As we've mentioned many times before, we both grew up in the South, and we're familiar with just about all the Southern staples you can think of.
But there's one Dixie delicacy we'd never tried: pickled watermelon rind.
After we cut up a melon for our Tequila-Soaked Watermelon Wedges, we hated to throw the rind away. So we decided it would be the perfect chance to try our hand at pickling it.
First things first: Pickling watermelon rind is very time intensive. There's nothing all that hard about it, but you have to remove the pink flesh from the rind, slice the rind into small strips, and soak it overnight before you're even ready to start pickling. The pickling itself is simple, but it requires another overnight soak and then an hour on the stove. And then putting it in the jars. And then more time on the stove.
We started off using a recipe (which we're not even going to link to because it turned out terrible and we don't want you to get confused) that turned out, well, terrible. It called for bringing the pickling syrup -- sugar, vinegar, cloves and cinnamon -- to a boil, and then boiling it for an hour before pouring it over the rind strips. Turns out, this wasn't so much a recipe for pickled watermelon as it was a recipe for watermelon rind submerged in a caramel sauce no one wants to eat. This first attempt yielded a vat of sticky, burnt caramel that hardened into a sludgy black mess. We threw it out and started over.
For our second attempt, we relied on a method from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which ... hang on, can we go off on a tangent for a second? Okay, the National Center for Home Food Preservation is a valuable resource packed with tons of good information. But it can be really frustratingly confusing to navigate.
And some of the recipes read as if IKEA, the IRS and your crazy Aunt Sally collaborated on a document in Polish and then ran it through Google Translator. For instance, in this pickling recipe, we were supposed to heat the watermelon and then "cook slowly 1 hour" before "hot-packing" it and then "processing" it according the "recommendations in Table 1." Huh?
Okay, enough ranting. We're happy to have the NCHFP as a resource. It would just be great if it were a little more user-friendly. (Note to NCHFP: call us!)
Anyway, using the NCHFP recipe, we soaked the watermelon rind in saltwater overnight, drained and rinsed it, and then cooked it until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. We made the syrup, poured it over the watermelon, and let it sit overnight again. Then we took it out, heated it to boiling, cooked it on medium heat for an hour, and poured it into sterilized jars. Then we sealed and boiled the jars for another 20 minutes to lock the seal.
All in all, as we said, it wasn't hard at all. It just took a very long time.
So how'd they turn out? Well, we sampled a few of the rinds before canning. They were delicious! The sugary syrup is, of course, very sweet, but the vinegar gives it a great sharp note, like a sweet Gherkin pickle. The cinnamon and cloves add a lovely, Christmas-y flavor.
And the most surprising thing was the texture -- all that soaking and boiling and soaking and boiling really does soften the rind to the consistency of a ripe pear. And the finished jars are just lovely: swirling amber nectar with juicy, pale golden treats inside.
We can't wait to let the rinds sit for a while and then open up a jar. We think they'd be absolutely killer with a salty pork chop or in a dessert. Maybe in a salad or spread on toast? Or -- most likely -- fished out with our fingers and eaten straight from the jar, when we need a taste of something really special.
Pickled Watermelon Rind
A Bitten Word recipe adapted from the National Center for Home Food Preservation
2 quarts watermelon rind (equal to one medium-sized melon)
3/4 cup salt
3 quarts water
5 cups sugar
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water
1 tablespoon (about 48) whole cloves
6 cinnamon sticks, broken into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon Allspice
1 lemon, thinly sliced, with seeds removed
Trim the pink flesh and the green outer skin from the rind. Cut into small strips, about 1" x 2". Cover with brine made by combining 3 quarts water and 3/4 cup salt. Refrigerate for five hours or overnight.
Drain; rinse. Cover the watermelon with water and bring to a boil; continue cooking until fork-tender, about another 15 minutes. (Overcooking will cause the rinds to become rubbery.) Drain.
Combine sugar, vinegar, water and spice. Boil 5 minutes and then pour over watermelon; add lemon slices. Refrigerate overnight.
Heat watermelon in syrup to boiling; reduce heat to medium-high and for one hour. Pack the hot watermelon pickles loosely into clean, hot pint jars.Cover with boiling syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal lids.
To seal: Submerge the full jars in boiling water (enough water so the jars are 1-2" below the surface); boil for 15 minutes (or slightly longer at higher altitudes). Remove jars and let them sit undisturbed at room temperature for 24 hours. Check seals.