margarita salad
Watermelon-margarita fruit salad by Mama Steph
3 to 4 cups of cubed watermelon
2 cups fresh strawberry slices
2 cups seedless black grapes
2 cups fresh pineapple cubes (canned is ok in a pinch)
fresh mint leaves, torn into very small pieces
juice of four limes
1/2 cup agave nectar (honey, if you don't have agave)
In a Mason jar, mix together the lime and agave. If you really want to make this salad "margarita-like," you can also add 1/4 cup tequila to this dressing for a grown-ups-only version. Put the lid on the jar, and shake well. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, toss together all the fruit and the torn mint leaves.
Pour the dressing over the fruit, then gently toss again to distribute the dressing.
Chill for an hour or two before serving, if time allows.
(Note: I enjoy a little bit of crumbled Feta cheese over the top of my serving of this salad, to give it a salty tanginess. I don’t add it to the whole bowl, as some don’t care for it.)
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com.