by Susan Benton | June 19, 2018

The Spread: Sirens of Summer

Heirloom tomatoes and watermelon pair up for a knockout salad


Watermelon and tomato make the perfect go-to summer set. Photography by Jack Gardener

When summer heats up along the Panhandle of northwest Florida, it cues the emergence of the humble tomato, the sun-ripened siren of the season, as described by the late food writer John Egerton.

Former restauranteur Charles Bush and his wife, chef Shueh-Mei Pong, owners of Dragonfly Fields in DeFuniak Springs, did not realize the learning curve would be so steep when they began planting their heirloom seeds more than a decade ago. But through trial and error, they’ve cultivated the juiciest fruits around, which appear on the plates of area restaurants and at the Seaside Farmers Market along Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A.

“Heirloom tomatoes don’t like the heat, even though they’re a hot-weather crop. Once you get one that is good, there is nothing better in this world,” says Bush.

Bush and Pong founded Dragonfly Fields as a bridge between chefs and local farmers. Varieties like the Eva Purple Ball, Jaune Flamme and Aunt Ruby’s Green German present flavors as wild as their names. The tomatoes, with their distinct tartness, pair well with another star of the summer, the watermelon, along with some homemade mozzarella in a refreshingly light salad. It’s a match only made this good in Florida.


Serves 8
  • 5 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 ½ pounds ripe Florida heirloom tomatoes, cut into 3/4-inch wedges
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into 8 slices and then cubed
  • 1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ up torn basil leaves
  • Cracked black pepper to taste
  • Loaf of crusty bread

PREPARATION: Add watermelon, tomatoes, salt and sugar to a large bowl and toss until combined. Cover and let stand 20 minutes. Fold in mozzarella, onion, vinegar and oil. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours. Serve chilled with a sprinkle of fresh basil, cracked black pepper to taste and a slice of crusty
bread on the side.

Note: Use the best tomatoes and watermelon you can find to create this sweet and salty salad with a hint of acidity.

Try Susan Benton’s cocktail Recipe for Sunset on 30A