by David Cecelski
An enthusiasm for Bogue Sound watermelons runs deep into my family’s past. My mother says that my great-grandfather, Guy Sabiston, used to make a trip to Bogue Sound every summer to fetch the famous watermelons. He was a farmer in Core Creek, a little community next to the Newport River. He had plenty of watermelon patches in his own neighborhood, but they weren’t good enough for him. Instead of settling for the local melons, he’d pick a day in July when his own crops were “laid by” and hitch up a donkey to a cart and ride all the way to Bogue Sound.
The journey was long and hot, the roads dirt or sand, and he had to go through remote pine barrens where there’s not a breath of wind. The trip took all day, but for my great-grandfather it was worth it. He’d eventually come out of the pine barren and feel the sea breezes and ride down into the verdant green fields that run down to the little bays along Bogue Sound.
By then Bogue Sound watermelons were already legendary for their sweetness, their juiciness and their dark red color. I don’t know if it was the sandy soil, the salt air or what that made them so delicious—the seed varieties were no different than anywhere else—but their reputation put them in high demand and not just locally. Bogue Sound farmers drove wagons full of watermelons down to the seashore and into the water, where their horses or donkeys stood haunch-deep in the shallows while the men loaded boats bound for Norfolk, Baltimore,Philadelphia and New York City.
My great-grandfather always got his watermelons from the same Bogue Sound farmer. Knowing him, he probably bartered something he raised on his own farm for them, maybe sweet corn or fruit out of his orchard. He’d fill his cart with the melons and then carry them all the way back to Core Creek, where he’d go house to house and share them with relatives and neighbors before he carried the rest home for his wife and their eight children. Even after the great ’33 storm put an end to his farming days, he kept making that almost sacramental journey to Bogue Sound every summer.
My family still gets excited about Bogue Sound watermelons. We’re awash in watermelons right now—people give them away here like folks elsewhere share their garden squash and tomatoes. I heard that Mr. Roland, up at his barbecue restaurant in Beaufort, has eight watermelons that friends have given him just this past weekend. Of course, a homegrown watermelon is always appreciated, but there’s still something special about one from Bogue Sound. When my brother called a little while ago and said that he had just bought a watermelon at the Winberry’s farm stand in Cedar Point, on Bogue Sound, and was on his way to my house, I think that I was probably as excited at the prospect of tasting a Bogue Sound watermelon as my grand-grandfather was a century ago.
Bogue Sound runs roughly from Cedar Point to MoreheadCity. For a list of farms and farm stands where you can buy Bogue Sound watermelons in that area, click here. The Bogue Sound Watermelon Cooperative, a group of local farmers, is increasingly marketing their melons to grocery stores too, mostly here in North Carolina, but also as far away as New York and Quebec. Check your local grocery!