Friday, June 20, 2014

Honey-sweetened Watermelon Strawberry Agua Fresca

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
-Henry James

Even though most of us have been swimming and sweating through some pretty hot weather lately, the official start of summer is this weekend.  I can't think of any other fruit that really says summer to me than the watermelon.  Thick slices being eaten in the shade of a tree or poolside with a big group of friends and family.  Picnics, BBQs, beach trips- none would be complete without an ice cold lice of watermelon.  The new "personal" seedless watermelons are great for a quick snack, but really it's those giant behemoth that evoke the most vivid impressions of summer for me, maybe because it's all we had as kids. 

If you're someone my age (AKA: a preteen girl in the mid to late-80s), you probably can't see one of those giant watermelons without picturing Jennifer Grey's character Baby in Dirty Dancing giving the least impressive response of "I carried the watermelon" when asked why she was hanging out in the dancers' part of the camp.  I guess we couldn't expect better of a girl nicknamed Baby, could we?  Luckily for her, she had some help getting past that awkward moment.  Let's all pause here to reflect on the moment we fell in love with Patrick Swayze while watching that movie...

While I've got you all humming along to a great soundtrack and remembering that "Nobody puts Baby in a corner", let me introduce you to the agua fresca.  This is a simple and refreshing drink that is pretty much fruit, fruit and more fruit with perhaps a little sweetener and water mixed in for balance.  But you don't need a lot of those extras when dealing with watermelon, especially if you're lucky enough to get a perfectly ripe melon dripping with sweet juices.  It's an ideal summer afternoon refresher and if it happens to evoke a few memories of Patrick Swayze shirtless and dancing to some sultry Otis Redding, well, so much the better.

Honey-sweetened Watermelon Strawberry Agua Fresca
Makes about 2 quarts.
For the printable recipe, click here.

This recipe has become a favorite around my house this summer.  It takes almost no time at all and makes use of the giant watermelon I seem to always have taking up all the space in the fridge.  Because you're going to strain the blended fruit, there's no need to be especially vigilant about removing the seeds which is a plus in my book.  There is just a kiss of honey and a splash of lemon to brighten and balance the sweetness of the melon and strawberries.  You could go a little lighter or heavier on the honey depending on the ripeness of your fruit.  Taste them first and then decide.  The melon I used for this batch was not quite as sweet or ripe as I would have liked so I used the full amount of honey, but even that isn't very much.

1 cup water
1/4 cup light colored (and flavored) honey
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
8 cups cubed watermelon (about 1/2 large melon)
1 cup sliced strawberries

In a small saucepan, stir together the honey and water.  Place the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Cook just long enough for the honey to dissolve, 3-4 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.  Let cool completely.

In the meantime, blend the watermelon and strawberries in a blender or food processor in batches until completely smooth.  Strain the juices through a  fine mesh sieve into a 2 quart pitcher.  Discard the seeds and pulp.  Stir the cooled honey-lemon syrup into the strained juices and chill until cold.

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