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Watermelon-Rind Pickles

In the first cookbook written by an American, Amelia Simmons made preserves out of a whole watermelon ("seeds excepted") and also pickled the rind of green melons. By the time Sidney Dean, a fellow Yankee, wrote Cooking American in 1957, watermelon-rind pickles had carved a special, almost emblematic niche in our food culture. As he said, "This is perhaps the richest and most luscious of all fruit pickles, really a conserve. To me it is incomparable, and my mother made it every year. It is certainly cooking American; what could be more American than our national favorite, the watermelon?"

Ingredients:

  • Rind of 1 large watermelon (see Tip)
  • 3/4 cup pickling salt or 3/4 heaping cup kosher
      salt
  • 1 gallon plus 1 cup water
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 4 cinnamon sticks, halved
  • 1 Tbs. whole cloves
  • 1 Tbs. whole allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced

Directions:

Cut the watermelon rind into manageable chunks. Scrape away any remaining melon flesh from the rind, then pare off the hard green skin from the outside. This is the only laborious part of the process, so persevere. Cut the rind into bite-size cubes or small strips or, if you have lots of rind and lots of patience, into decorative shapes. You should have 14 to 15 cups of lightly packed chunks.

In a large bowl, combine the salt and the 1 gallon water and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the watermelon rind and top with a plate to keep the rind submerged. Soak for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain the rind, rinse well and drain again.

In a large saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, vinegar and cinnamon sticks and add the 1 cup water. Tie the cloves, allspice and mustard seeds in a small piece of cheesecloth and add to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the watermelon rind and lemon slices. Cover the pan with a clean dish towel and let the mixture stand at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

Prepare eight 1-pint canning jars according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Set the watermelon mixture over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rind turns somewhat translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the bag of spices. Spoon the watermelon mixture into the prepared jars, dividing the lemon slices and cinnamon sticks more or less evenly among the jars and leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.

Process the jars in a boiling-water bath according to the manufacturer's instructions, generally about 10 minutes. Let the pickles stand for at least several weeks before serving. Refrigerate the jars after opening. Makes about 8 pints.

Tip: Many watermelons today have thin rinds compared with those that our grandparents grew. If you have any choice in the matter, choose a melon with a thick rind, such as a Dixie Lee variety.
Adapted from American Home Cooking, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Broadway Books, 1999).