Long before I started the best food tour in Charleston I shared some insights in Mt, Pleasant magazine. In particular, amongst our lost flavors, I particularly relish sharing the story of the Lazarus-like resurrection of the Bradford Watermelon:
Nat Bradford’s in the process of moving his family back to the family’s ancestral seat of Sumter, South Carolina, when he stops by to see me on a clear May morning. His Bradford watermelon seeds are due to go into the ground next week, but he’s made a special trip to Charleston just to hand me some mason jars.
“Tell me what you think,” he says. “And be honest. Brutally honest.”
You might have heard the story of how Nat’s great great-great-grandfather crossed the legendary Lawson watermelon with the Mountain Sweet watermelon in the 1840s. By the time of the Late Unpleasantness, the Bradford was the preferred watermelon of the South, so much so that growers routinely poisoned or, later, electrified their melons to discourage theft. With the advent of truck farming in the early 20th century, the Bradford became a dinosaur. Unwieldy at a 30 pound average, and prone to bursting due to its high water content, the Bradford didn’t meet with modern industrial standards and was last commercially harvested in 1922.
But learning that his family’s namesake was thought extinguished, Nat emailed Shields, whose own search for the seed had been fruitless. And so began the effort to repatriate the Bradford. Nat grows out the melons to provide clean water sources in the third world. He works tirelessly to find alternate uses for his family’s melon. He reduces the juice down to watermelon molasses, a popular alternate sweetener in the 19th century. He pickles the inch-thick alabaster rind with a concentrated agro dolce spice and a long finish redolent of fresh watermelon. His pickle and molasses are both otherworldly, but I don’t want to embarrass him.
“Not bad,” I say. “They don’t suck.”
Between you and I, I’ll say this: You’ll never taste a better watermelon.
Here’s Nat showing how to cut and serve a seeded Bradford watermelon without any seeds. Mind=Blown!