Food Stuffs is a new column examining the gastronomic landscape of Bensonhurst and the surrounding neighborhoods. Each entry will cover anything and everything even remotely related to food because here in Bensonhurst, food is always news.
Some foods make me feel all patriotic and nostalgic. They remind me of when I used to watch the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks on my parent’s Panasonic TV. Or the first time I went to see those same fireworks, standing in the crowds on the temporarily closed FDR expressway. These feelings of summer and Brooklyn and sticky nights come back to me with that refreshing, bright red fruit, the watermelon.
As my adventures in pickling continue, I was drawn to the watermelon. It is a comfort food for so many of us. It brings people together. A friend of mine, who I lived with while traveling in India, made a watermelon song. It goes like this, “Watermelon, watermelon – I love you love” and repeat. Now, even the most cynical and Brooklyn-to-the-core readers may have appreciated that hippie music sampling. I certainly hope so.
Looking at the big chunks of watermelon in the pickle brine, I could only appreciate how flexible a fruit watermelon is. In the Middle East, folks save and roast the seeds and eat fresh watermelon with feta cheese. In the South, people pickle the brine with all sorts of sweet and salty flavors. Across colleges all of the country, rowdy students intoxicate the watermelon with liquor to get themselves a bit looser. And if you really want a summer treat here in Brooklyn, find yourself a watermelon-flavored Italian Ice.
I re-used a plastic fruit bag, much to the chagrin of the market cashier and paid for the two chunks of melon, one for me and one for my companion. As we left the market on 86th Street searching for a place to savor the bright pickles, I noticed a September 11 mural across the way with bright stars and stripes and an eagle reminding us to “Never forget.”
There, I thought, that’s the place to eat pickled watermelon.
We stood proudly against the mural, imagining that we were welcoming summer a few weeks before Memorial Day. Somehow, this is as close as we would get to military service.
As I bit into the tip of the watermelon triangle, I enjoyed the mixture of sweet and pickle. The first bite tasted like watermelon with a vinegary salad dressing. I was into it and continued my way down to the rind. The rind is really the best part of this pickle. Generally, when eating watermelon you would ignore the rind, but here you savor every pickled bit. The rind is firm and crunchy yet full of flavor and refreshing, salty moisture. I found myself wanting to eat through the rind to the skin, but I stopped myself, as the pickled goodness had not permeated the protective layer of the melon. This watermelon is as tough as Bath Beach.
Standing on the corner, by the 9/11 mural, eating my pickled watermelon, I looked forward to more pickles, more murals, fireworks, chants of USA and more Bensonhurst treats.
Cherry Hill Market, 2278 86th Street at 23rd Avenue, (718) 373-4900.
Is there a restaurant or specific dish you think we should check out? Let us know!