Earlier this month, I wrote about the legendary Bradford watermelon — a watermelon grown in the 1800s that was so sweet and delicious, men sometimes died trying to protect it or steal it. If you missed the entry (which included a great video about the melon), check it out here.
So, what happened to the Bradford watermelon? It turns out, the oblong Bradford watermelon had a softer skin and thinner rind than most watermelon (“a rind so soft, you could slice it with a butter knife” as some said), which didn’t suit it well for long-distance shipping and stacking. The last commercial crop of Bradford’s was grown in 1922 and was slowly phased out in favor of watermelons with tougher exteriors.
In 2005, a professor named David Shields from the University of South Carolina began searching for the Bradford watermelon. Could the Bradford have survived since the 1920s, perhaps passed down from generation to generation? Shields hoped so, but his searches turned up nothing.
And then, in 2012, Shields got an email from Nat Bradford. In it, Bradford — that’s him on the right, of the original family for which the watermelon was named — explained that “my family has been maintaining this watermelon in a little field in Sumter, S.C. for well nigh onto 100 years.”
As luck would have it, the legendary watermelon HAD survived (that’s a recent photo above). Shields convinced the Bradfords to restore the watermelon to its original glory and share it with the masses by planting more of the watermelon. And so, in 2013, Nat Bradford collected a few mason jars of seeds and began growing more Bradford watermelon than ever before.
Two years later, the Bradford is an ingredient in high-end southern restaurants like Charleston’s McCrady’s Restaurant, where it’s used to make watermelon molasses and pickled rinds. Charleston’s High Wire Distilling Co. also purchased 140 of the melons to use in a limited batch of its heirloom brandy, which quickly sold out for $79 a bottle.
After seeing how successful the watermelon could be, the Bradfords created a website, where they now tell the story of the Bradford watermelon and sell seeds to anyone with a green thumb and a hunger for great watermelon. A pack of 12 seeds sells for $10, but the seeds are, not surprisingly, currently sold out.
If you can find a Bradford watermelon, expect to pay about $20 for the prized fruit. Sure, that’s a little pricier than the usual $5 watermelon, but from what I’ve heard, it’s worth every penny.
UP NEXT: Growing the world’s largest watermelon (part three)
Remember: All comments left on the blog this month are entered to win our THREE weekly National Watermelon Month July prizes, so comment as often as you’d like!
Don’t forget to enter our 2015 Watermelon Carving Contest! We still need plenty of entries in the “Beginner” category, so all you new carvers should definitely enter for a chance to win. The deadline for entries is 11:59 PM on August 3. There are $4,000 in prizes and the first 25 entrants will receive a Dexas watermelon cutting board. Check out the official contest web page for categories, judging criteria and how to enter!