When I asked the kids in one of my "food appreciation" classes if they'd ever heard of pickled watermelon, one girl eagerly raised her hand.
"My grandmother always has some for Thanksgiving," she said. And gradually we learned that each year she travels with her family to grandma's house near Huntsville, Alabama, for a traditional family Thanksgiving, where grandma breaks out a few jars of pickled watermelon rind.
I was heartened to learn there's still a place where folks make pickled watermelon as a matter of tradition. Otherwise, you don't see it much anymore. Yet, far better to pickle the watermelon rind than just send it off to the landfill (or the compost pile--in fact, my worms love melon rind.)
This is one of those pickles that's more like a candy and entails quite a process--sitting in a salt brine, being drained, cooking in a spicy syrup, then sitting in the syrup overnight before being ladled into jars and processed.
It's really not all that much work. But what work there is takes place over a period of a couple of days, which meant that the kids in my classes would only get to see part of it. So what I had them do was separate the rind that I'd be pickling later from the sweet inside of the melon. Then we passed around the other ingredients for an olfactory exam--lemon, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamon, ginger, vinegar.
We broke open some cardamom pods and tasted the tiny, black seeds inside. Just sucking on one for a few seconds is enough to fill your mouth with a sweet, almost licorice sensation. You knew that these pickles were going to be good. And of coarse the kids a bit later got to eat the insides of the watermelon.
This recipe comes from The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich. To make four pints of pickled watermelon rind:
1 large watermelon
1/2 cup pickling salt (or sea salt without additives)
2 quarts water
Cut the watermelon into thick, round slices. Lay each slice flat and cut away the tough outer skin. (I use a serrated bread knife.) Cut the slice into quarters and carefully trim away the pink flesh (you can share that with friends). Cut the remaining rind into 1-inch pieces.
In a large bowl, dissolve the salt in the water and add the rind. Let the rind soak overnight. Drain and rinse the rind and least twice. Place the rind in a large, non-reactive pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer the rind for 5 minutes. Drain and return the rind to the bowl.
For the syrup:
1 large lemon, thinly sliced
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2 cups water
2 cups distilled white vinegar
4 cups sugar
Make a spice sachet by tying the lemon, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, allspice and ginger in cheese cloth. Meanwhile, mix water, vinegar and sugar in a large, heavy, non-reactive pot. Add the spice sachet and bring to a boil, stirring occasionaly. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add melon rind and let the rind stand in the syrup for 12 to 24 hours.
After the rind has rested, bring it and the syrup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 to 10 minutes, or until the rind is translucent. Remove from heat. Remove the spice sachet and ladle the rind with syrup into hot pint canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Cover with new lids and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Store jars in a cool, dark place several weeks at least before opening. Or wait until Thanksgiving.