Monday, August 11, 2014

CIC Takes Part in the Bradford Watermelon Project

When USC historian David Shields takes up a cause, it's a sure-fire success. On Thursday and Friday of last week, a hearty group of CIC chefs and students gathered to make Bradford watermelon rind into watermelon pickle. Nat Bradford, pictured above with his hands on his son's shoulders, is using the pickles to raise funds for Watermelons-for-Water, providing clean water in Africa, as well as Bradford watermelon seeds. Bradford writes: Here we are, my son Theron and I and our Bradford watermelon, with some of the Dream Team of the culinary world. History is being made this week with our family heirloom melon in some of the most capable hands on the planet. The Culinary Institute of Charleston rocks!!!”

Over the course of two days, some 770 jars of watermelon rind pickle were made. That process started with peeling and cleaning the rind (top two photos) and then dicing it. The next day, the jars were packed, syrup was made, and the finished jars were packed into cartons to return home with Nat Bradford.
Read more about this story in the Post and Courier: Bradford watermelon
And in these words from Dr. Shields:"Created in the late 1840s early 1850s by Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford of Sumter SC, the Bradford Watermelon became a greatly popular patch melon throughout the south and in the Lowcountry in particular. Its lustrous pink-red meat, its firm-soft inch thick rind ideal for pickling, its signature white seeds made it a favorite home consumption melon. [That soft rind put a target on the melon's back, as other, more shippable melons became more profitable.] When fusarium wilt decimated the field melons of the south in the 1890s, people persisted in growing the Bradford, despite is vulnerabilities, until the 1920s. Then, like so many wonderful things it seemingly disappeared. It remained a cherished memory, a melon whose loss was intensely regretted. When researching the history of southern watermelons several years ago, I posted a lament about its extinction, wishing that it of all the lost melons of yesteryear would return. Then a remarkable thing happened. Early in the a.m. in November of 2012 I received the following note from Nat Bradford:"

“My family has been maintaining this watermelon in a little field in Sumter, SC for well nigh onto 100 years that I know for sure. We Bradfords have been in Sumter since before the Revolutionary War, and long before it was ever called Sumter, Sumter County, or the Sumter District. The Sumter area and surrounds were major breeding grounds for watermelons in the 1800's. All of this seems to lead me to a pretty reasonable conclusion that the original Bradford Watermelon documented by W. D. Brinkle from your findings and my family's Bradford Watermelon with our own documentation is one and the same.”

Shields: So began one of the great plant restoration stories of 2013. The Bradford family had maintained its namesake melon for eight generations. (Anson Mills founder) Glenn Roberts and I urged Nat to grow out a field so Carolina could know once again the taste of this famous melon. Last August we brought an evaporator pan to the Bradford farm and made for the first time since the 1880s Watermelon molasses—a syrup whose flavor is so stunningly summery that it shocked me that such a thing once so common had been allowed to lapse. Nat took his seed melons to McCrady’s Restaurant and there with the kitchen staff reduced nearly 100 melons to molasses. The rinds were reserved for pickle. When the melons came to market in Charleston, it was national news and the stock sold out." Pics and more info on this in this Garden and Gun story:

Thanks to Dr. Shields' efforts, the Bradford watermelon has been added to Slow Food's Ark of Taste catalog. And this year, the path of its history took yet another turn. Approximately 150 Bradfords were delivered to Charleston's High Wire Distilling Company, where the meat was removed and distilled to make watermelon brandy. The folks at High Wire sent those rinds over to the CIC to make them into the watermelon rind pickle.

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