It’s been hotter than the surface of the sun for about eight weeks. Here in a couple more weeks, we can all calm down and enjoy the cool, breezy 90-degree temperatures, but until then the prospect of cooking pretty much anything seems completely beyond me. The gas stove in my new apartment, while astonishingly wonderful, heats the whole house for hours, and I just don’t want to spend the time, money, and discomfort waiting for the apartment to cool down to a more palatable temperature. A friend and I even postponed our great canning adventure because neither of us could stomach the thought of standing over boiling water for that long.
The summer has brought one bright spot: I have rediscovered my love of farmer’s markets. I’m blessed to live in a city that is home to a dozen such weekly markets, and there isn’t a night of the week that I can’t find some grouping of stalls through which to wander, sampling wares and contemplating meals. A few weeks ago, I bought more small bushels of peaches than I thought I would ever eat, and my boyfriend and I ate them all in three days. Cherry tomatoes are my best friend, delicious cold out of the fridge and my juicy gateway to easy, ten-minute weeknight meals. (Think pasta with tomatoes and basil, homemade guacamole, tomato-basil salad on toast.) And watermelon.
The bright green, striped exterior of this bad boy called to me. I knew immediately that I wanted to make a cool, crisp drink with him. As I chatted with Courney, the representative from the farm whose stall I was stalking, I mentioned thinking of making agua fresca. She pointed me toward the beast of the bunch, a heavy, oblong thing that reminded me of that scene from Dirty Dancing (“I carried a watermelon?!) as I toted it to my car. Courtney assured me this fruit would yield the pinkest, ripest, juiciest fruit I’d ever tasted, and would yield me more than enough agua fresca. Oh, she was right.
I can’t tell you how easy this is, though it does require a tiny bit of patience and labor. The hardest thing you have to do is strain the pureed fruit, and speeding the process along is easy enough: I squished the pulp through the strainer with my fingers, making a bit of a mess, but enjoying feeling like a kid with a pink mud pie for a moment. When I took it to a party, it astounded my friends. This drink just tastes like watermelon in a glass, it’s so pure in flavor. That purity, if you’re so inclined, means it lends itself well to being mixed with more adult beverages. While the flavor of vodka mostly disappears into the cocktail, a shot of bourbon was the big winner, lending a spicy kick to the sweet refreshingness.
Watermelon Agua Fresca
Adapted from Eating Well
Makes 1 gallon (I increased the recipe)
You will need:
12 cups cubed and seeded watermelon (for me, this was about half of a large melon)
1.5 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
Juice of three limes
1.5 liters club soda
In a very large bowl, combine the watermelon, water, and sugar. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. (For this, you can also use your blender to blend in batches, or use the immersion blender in batches. The watermelon is so soft, I suspect you could also use a fork and a little more time.)
Into a large pitcher, strain the pulp in batches using a coarse strainer. Add the lime juice and chill at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, add the club soda and mix well.
The watermelon pulp will settle in the bottom of the pitcher, so stir it before each pour or serve it out of a punch bowl.