An heirloom watermelon experiment explodes with fruit and flavor

  • An heirloom watermelon, the Moon and Stars, gets its name from the smattering of yellow spots across its blackish green rind.

    An heirloom watermelon, the Moon and Stars, gets its name from the smattering of yellow spots across its blackish green rind. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

Posted9/1/2021 6:00 AM

I've lived on a farm for almost five months, and I still mistakenly refer to the huge 19th-century barn as the shed once in a while. But I've gotten used to having a burn pile, something equally novel for me. After years of accumulated ash and layers of green garden waste, the soil under that pile is mighty fertile. So much so that a rogue pumpkin sprouted like a phoenix after a four-hour burn the previous week. Upon witnessing this small miracle, I decided to plant some watermelon and see what happened.

Forty-two giant melons, that's what happened. An heirloom variety called Moon and Stars because of the smattering of yellow spots across its blackish green rind, this melon's flesh is an unusual pinky yellow, sweet and extra-juicy. It sports a lovely vine, too, as the leaves also develop the yellow-on-green polka dots. The first one harvested weighed 21 pounds, so there are a LOT of watermelons to get through.


When searching for interesting recipes to help, I came across one that included Persian cucumbers. Since those are also exploding in the gardens right now, this seemed a winner. I love Mediterranean flavors, and this dish included mainstays such as feta, mint and pistachios. I also grow the Korean herb perilla, which is sometimes called sesame leaf. It tastes like a combination of basil, anise and mint. While not Mediterranean, I knew it would go well with the other ingredients in this salad.

The hardest part was safely cutting open the melon. The method I teach is to first slice off the rind at one end so that you have a flat surface. Then you can stand up the melon for further cutting without any wobbling.

Persian cucumbers are similar to English or Japanese cucumbers. They are long and skinny, without many seeds and with thin skins. You can use the ones sold as snacking cucumbers, too. Depending upon the circumference of your chosen cukes, you may slice them into small coins or chop them into spears and then wedges. The aim is for the cucumber and melon pieces to be roughly equal.

I use a mandoline to get paper-thin onion slices but keep the kids away, given the sharpness of the blade. I always use the hand guard (because whenever I try to skip it, I end up cutting a finger). But another nifty and oft-used tool is the mezzaluna (half moon in Italian), which has a rocking blade. Kids really enjoy using the seesaw motion to mince the herbs, and I don't worry about mishaps.

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If you can find the feta in brine, use it. While the little containers of pre-crumbled feta may look like a timesaver, they lack the richness and creaminess of the bricks sold submerged in saltwater. Especially in a dish like this one, the moisture and flavor difference will be well worth it. Plus, feta has a longer shelf life if you replace it in the brine before storing it in the fridge. The tanginess of good feta will balance the sweetness of the melon, and the saltiness means you probably won't need to add as much salt at the end. Be sure to taste before the final seasoning.

This salad will be most refreshing when ice-cold, so refrigerate your melon or make the salad ahead of time and chill before serving. If you go the latter route, hold off adding the pistachios until just before serving to preserve their crunch.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at

Moroccan Watermelon Salad with Cucumber, Feta and Pistachios.
Moroccan Watermelon Salad with Cucumber, Feta and Pistachios. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Moroccan Watermelon Salad with Cucumber, Feta and Pistachios

4-5 cups watermelon cut into ¾-inch cubes

4-5 cups Persian cucumbers (or English or Japanese) cut into ¾-inch cubes

¼ cup thinly sliced red onion


¼ cup chopped fresh mint

¼ cup chopped perilla leaves (or substitute basil)

½ cup chopped Italian parsley

½ cup feta cheese in brine, crumbled

¼ cup toasted pistachios

¼ cup olive oil

⅛ cup red or white wine vinegar

Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Place watermelon, cucumber and onion in a large bowl. Add herbs, feta and pistachios and gently mix. Whisk olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and pour over salad, tossing gently.

Serves 8

Adapted from Sylvia Fountaine'"Feasting at Home" blog

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