My mom’s fruit salad that rounded out my parents’ backyard picnics during the hot days of summer has got to be one of my fondest memories from my youth. I remember that my mom got the initial recipe from a pack of recipe cards that were sent to her as a preview for a subscription to something or other–I think a monthly recipe club. [It was the era of mail-order clubs.] I want to say that the recipe was from Betty Crocker but I can’t be 100% certain because the recipe card is long-lost, sad to say.
The best thing about this particular fruit salad was the delicious, sweet and sour dressing made with lime, lemon and orange juices. I remember my mom first cooking a simple syrup on the stove and then mixing in the juices. But my memory is a little foggy on the details, not to mention the proportions. I tried to recreate this dressing a few times in the past, but without success. I made another attempt this week, and this time, I think this is it!
To make the fruit salad, the first thing I did was make the dressing, because the dressing has to cool off for an hour or so. I brought to a boil a mixture of water and white sugar to make a simple syrup. I then took it off the heat, poured the simple syrup into a Pyrex measuring cup, and added in juice freshly squeezed from two limes, one lemon, and one orange. I added the zest from the lemon and the orange. [To make it sweeter, which may be required if your watermelon is extra juicy, some brown sugar can be cooked with the white sugar when making the simple syrup. I actually should have done it this way this time around. I found a way to correct the mistake, which I’ll talk about later.]
I popped the dressing in the refrigerator to cool. Then came the time-consuming part, which was to prepare the fruits. For this fruit salad, and the one I remember from when I was a little girl, the main star is watermelon. I used a melon baller to scoop out watermelon balls from half a watermelon.
I recruited my kids to help out, which made the task easier on me!
I then got my kids to scoop out balls of cantaloupe. Honeydew would have been a good choice too, both for taste and color, but I didn’t have any on hand this time around.
They put the melon balls in the same large bowl as the watermelon.
Then came halving red seedless grapes.
I prepared some blueberries and strawberries to be mixed in last, given how delicate they are.
While I was preparing the berries, my son prepared the watermelon half that was now empty to serve as the fruit bowl. He scraped the rind so that some pink flesh still remained and the surface was smooth. He then cut out triangles around the perimeter. It turned out to be an extra step that was well-worth it! If you intend to use the watermelon as a serving bowl, cut the top 1/4 off the watermelon rather then cutting the watermelon in half. This will give you more room to fit the fruit.
I carefully mixed the fruits together in the big bowl.
When the dressing was completely cooled, I poured it over the fruits and mixed it all up.
I then covered the bowl with plastic wrap and placed the salad in the refrigerator to let the flavors come together for a couple of hours.
I have to admit that I met up with a problem after waiting the 2 hours. I took a taste test and found that the taste of the dressing was overpowered by all the juice from the watermelon. After panicking a little bit, I drained off the juices into a saucepan, added the brown sugar (even at this late stage) and brought the juices to a boil. From the color, it looks like the watermelon juice took over!
I had to wait for the dressing to cool down before tossing it into the salad again.
My repair tactics worked. So if you choose the less sweet route at the beginning, it’s possible to save the salad from blandness even at this late stage!
Serve in individual glasses with a mint accent. If everyone likes mint, then you can also chop up some mint and toss it into the salad just before serving. The mint takes it up a notch or two.