20 Years of Watermelon Gelato

St. Peter's Basilica

My husband and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. This year’s celebration had to be very low-key as he suffers from leukemia and will be undergoing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant soon. But one thing that has always remained a constant in our marking of the day has been homemade watermelon gelato. How that tradition came to be is a story that is very special to me, and I’d like to share it with you, along with the recipe.

Our honeymoon to France and Italy overflowed with art, history, culture, and culinary pleasures, and one of the latter was the watermelon gelato we ate, no, experienced, at a gelateria across from the Trevi Fountain in Rome. (I hope that place is still there.) As we sat on the steps of an ancient church, also across from Trevi Fountain, and ate our gelato, we decided, once we returned home, to try to re-create the recipe with our new ice cream maker. It took a lot of experimentation. For instance, you can’t put too much pureed watermelon in as that is essentially water and will make the gelato ice-cube hard. Now I can’t promise that what we came up with tastes exactly like the stuff at the Trevi Fountain gelateria, but it is yummy stuff and has stood the test of time at our house every August for 20 years.

2 cups 2% milk

3/4 cup sugar

1 T. cornstarch

1/8 tsp. salt

2 eggs, separated

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 of a 3-oz. package of watermelon Jello

2 cups pureed watermelon

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium saucepan. Add milk and heat to very hot. Refrigerate egg whites for later. Beat egg yolks. Add one cup hot mixture to egg yolks, stirring constantly. Add all back into milk mixture and heat on medium, stirring constantly, to 160 degrees F. Cool two hours to overnight. Strain custard mixture. Beat egg whites till stiff peaks form. Whip cream, and add egg whites and cream to custard mixture. Add Jello and watermelon puree. Freeze in ice cream maker. Ripen in freezer. Enjoy a small taste of Italy!

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants

St. Peter's Basilica

Do you ever see an old, unique item and wonder where it’s been and what stories it could tell? Well, there may still exist a pair of pants in Europe that I can tell you part of where they’ve been. In August of 1994 my husband and I honeymooned in Europe and had a fun time in our role of the clueless American Tourist. We took a taxi one day from our hotel in Rome to Vatican City for a day of sightseeing. I wore a pair of Capri pants and David wore shorts, very appropriate, we thought, for the humid Mediterranean weather. We soon discovered that shorts, when worn on your person, are not allowed into St. Peter’s Basilica. Makes sense. Back home, we always dress up for church. I guess we must’ve thought St. Peter’s had been built especially for tourists.

Not wanting to pay more taxi fare to return to our hotel so he could change, we hung around St. Peter’s Square trying to think of what we could do to get into that building. Many others also weren’t dressed to code (tank tops weren’t allowed either), and it was funny to watch some of their ingenious methods to alter their look to make it past the Vatican guards. One guy wrapped an Italian flag around his bare shoulders. He passed muster.

We tried blending into the middle of a large group of tourists and sneaking in that way. Nope, those guards take their job seriously. David was stopped and turned away.

“Okay, this is doable,” we decided. “It’s a big city, there’s people everywhere, let’s just go find a stray pair of pants.” Easier said than done. As we browsed every souvenir shop up the busy street from St. Peter’s, all we found were tourist t-shirts, lots and lots of t-shirts, no pants anywhere. “Somebody is missing out on a golden business opportunity,” we said. “Why, a place that sold simple, one-size-fits-all pants just for getting into St. Peter’s would make a killing.”

Finally we explained our plight to one friendly shopkeeper who spoke English. “Do you have anything David could cover his legs with that would get him into St. Peter’s?” She disappeared briefly and returned with some dark green girls pants with adjustable ties on either side of the waist. “Put them on over your shorts,” she instructed. David did and tried to hide the fact that they were girls pants by untucking his shirt and letting it fall over the top of the pants. “Are you sure this will get me into St. Peter’s?” David asked. The shopkeeper lady was laughing so hard she could hardly breathe, but managed a nod.

She meant to give them to David as they weren’t part of their store inventory, just somebody’s pants, but her stern father, who spoke only Italian and didn’t find anything funny about it, insisted she charge us. So, the equivalent of 10 American dollars later, and we were on our way to the Vatican.

We spent the entire day touring every nook and cranny (well, we missed one nook—see below) with David in those charming pants. Sadly, we didn’t take a picture of him. We were too distracted by those mosaics, tapestries, and sculptures, dang it.

After leaving St. Peter’s we figured, “Hey, we can be just as enterprising as the Italians. We will sell these  pants to some other shorts-wearing person who wants to get in to St. Peter’s.” We approached every shorts-wearing person we saw, offering them our pants for five dollars. No takers. One Japanese man in shorts politely listened to our story and admired our pants but insisted he didn’t need them. He just preferred to sit around doing…whatever.

Finally, deciding that pants sales in Rome just wasn’t the business for us to be in, we tossed them over a railing and walked away. About half a block down the road, we turned around to see the Japanese man eagerly pulling on the pants and adjusting them and heading for the entrance to the basilica. We would have given, oh, 10 more dollars to know what happened to those pants after that.

P.S. We missed only one nook in St. Peter’s, a little chapel that was so crowded that we just decided not to mess with it. There was so much else to see. We learned later, back in the states, that chapel housed Michelangelo’s Pieta, one of the greatest of the Vatican treasures. We were destined to enjoy it only from a brochure…….stupid tourists.