Watermelon Wonders

Forget the sugary-sweet, grocery-store hybrids you're used to; at Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison's Cartersville farm, they're reviving near-lost heirloom varieties and giving them a fresh new consideration.

Quatrano and Harrison have been growing fruits and vegetables—and raising animals—on their Cartersville, Georgia, farm since moving onto the family property in 1992. It’s a welcome retreat from their busy city lives, so they gladly drive each day from Summerland Farm to their Atlanta restaurants, bringing with them produce to use in the kitchens. After the work day is done, they return to the farm loaded down with compostable matter from the restaurants as well as used vegetable oil to power their bio-diesel tractors and trucks. These chefs are the real deal—champions of “farm-to-table” cuisine and sustainable living. Quatrano’s eye for detail, coupled with a deep respect for Southern food and tradition, have resulted in some of Atlanta’s finest dining establishments as well as Star Provisions, her exceptional market for all things tasty and tasteful for the table. The active role that these two take in their business affords them the opportunity to play around with merchandising and menu ideas. What’s more, their staff is well versed in stretching their imaginations.

The testing starts right on the farm and—as Quatrano rides through the fields on an all-terrain vehicle with two or three dogs along for the ride—she explains how growing heirloom fruits and vegetables connects the gardener and the diner with forgotten flavors. While the hybridization of plants may help make them more hearty or pest- and disease-resistant, it also cancels out some flavor profiles that, while subtle, are complex and important. “I believe that hybrid watermelons have been altered to ripen quickly and to have an enormous sugar content,” she says. “Most people have only tasted water-filled, sugary melons. When we tasted the heirloom melons, it was incredible to find that some are so creamy and almost squash-like in flavor. Those ended up being fabulous for use in white melon gazpacho with cucumbers and almonds and in tomato watermelon salads. We also love to pickle, and the rinds of some heirlooms provided a completely different vehicle for the brine.”

Indeed, rice, okra, squash and melons traveled to North America on slave ships and—like Americans of African descent—they have a history that should not be forgotten. The telling of the story and the eating of the food pays homage to those who endured the hardships that brought prosperity to America. Like anything else passed from generation to generation, heirloom seeds have a story. Quatrano and Harrison acknowledge the elaborate layers within the fruit and the happy result is some of the richest flavors ever set upon a Southern table.