Long before sweet corn, Seven Oaks Farm sweetened summertime with watermelons.

Long before sweet corn, Seven Oaks Farm sweetened summertime with watermelons.

"We will have them practically all the time throughout the summer," says Doreen Bradshaw, whose father, John Bohnert, founded Seven Oaks 80 years ago. Watermelons were one of the original crops, she says.

And Seven Oaks' crop came early this year, as truckloads of seeded, green gourds stocked its Central Point farm store by mid-July. Bradshaw and other local farmers typically don't expect to see watermelons until August.

"We planted 'em just like we always do, and they surprised us," says Bradshaw. "August is kind of the melon month, and this year, July turned into the melon month."

Seedless watermelons will be ripe and ready for sale this week, says Bradshaw, complemented by yellow-fleshed watermelons the following week. Both seeded and seedless watermelons are priced at $4.50 apiece and average 15 pounds, she says. Yellow-fleshed watermelons, she adds, likely will cost $5 each in the farm store, 5504 Rogue Valley Highway.

"A lot of people think the seeded ones have the better flavor, even though the seeds are kind of annoying," says Bradshaw.

"The seeded melons can be planted in colder soil," she says, adding that fewer than 10 acres of Seven Oaks' 40 are cultivated in melons, including just-harvested cantaloupes, as well as honeydews that will need several more weeks to ripen.

Cantaloupes could start arriving this week at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters markets in Ashland and Medford, says market manager Mary Ellen DeLuca. Watermelons won't join the bounty until mid-August, she says.

Antonio's Farm and Bigham Farms, both in Sams Valley, Fry Family Farm in Talent and Whistling Duck Farm in Applegate all grow watermelons for local farmers markets, says DeLuca. Prices vary. For market times, locations and a look at produce availability, see www.mailtribune.com/growersmarket.

Eastern Oregon watermelons, grown primarily around Hermiston, are widely available in the Rogue Valley, including at White's County Farm in west Medford. Seeded and seedless watermelons are priced at 49 cents per pound at the farm store, 3939 W. Main St.

"They're kind of famous for their melons, and they're really good this year," says White's co-owner Linda Medeiros, adding that other produce items are ripe ahead of schedule.

"But it's going to be over before we know it."

As long as watermelons last, Bradshaw says she enjoys a cold, juicy wedge swiped from the refrigerator every time she passes through the kitchen. Or maximize watermelon's mealtime appeal with these light, refreshing recipes.

Give yellow watermelon a starring role in Picante Three-Melon Salad, sweet, sour, salty, spicy and low in calories. Choosing a jalapeno chili instead of serrano tempers the salad's heat.

Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho

2 cups chopped, seeded watermelon

2 cups chopped tomatoes

16 large basil leaves, finely chopped, plus 4 large leaves, for garnish

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic scapes (may substitute 2 small garlic cloves, peeled and minced)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2; teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Flesh of 1 firm yet ripe avocado, chopped, for garnish

1/2; cup finely chopped red onion, for garnish

1/2; cup crumbled feta cheese, for garnish

1 tablespoon garlic-flavored olive oil, for garnish

1 tablespoon good-quality balsamic vinegar, for garnish

In a blender jar, combine the watermelon, tomatoes, finely chopped basil, garlic scapes, salt and pepper; puree until smooth. Gazpacho can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.

In a medium bowl, combine the avocado, red onion, feta, oil and vinegar, stirring gently so as not to mash avocado. Topping should be assembled just before serving.

Divide gazpacho among individual bowls; divide even scoops of topping among portions. Tear remaining 4 basil leaves, letting pieces fall onto each portion. Serve right away.

Makes 4 servings (4 cups).

A Watermelon Fantasy

1/4cup dried black currants

1/2; cup Midori liqueur, divided (1/4 cup is optional)

4 cups granulated sugar

11/2; cups honeydew puree

11/2; cups passion-fruit puree (available at large grocery stores and ethnic markets, particularly Latin markets; may substitute frozen orange-juice concentrate)

11/2; cups watermelon puree (remove seeds before pureeing)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon grenadine

Place the currants in 1/4 cup of the Midori and allow to soak overnight.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and 9 cups water. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved and liquid is clear. Cool to room temperature. Simple syrup may be stored indefinitely in refrigerator.

Chill a 3-quart, stainless-steel bowl in freezer for at least 20 minutes.

In an ice-cream machine, combine the honeydew puree, 3 cups simple syrup and optional 1/4 cup Midori; churn according to manufacturer directions. Spread honeydew sorbet 1/2 inch thick over entire interior of chilled bowl. If sorbet slides down sides of bowl, place it in freezer for 30 minutes to make sorbet more firm; then spread it over interior of bowl. Return bowl to freezer.

In an ice-cream machine, combine the passion-fruit puree or orange-juice concentrate with 3 cups simple syrup; churn according to manufacturer directions. Spread passion-fruit puree 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick over honeydew sorbet. Return bowl to freezer. (Leftover sorbet can be frozen separately.)

In an ice-cream machine, combine the watermelon puree with 3 cups simple syrup (you will have some syrup left over), the lemon juice and grenadine; churn according to manufacturer directions. Stir in Midori-soaked currants. Spoon watermelon sorbet into bowl and return to freezer for at least 3 hours.

May be made a day or two in advance. Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from "The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook," by Patrick O'Connell.

Picante Three-Melon Salad

3 cups cubed and seeded, red watermelon

3 cups cubed and seeded, yellow watermelon (may substitute cantaloupe)

3 cups cubed honeydew melon

1/2;cup chopped white onion

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro

1 serrano or jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 teaspoon grated lime rind

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2; teaspoon salt

1/2; teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon minced chipotle chili (from a can in adobo sauce)

In a large bowl, combine the watermelons (cantaloupe, if using), honeydew, onion, cilantro and chopped chili.

In a small bowl, combine the lime rind, juice, salt, chili powder and minced chipotle. Pour juice mixture over melon mixture; toss well. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

— Recipe from Cooking Light.