Mother’s Day Watermelon Pickles

  • By: Linda Simpson
  • Date: July 15, 2022
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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The ladies in my family are all preservationists.  My mom never once bought jam when we were growing up- she always had a sweet little pantry in the basement with sour cherry, blueberry and raspberry jam, icicle and bread and butter pickles, and canned apricots in syrup.  

When I moved to California, before I started making my own canned goods, I begged her ship me out packages of jam since I couldn’t stand the stuff from the grocery store.

I will always remember hugging my mom goodbye when I moved away from Ithaca …  My boyfriend and I had been together for about a week when we packed up my crappy little Chevy Prizm with everything I owned and hit the road with exactly $400 to get from New York to California.

Everyone had ominous predictions involving me turning into a meth addict and living in a gutter. Well, we drove away exactly eight years ago today, and we are still together, and (so far at least) no meth addictions or gutters.

I can’t remember exactly when my mom sent me that first box of jam, but I remember how happy I was. Each jar was carefully wrapped and labeled, all of them delicious, and all of them were the perfect reminder of home and family from 3000 miles away.  

Ever since I was little, we would go to local farms and pick blueberries or strawberries or whatever else was in season.  My siblings and I would eat more than we picked, and then we would go home and mom would make all kinds of beautiful pies and jam.

I can’t leave my grandmother out of these stories…  She’s a true southern gal, raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The parallels in our lives are striking, and the red North Carolina dirt is part of who I am, even though my farm is in the Northern California mountains.

When I was a teenager, we drove my grandma out to her childhood home. I remember gazing out at the fields where she had grown up, my grandma lost in thought, a sea of memories flooding the air around us.

Inspired by Mother’s Day, I would love to share my grandma’s recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind. Most people haven’t had pickled watermelon rind before, but it’s the best pickle I think I’ve ever had. Crunchy, sweet, spiced with cinnamon.  (To be fair, my dad is the watermelon-pickle maker these days- he’s perfected his own version with lemongrass).  This recipe embodies the preservationist spirit, making sure that no part of the fruit goes to waste.

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Last year, right before the frost, a farmer that I know gave me a whole case of unripe melons. They are perfect for this recipe since they have the most amount of rind. You can use normal melons too, though.

My Grandma Molly’s Pickled Watermelon Rind 

Cooking Time: This is a three-day process, with about 2 hours of active cooking time.

Makes about 12 pints (the original recipe doesn’t specify how much it makes, so I’m estimating this amount. You might end up with a few more or a few less).


  • 1 large watermelon (do not use varieties with thin rinds)
  • 3 quarts of water for soaking
  • 2 trays of ice cubes
  • 3/4 c. salt
  • 9 c. sugar
  • 3 c. white vinegar
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 tbs. whole cloves
  • 6 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed

1. Prepare watermelon: Enlist friends and family to eat the pink part, but save the rinds instead of throwing them away. Using a sharp knife, remove the tough, dark green skin, leaving behind only the pale green part. Cut the prepared rind into 1″ squares, or whatever shapes work. You may end up with some triangles and trapezoids, but it will taste good whatever the shape.  You should have about 12 c. of prepared rind. 

2. In a non-reactive container (I use my big canning pot), soak the prepared rind with the 3 c. of water, salt, and ice cubes for 24 hours.

3. (Day 2) In another non-reactive pot, combine sugar, vinegar, water, and spices (tied together in cheesecloth). Boil for 5 minutes to make a syrup. Add in lemon slices.

4. Drain and rinse watermelon rind. Cover with water and cook until fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain again, and return back to the non-reactive pot. Pour the prepared syrup over the cooked rinds, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. 

5. (Day 3) Sterilize jars, wash lids and rims. Bring the boiling-water canner to a boil. 

6. Remove spice bag from the rinds. Heat the rinds and syrup to boiling, and cook until translucent, about 25 minutes. Pack the syrup and rinds into sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ head space. Process 5 minutes. Let stand 3-4 weeks before eating. 

These are so, so delicious, especially with old-fashioned buttermilk marinated fried chicken and gravy.  If you make them once, they will become a pantry staple in the years to come.

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Mom, grandma, I love you very much.

PS. I have a lot of great stories about my grandpa’s tomatoes and my dad’s vegetable garden and concord grape jam, but I’ll save those for father’s day.

15 thoughts on “Mother’s Day Watermelon Pickles”

  1. PattyHi! This recipe looks great!! I tried pickling watermelon rinds last year and they were sticky sweet, but tangy….not sure if I liked them or not. I want to try yours, but what do you do with them (how to eat!?!?)?Reply
  2. Carolinepatty, often I just eat them from the jar as a snack. Pickles are traditional on a southern dinner table, though. My grandma would cook big dinners with meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc., and then have a little crystal bowl with some kind of pickle. So you could use it like that with fried chicken or roast pork. It’s also great with lunch- tuna salad sandwich, potato chips, and a few watermelon pickles. I actually just recently saw them in the Momofuku cookbook, too, in a really fancy salad with frisee and bacon lardons.Reply
    1. JimAnd as my son-in-law Brent will attest, always a pickle fork to serve them.Reply
    2. cookcanreadWe grew up with a grandmother who wouldn’t think of putting soup/stew/chowder on the table with out pickles “to cut the richness”. We had soup often, so many different pickles were around. I was usually glad to see these on the table; they remind me of sweet gherkins.Reply
  3. Carolineof course. pickle fork is vital to the cause.Reply
  4. CaryWhat a sweet story! Thank you for sharing it. Am I missing how much salt is in the recipe? I don’t see the amount of salt given. Thanks!Reply
    1. Carolinecary- good eyes! there was a typo in there, it said “3/4 c. sugar” and it was supposed to say “3/4 c. salt”… hopefully you’ve saved people some headaches!Reply
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  6. iluminamelunaI’ve tried one other recipe, similar to yours but only 8 c. of sugar, & I found it too sweet. My late husband’s family used to can now only an aunty does & hers are more tangy. I’ve asked for the recipe but she doesn’t measure so it’s been a dicey job trying to get the proportions right. I found this recipe:, which I’ve just finished “processing”. It only takes the one evening (not counting the prepping of the rind). Would you say that maybe it’s a matter of regions that determines the sweetness of the pickle. My late hubby’s folks are from the South-Western side of KY (No Bob).Reply
    1. Carolinehm, I’m not sure why the recipes vary so much. I will say- if you want to reduce the sugar a bit it should be fine. I’ve noticed the same thing with dilly beans and bread and butter pickles- i like my dilly beans with barely any sugar at all, but some people actually use a lot. I guess that’s the fun, though, just experiment and find what you like.Reply
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  8. iluminamelunaHaven’t had a working comp since my last post but this is a request for help in finding someone who posted here about making a jam/jelly/pickle of some mystery citrus that she thought were sweet tangerines but ended up being some extremely sour citrus. I wanted to figure out how to get some from her ’cause I’m a sucker (pun very much intended) for sour stuff but vinegar & I don’t get along due to a case of fibro. If anyone knows who it is or how to contact her, pls post? I tried looking when I could get online, too briefly, & I cldn’t find her .. Any help wld be appreciated!Reply
  9. cookcanreadI love rind pickles– my family recipe uses brown sugar and they are dark and syrupy and delicious. I am thinking of trying your recipe for comparison.Reply
  10. LexI’ve never had watermelon rind pickles, but I’m eager to try my hand! One question: in the ingredient list, it says “3 QUARTS of water,” but in the directions it says to make the salt water brine with “3c” water, suggesting CUPS. Which is it, quarts or cups?Thanks in advance for your response!
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