Whoever first infused a melon with alcohol deserves the same medal I’d give the first person to eat an oyster. While this summer refreshment is most often now made with vodka, I believe with every ounce of my being that the original recipe involved moonshine of some vintage.
Fastidious types use a funnel, inventive souls insert a bottle, and I know a guy who draws a grid on the melon to determine the proper place to insert a turkey injector. He’s my best friend. Any colorless liquor will do, since bourbon or brandy will discolor the flesh, and while I’ve never tried spiking a melon with gin, it might be wonderful.
The best way to do spike a melon in my less-than-humble opinion is to cut a crater about a quarter way into the flesh, pour the booze in a cup at a time and simply refill it as the liquor is absorbed. A ripe Charleston Gray is going to take all day, a moon-and-stars about four hours, so you can start one in the morning for lunch.
While you can buy watermelons year-round, it’s just not a good idea to purchase a melon in the winter. Chances are, these melons are the tail-end of a second-field crop from Central America and will look and taste like pink cucumber. I’ve gotten decent melons at the tail end of May, and I’ve even had a few November melons from the Missouri boot heel that were really good, but as a general rule, melon season in the American South corresponds quite neatly with our hurricane season, which runs from June through September, with August the peak month. It’s also not a good idea to buy seedless watermelons because watermelon seeds release an enzyme that promotes the ripening process. You’ll find people who’ll tell you a seedless watermelon can taste just as good as one with seeds, but in my personal experience this simply does not hold true.
Buy a watermelon that is proportionate; do not get one that is narrow at one end, because the smaller end will be unripe; the stem and flower scab should both be in the very center of their respective ends of the fruit. Another good sign of a ripe watermelon is a yellow bottom, sure evidence that it has ripened on the ground. When it comes to thumping a watermelon, don’t thump it: knock on it; take your knuckles and rap on it like you would a door. Listen for a hollow sound, not a tight sound. It should be firm and heavy for its size.
Watermelon Salad with Bacon and Feta
Fry or broil lean bacon until crisp. Season with freshly-ground black pepper, break into pieces and sprinkle over chilled, cubed watermelon along with pieces of feta (you can also use a blue cheese for this). Sliced chilled cucumbers are a nice option. A little fresh lime adds zest to the flavors.