One of my most favorite childhood memories, shockingly enough, is centered around food… and summer.
Growing up in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a sleepy little side-town right outside of Tulsa, hearing cicadas chirp right around sunset and the smell of fresh cut grass anywhere you went on any given summer evening was pretty common. Common enough that you don’t really notice or maybe it’s just the fact that you’re a kid... thinking about kid things. It isn’t until adulthood, when you’re living in a larger “town” and can only focus on the sound of your air conditioner unit, wondering if it has even kicked off once today, and the crazy summer electric bill you’ll receive next month. It isn’t until those adult things, that you miss those kid things… like summer nights and a drive with dad, to go get a watermelon.
Driving around those summer evenings, when summer evenings in eastern Oklahoma were still middle 70’s with little humidity, and you knew you had escaped “town” entering the “country" because cooler air was suddenly rushing in from the rolled down window of your father’s drivers-side window. Freedom from the summer sun’s constant radiating heat off brick buildings and tar covered streets, the "country" of my childhood, had wet grass and hay, cool breezes, stars in the sky, and watermelon stands.
Watermelon stands were basically some open structure on the side of the road, at night lit with a pull chain/one bulb light, or even battery powered lamps. In the shack was usually one large stock tank, once used to water cattle, filled with gallons of water and big blocks of ice. Floating in that tank were the local farmer’s watermelons. All different varieties and sizes with names like Starlight and Starbright, Sugar Baby, and the most popular in Creek County, the Black Diamond watermelon.
The fun part was reaching in those ice cold tanks and pulling out the most perfect specimen to take home and crack open. Your hands and arms numb from the chilly water and the front of your "Batman" t-shirt soaked to the skin. If we got a cantaloupe that was floating along with the Black Diamond Watermelons, well those got cut open with my dad’s pocket knife and eaten on the way to the car! Ice cold and sweet those cantaloupes were… “just like candy!” Pops would say. “Just like Candy.” I would repeat, with sweet sticky juice running down my arm to my elbow.
Having the luck of finding one of those road-side produce stands recently, I discovered a lot of my favorites. The first harvest of summer yellow squash, and zucchini. Always onions of every size and variety. A few cherry tomatoes but no big bright juicy beefsteak tomatoes yet. I was actually a little surprised to find cantaloupes. Still warm from the field... Big ones too, with the textured skin and the “give” from the stem-end when you push on it lightly. It is only the end of June you know, but the farmer told me “It’s been rainy...and hot.”
Some night in the middle of July, here in Uptown OKC, I’ll wander out to my front porch and hear the faint sounds of summer cicadas singing. Hopefully, someone has just mowed their grass, and I’ll stand and wait for one hint of a cool breeze to blow across my nose… like I was sitting in the back seat of my dad’s car driving down some country road. Not sure where an old-fashioned Watermelon Shack might be set up in one of our downtown districts, but probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask the universe for one. It is summer in Oklahoma, after all.
Cantaloupe- Mint Sorbet
1 large cantaloupe, peeled and seeded (about 5 cups, medium diced)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, tightly packed
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
- In a sauce pot add your sugar and the 2/3 cups of cold water. To that add the packed mint leaves, and slowly bring the mixture to a simmer. Give the pot a stir, ensuring the sugar has dissolved and a nice minty syrup is forming. Simmer slowly for ten minutes and remove from the heat. Pour the syrup into a small bowl, and place it over a larger bowl filled with ice. While the syrup cools and the mint steeps, give it a stir once and a while until is cold. You may make this night before and chill in the refrigerator.
- While the syrup is chilling, go ahead and peel/seed your cantaloupe. Dice to medium size pieces and place into a food processor. Process the cantaloupe to a pulp. Add the lime juice and process more.
- Now you have the option of two things: If you enjoy and nice traditional icy sorbet, you may pour the mixture through a fine sieve/strainer, and removing the pulp by squeezing the juice through into a clean bowl with a rubber spatula. I, however, enjoy a “meatier” melon sorbet, so skip this part. Whatever you do just make sure the mixture is ice-cold (place in the freezer for 20 minutes) before processing in your ice cream maker.
- Once the cantaloupe lime mixture is ice cold, stir in the cold minty syrup. Mix well to ensure that it is evenly sweetened and flavored. If you taste the mixture now you will notice it’s really sweet! It should be! once something freezes the sweetness decreases. That is why melted ice cream is always sweeter.
- Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. Remove from the ice cream maker and place in the freezer at least one hour (depends on the ice cream maker and size of your bowl) to set up firmly.
- Serve your sorbet when ready.. and enjoy a taste of summer!