If you’ve never had this low-waste Southern delicacy, you’re in for a treat!
A recipe from the Atlanta Constitution in 1887 for watermelon pickles:
Peel the green skin from the rind and scrape off all the red pulp till the rind is firm and hard. Cut them in small pieces about three inches long and lay them in a weak brine by adding one cup of salt to a gallon of water.
After they have soaked in the brine for twelve hours remove them, rinse them off, and weigh them. Allow one half a pound of sugar to every pound of rinds and vinegar enough to cover them. Stick a clove in every piece of rind. About one stick of cinnamon and half an ounce of cassia buds to every seven pounds of rinds.
Put the vinegar and sugar in a porcelain kettle, and when it boils add the watermelon rinds and cook them until they are tender and perfectly clear. It will take some time. The rinds should be simmered slowly.
Test them with a broom splint. If they are clear and it pierces them easily they are done. When they are all cooked put them in a stone pot and pour the hot vinegar over them, after adding the cinnamon and cassia buds.
While many recipes like the one above call for soaking the watermelon rind pieces in salted water before beginning to soften them, this one takes a more straightforward, candied approach by preserving them in a sweet-and-tangy spiced syrup, without soaking.
You can eat them as a sweet snack, or they can be incorporated into meals in so many ways. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Read on after the recipe for some ideas.
- 6 pounds watermelon rind, red flesh removed, unpeeled
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups white, apple cider, or rice vinegar
- 1 cup lime juice
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1/3 cup fresh ginger, peeled and cut into ¼ inch width matchsticks
- 1-2 jalapenos, thick sliced
- 15 allspice berries
- 15 whole cloves
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 6 star anise pods
Yield: 7 pints
Note: The recipe below contains instructions for canning. If this is your first time canning, USDA’s guide to Principles of Home Canning and UGA Extension Agency’s guide to Using Boiling Water Canners are essential. Read these guides thoroughly before beginning. Improperly canned foods can cause potentially fatal foodborne illnesses such as botulism.
If you choose not to can your pickles, follow the modified instructions found at the bottom of this recipe for refrigerator watermelon rind pickles.
This recipe is adapted from the UGA Extension Agency’s National Center for Home Food Preservation recipe Watermelon Rind Pickles.
- Prepare a boiling water canner (see Using Boiling Water Canners) and keep jars and lids in hot (180 degrees F) water until ready to fill.
- With a vegetable peeler (a Y-shaped peeler works best), remove green peel from watermelon rind. Cut peeled watermelon rind into 1-inch pieces.
- Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, lime juice, ginger, jalapeno, and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve sugar completely. Add watermelon rind and lower heat to a bare simmer. Simmer watermelon rind until almost completely fork tender, and the rind turns translucent and glassy, about 30 minutes.
- Remove watermelon rind with a slotted spoon and pack tightly into sterilized pint jars. Remove cinnamon sticks and pour syrup over them along with the rest of the spice mixture, making sure to cover all of the rind with the syrup and leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe off the rims of the jars with a damp towel, top with pre-sterilized lids, and screw on rings.
- Return jars to boiling water canner in their upright positions, and process by boiling the jars for the length of time that corresponds to the altitude of your location: 10 minutes for locations 0-1,000 feet above sea level, and 15 minutes for locations 1,000-6,000 feet above sea level. Make sure the water level is 1 inch above the jars and add more boiling water if necessary.
- Remove jars with a jar lifter, and set on the counter to cool for 12 to 24 hours. Check for seals by tapping on the lid of the jar; there should be no flex when center is pressed. Remove the bands and attempt to lift lids off with your fingertips. Properly sealed lids will remain attached.
“If a lid fails to seal on a jar, remove the lid and check the jar-sealing surface for tiny nicks. If necessary, change the jar, add a new, properly prepared lid, and reprocess within 24 hours using the same processing time. Headspace in unsealed jars may be adjusted to 1-1/2 inches and jars could be frozen instead of reprocessed. Foods in single unsealed jars could be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within several days.” (USDA, “Principles of Home Canning”)
Consumed properly canned pickles within 1 year.
For refrigerator pickles:
It is not necessary to use canning jars for refrigerator pickles. Your containers need only be thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water before beginning. It may also be advisable to halve the recipe to account for shorter shelf life; 7 pints of pickles is a lot of space in the refrigerator!
Begin at step 2, and continue through to step 4. Instead of putting the lid on your containers right away, let the pickles cool to room temperature, put on the lids, label, and refrigerate. Eat pickles within one month.
- Cut the pickles into matchsticks and garnish a salad with peppery greens like arugula and baby mustard, creamy goat cheese to cut the bite, sliced radishes and salted roasted peanuts. Toss with a vinaigrette made from green peanut oil and the watermelon pickle syrup.
- Small-diced pickles, scallion, and sweet corn tossed with some of the syrup would make an excellent relish for soy-sesame-honey glazed grilled seafood.
- Toss slaw mix with very thinly sliced pickles, a little bit of soy sauce, vinegar or lime juice and some of the syrup to make a garnish for pulled pork tacos or sandwiches. Don’t forget a Georgia Grown barbeque sauce!
- And while we are on the subject of meat, leftover syrup, soy sauce, smashed garlic and ginger, and vegetable oil would make a wonderful sweet-spicy-savory marinade for grilled Georgia Grown chicken, beef, pork, or seafood.
- Garnish a warm-weather-worthy bourbon old fashioned with a whole pickle and use some of the syrup as a sweetener. Add a bit of lime juice and club soda to make a refreshing summer sipper.