A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a vining plant that flourishes in warm climates. The fruit itself varies in size and colour, with flesh ranging from deep red to bright yellow. Although often considered a fruit, botanically, watermelon is a pepo — a type of berry with a thick rind and fleshy center. While Alberta's climate poses challenges for watermelon cultivation, advancements in farming and greenhouse technologies allow Albertans to indulge in locally-grown watermelons, especially in the warmer southern parts.
Watermelons trace their roots back to West Africa, with evidence of their cultivation dating back nearly 5,000 years. As trade routes expanded, watermelons spread to Mediterranean climates and eventually the New World. In Alberta, the watermelon's introduction is relatively recent, influenced by settlers and trade. Though the province's cool climate isn't the traditional habitat for watermelons, innovative farmers and the use of greenhouses have paved the way for local cultivation, making it a treasured summer treat.
The joy of biting into a fresh slice of watermelon on a hot day is unparalleled. However, Alberta's culinary scene has innovated beyond the traditional slice. Watermelon salads, often paired with feta and mint, offer a savoury twist, as do carefully marinated watermelon 'steaks'. Smoothies, sorbets, and juices utilize watermelon's hydrating qualities. Grilling watermelon slabs can caramelize their natural sugars, providing a unique flavour perfect for summer barbecues. Moreover, watermelon rinds, often overlooked, can be pickled or candied, ensuring minimal waste and maximum flavour.