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To the Moon and Stars with watermelon

To the moon and stars and back, you’ll love planting this again and again, and again.

Who doesn’t love a slice or wedge? If you’re thinking cake, Italian pie or dessert pie, sorry, but that’s another story. Citrullus lanatus is the classic heirloom watermelon. My mouth waters particularly for the Moon and Stars variety.

It’s about slurping down those succulent, rosy juices that, according to Mark Twain, “Its tasting is to know what the angels eat.”

Anyone trying to consume the original fruits, however, would have gagged on the bitter and hard, pale green flesh. Although melons have been cultivated some 4,000-5,000 years, this particular melon has a much shorter history.

Many cultivars have come from Citrullus lanatus over the years, such as Cherokee Moon and Stars, Pink Flesh Amish Moon, Long Milky Way Moon, Yellow Flesh Moon and Stars, and Van Doren’s Moon and Stars. The last was introduced in Mother Earth News in the 1980s.

Originally christened “Sun, Moon and Stars” when first introduced in 1926 by Peter Henderson Seed Co., it disappeared for decades. Thought extinct, it was miraculously reintroduced when Merle Van Doren (of Macon, MO) gave seeds to Kent Wheatly (cofounder of Seed Savers Exchange). Hence, SSE reintroduced “Amish Moon & Stars” as well as a yellow-fleshed variety in 1987.

Although seedless watermelons are preferred by many–especially those pocket-sized novelties–the prized Moon and Stars heirloom has been making a strong comeback – huge seeds and all.

There really isn’t another like this miraculous melon. It ranges from 10-50 pounds with its genetically-influenced rind of deep emerald green speckled with small golden spots (stars) and one or two larger golden orbs (the moon).

Picture sitting on the back stoop while slurping down sweet watermelon, then spitting the seeds out into the yard.

Whether round, oblong or pear-shaped and with crimson, pink or yellow flesh, Moon and Stars is exceptionally sweet and juicy.

East Asian countries grow the seeds for their nutritional value.

Watermelons are very high in water content and contain vitamins A, C, and B-complex group, iron, fiber, lycopene, Arginine, and high levels of potassium.
If you’ve managed to procure some seeds, sow them (8-10 per hill) directly, about ½” deep on a well-draining mound enriched with lots of well-rotted compost in your hottest spot with full sun exposure. They can also be sown indoors 6 weeks prior to the last frost.

With weekly deep irrigation, generous fertilization and a thick blanket of compost, harvesting could commence in 95 days. When to harvest? Well, there are no cues such as slipping from stems, or smelling or touching them. Instead, thump or scratch (beware, watermelons are easily scratched), notice the brown tendril closest to the stem, or perhaps spot a yellowed underside – all may or may not mean it’s a ripe fruit.

Maybe, it’s best to just pluck the biggest one, then cross your fingers that it’s not only the ripest but the best-tasting Moon and Stars melon that you’ll love going back for.

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A must-have melon lover’s book

Melons for the Passionate Grower, by Amy Goldman (Artisan, 2002),
Filled with history, growing tips and descriptions of heirloom melons and mouthwatering photos by Victor Schrager.

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Seed sources

Note: Since Moon and Stars melons are open pollinated, it’s best to buy seed to get what you want. To save your own seed, you’ll need to hand pollinate, then protect flowers from further pollination.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Red flesh Moon and Stars

Sustainable Seed
Yellow flesh Moon and Stars

Seed Savers Exchange
Yellow flesh, Cherokee red and Van Doren Moon and Stars

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Recipe: Watermelon sorbet or gelato


This is a quick mix recipe that you can whip up in minutes in your food processor. It’s not only delicious but nutritious.

Ingredients

About 3 cups watermelon cut in large cubes (this is about 3 lbs of flesh from a ¼ or ½ of a medium sized melon). Freeze cubes on plastic covered sheet pan. (This is a great way to preserve extra melon for future use – stored in zip-type bags.)

Organic lime juice (1/2 cup)

Optional additions:

1 tablespoon very finely minced fresh mint leaves or fresh ginger

2 tablespoons crème de menthe, raspberry or amaretto liquor

Optional sweeteners

While the basic recipe is sweet, some may like it sweeter.

1/3 cup undiluted frozen juice concentrate, thawed (apple raspberry, apple cherry or strawberry), honey, maple syrup, agave or non-caloric equivalent like stevia to taste.

For gelato: Use about 2/3 cup of vanilla flavored coconut, soy, or almond milk or regular half and half or cream instead of lime juice.

Preparation

Place melon cubes in food processor with choice of additions and start pulsing while dribbling in liquid of your choice (as well as liquor and sweetener if using) through feed tube until you get the consistency of sorbet/gelato you like. The liquid is to get things processing as well as to add flavor. You may need more or less depending on the density and exact amount of the melon cubes.

That’s it! You can loosely pack the mixture in containers and serve later.

Let it stand at room temperature about 30 minutes to soften if necessary.

Makes about 3 cups.

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