Mother’s Day Watermelon Pickles

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 atleast) 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.

my grandma molly in 1944 - the photo that my grandfather carried with him during world war II

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.

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.

pickled watermelon rind

(Look up at the picture in the header. Second jar from the left is also pickled watermelon rind).

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).

Ingredients:

  • 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 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.

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.