‘I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins”; I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front if the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.’- Mark Twain
What can I say? For such a poetic admiration and knowledge of citrullus lanatus, I’d like Mark Twain’s spirit to guide me through my next watermelon picking, ‘cause those knocking tips never work for me. Which is why I liked the idea to make some watermelon pickles. I didn’t have to make a lot of research – the Bon Appétitmagazine has already hooked me on it last summer.
There were some red flags about the recipe including only 3 stars reviews, copious amount of sugar, zero water added, etc. You can find the recipe here.
Despite the flags, my loyalty to Bon Appétit has won. I enthusiastically worked the watermelon rinds into the wonderful pickles while taking these pictures.
They smelled wonderful and turned out to be exactly like the ones on the BA images. I was anxious to try them next day.
The day after I took the first bite. Hmm. How should I describe it? You know those exotic chutneys you sometimes buy on liquidation that inevitably end up in the garbage after sitting in the fridge for 6 months? It was worse. The watermelon rind juicy freshness was completely gone – buried in sugar, salt and spice like a mummy. I can almost guarantee this listless thing could last in a jar for a century. Well, I still gave it a chance with a few more days in the fridge and a small tapas party. People would take a bite, but it would be the last one. It followed the destiny of the exotic chutney. Fortunately, I cut the recipe in half, so I had only two jars to throw out. I did made a note though about adding the ginger and anise star, because both sounded refreshing in the pickle recipe.
I started looking for the real authentic recipe of a watermelon pickle: the one that would put a smile on those faces surviving the great depression a century ago. I found a great one (with good reviews this time) in the “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan (recipe follows). I could finally get what was the fuss about the old-fashion treat (with much less sugar and prominent lemon flavor). Sorry, no pictures for obvious reason (I wasn’t sure it would work). People at the next tapas party had it with much more enthusiasm. I started adding it to salads and cold soups.
Still, as good as a classic watermelon rind pickle can be, as a great connoisseur of kosher pickles I insisted on finding some other trick that would keep that feeling of freshness of a watermelon and all its vital nutriments intact without boiling the rind.
I came up with geniusly simple solution: chop the peeled watermelon rind (along with the chunks of watermelon) (2 cups); sprinkle it with quality salt (1/4 tablespoon); add a few slices of ginger and the anise star. Mix a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with the same amount of honey (preferably spiced) and add the liquid to the watermelon rind mix. Cool in the fridge for just 10-15 minutes and off you go (discard the anise star)! Incredibly fresh, youthful and invigorating! I use it now almost daily added to de-puffing shakes, soups, salads, salsas and relishes. I just love this simple healing mix.
Finally, my favorite, watermelon gazpacho with macerated rind: I call it ‘hangover shots’ (huge party pleaser (before or after). The watermelon and honey-cider macerated rind add delectable sweetness and balance to tomatoes. The apple cider vinegar works magic with the glycemic index making it very good for health (if you are into these things) while lifting the umami of the tomatoes and watermelon. This soup is hydrating, rejuvenating and healing. By virtue of having the watermelon and tomatoes together, it doubles the amount of lycopene thus hugely boosting the immune system. Did I say it tastes amazing? The mint gives that pick-me-up finish to help bring you back to life along with the soup itself whether it from the heat, exhaustion or hangover. Gosh, it’s incredible how easy it is at times to make yourself happy.
LEMONY WATERMELON RIND PICKLES
Yields: 2 to 3 pints
Rind from 3 pounds seedless watermelon
7 cups water, divided
5 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
Zest (in large strips) and juice from 1 large lemon
Cut the rind into 1-inch cubes to make around 4 cups.
Combine6 cups of the water and 3 tablespoons of the salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt, then add the watermelon rind and cook until fork tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the watermelon rind and divide among the pint jars.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup water with the remaining 2 tablespoons salt, the sugar, vinegar, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and cloves. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Stir the lemon zest and juice into the pickle brine. Pour the brine over the watermelon rind, distributing the spices and lemon zest evenly among the jars. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving. (The pickles will taste very salty at first, but the flavor mellows overnight.)
Note: You will need two to three pint jars and canning lids and rings, cleaned well in soapy water. Because this doesn’t make a huge amount, you can store the finished product in the refrigerator for one to two months rather than canning it. You may have some extra brine, so feel free to add more rind if you have it.
Adapted from: “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan, 13/08/2013
MACERATED WATERMELON RIND CONCENTRATE
3 cups water
1 tablespoon quality sea salt (Maldon, fleur de sel, etc.)
1 cup honey (quickly made spice infused honey is the best for this recipe)
2 anise stars
1 knob of ginger, thinly sliced
Few lemon peels (optional)
6 cups peeled watermelon rind, half and half pink and white parts, coarsely chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
Bring the water and the salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the honey and stir to dissolve. Add anise star, ginger and lemon peel to the honey water and stir. Pour the honey-water over the watermelon rind in a large ceramic bowl. Let cool to room temperature. Add apple cider vinegar and mix. Steep the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight. When ready, use the macerated watermelon chunks and the liquid in salads/dressings, cold soups, smoothies, tonic drinks, etc. The mixture can be store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
MACERATED WATERMELON RIND SUMMER TONIC
Strain the amount of liquid required from the macerated watermelon rind mixture. Pour 1/4 cup of the concentrate into a glass over ice and dilute with 3/4 cup water. Garnish with the cubes of watermelon, cucumber, and mint.
WATERMELON GAZPACHO WITH MACERATED RIND
Yields: 2 to 4 portions
1 pound tomatoes, diced
1 pound seeded and cubed watermelon
½ cup macerated watermelon rind with liquid (see the recipe in the post above), OR 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 small to medium size cucumber, diced (peeled and de-seeded if necessary)
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher, Maldon, fleur de sel, or any other quality salt (add more according to your taste)
Feta cheese, crumbled
5 to 10 spearmint leaves for garnish
Combine tomatoes, watermelon, rind, cucumber and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Give it a few pulses until chunky-smooth, but not too smooth. Let cool in the fridge if necessary. Garnish with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Enjoy!