Ark of Taste
Citrullus lanatus v. Bradford 1
One of the three oldest surviving North American watermelons for which a breeding discipline and a standard configuration developed, the Bradford Watermelon came into existence in the 1840s and 1850s in Sumter, SC bred by Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford (1809-1882). The Bradford became the important late season market melon in the South from the 1860s through the 1910s. Since the 20th century flavor has been sacrificed for transportability and disease resistance in breeding. The last commercial crop of Bradford melons was planted in 1922 outside of Augusta, GA. Finally only the Bradford family itself kept the stock alive — for eight generations, until Nathaniel Bradford in 2012 stepped forward to champion the restoration of this historic standard of watermelon quality.
The Bradford Watermelon when perfected in the early 1850s benefitted from the textural crispness that was the hallmark of the Mountain Sweet Watermelon, while possessing the sugariness and nuance of the Lawson Watermelon. It was a superior melon for consumption as is. But its sugariness made it particularly useful for the manufacture of watermelon molasses. The boiling down of melon meat in sorghum evaporator pans was a common process in the late 19th century. Indeed, Col. William Duncan of Charleston, SC, and Jonathan Davis in Georgia manufactured commercial brands of Watermelon sweetener. They found, like present day commercial producers of watermelon syrup for snow cones find, that the taste of watermelon was so associated with summer that their molasses had a short sales season. Nevertheless, the Bradford Watermelon was the ideal rendering melon for summer molasses.
Watermelon pickles process the edible rinds of watermelons as a condiment. The quality that most recommended a variety of watermelon for pickling with the tendency of the rind and sub-rind (exocarp) to become glassy or translucent upon long boiling at low heat. While the Citron Watermelon was bred exclusively for pickling, certain standard watermelons were considered worthwhile sources for pickles. The Bradford stood foremost among these in the American South. The recipe for pickling is as follows:
Watermelon Sweet Pickles
Two pounds of watermelon rinds boiled in pure water until tender. Drain them well. Then make a syrup of two pounds of sugar one quart of vinegar half an ounce of mace an ounce of cinnamon and some roots of ginger boiled until thick and pour over the melons boiling hot Drain off the syrup heat it until boiling hot and pour over the melons three days in succession They are very nice and will keep two years. Barringer, Maria Massey. Dixie cookery; or, How I managed my table for twelve years: A practical cook-book for southern housekeepers (Cambridge, MA: Loring, 1867).
First photo courtesy of Carolina Gold Rice Foundation