Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watermelon Sherbet

Photo courtesy Steve Evans/Wikicommons
Watermelons are the essence of summer in the U.S. of A., right up there alongside flip-flops, barbecues, and ice-cream bars bought from the ice-cream truck trolling the streets. I can remember scorching summer days on Long Island in New York, where I grew up, and seeing the watermelon lolling in a water-and-ice-filled cooler as it chilled during dinnertime, looking like a Martian version of a pig wallowing in a puddle. It was all of a piece with summer--with the chut-chut-chut-fzzzz sound of the sprinkler, the buzzing of cicadas, and, in the evening, the sudden stars of fireflies.

Now, however, even though I still like the eye-popping colors of this oversized fruit (hot pink and lime green! What a show!), I realize I don't really like the taste of it very much. (That's not all that's changed--I remember it was fun to spit the seeds when I was a kid, but back then the seeds really were seeds, hard shiny brown things and not the small, flat, damp flecks they are now. Heck, trying to spit these seeds would be like expectorating Rice Krispies.)

So I wasn't exactly turning cartwheels of joy when my husband and daughter returned from a camping trip with an "extra watermelon" that nobody else had wanted. I would've been delighted if it had been a cast-aside cantaloupe, a leftover lot of lemons, or abandoned asparagus. But no, it was a big fat watermelon rolling around on the counter. And the two people who'd schlepped it home, it turns out, aren't particularly fond of watermelon, either.

I didn't have time to find it a new home, so I decided to chop it up and make sherbet out of it. Since I couldn't get to the sherbety part of it right away, I started by cutting it up and putting the pink flesh through a food mill to make watermelon juice. Doing this quickly reveals that a watermelon is indeed 92 percent water by weight: after cranking the food mill's handle round and round, the entire interior of the watermelon was reduced to a large container of thick, pulpy juice, with the only remains left behind in the mill a handful of seeds.

It was definitely a very pretty juice. I added some to a glass of seltzer with a bit of sugar, but that watermelon taste was still too musky for me, so the next day I followed some instructions I found online to turn it into sherbet. The recipe called for nothing more than some sugar, gelatin, and cream. After it had spun around in the Cuisenart ice-cream maker, I poured it into a pre-frozen metal loaf pan, put plastic wrap on top, and set it in the freezer.

I didn't have high hopes when I took it out the next day: It was frozen solid in the pan and wouldn't budge. It looked as if we could only eat it by scraping shavings off the top and enjoying them as a flavored shave ice. A little hot water bath for the pan, however, released it.

Now we had an impenetrable pink, melon-flavored brick.

It was a bit easier to scrape chunks off the bottom of the watermelon brick, though, and to my surprise it was actually tasty.

Today I made vanilla ice cream using a complicated recipe in Cook's Illustrated, a recipe that aimed to produce ice cream as smooth as that bought in a store, and in the article it pointed out that one of the ingredients they'd used in their tests was gelatin. They ruled it out as a failure because they noted that, like some other failed additions, it lent the product "an artificial texture and strange melting properties. The sample with gelatin refused to melt, even after 10 minutes at room temperature."

Which would probably explain our sherbet, too. Nobody's touched it since the first attempt to hack through it. So instead of a hog-sized watermelon snoring on the counter for weeks, we will have this giant pink Lego taking up space in the freezer.