After having some lovely watermelon rind pickles served with rillettes in New Orleans, I decided to take it upon myself to make them for future holiday presents. I know, too hot to be thinking about Christmas, but hey, that’s what happens when you do your own canning in the summer – maybe the steam carries you away down the calendar….
This was a relatively simple task when I was a child. My mother would simply save the rinds from the watermelon we had that week, and make the pickles on the weekend. However, that was 25 years ago, and things have changed.
The first watermelon I chose was small, as there are only three of us in the house, and we can only consume so much watermelon. Upon cracking it open with the knife I knew we had a problem. Horticultural innovation has meant that lately watermelons have been bred for sweetness and for smaller families, but I did not realize this also meant they had NO rind whatsoever really. Less than 1/4 of an inch. Great for maximizing the fruit ratio for the modern consumer, not good for pickle making. Luckily, we have ethnic markets and farmers markets here, and I was able to score a regularly sized watermelon. And by that I mean huge. After a couple of weeks of debating on what to make with the fruit itself (and after one of my cats had decided it was his napping companion on the freezer), I finally cut into the massive fruit.
Now that the outer skin has been peeled and the flesh scooped away, the watermelon rind is cut into fat little strips about three quarters of an inch by two and a half inches.
These need to be layered with 1 cup of pickling or kosher salt in a large nonreactive bowl and covered with cold water. Weigh them down with a plate so that they stay submerged and let them soak for 12 hours. After they have soaked, rinse them in two changes of cold water. Place them in a large stockpot and cover with fresh water and boil for approximately 10 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain and set aside while the syrup is being prepared.
In a medium saucepan, combine 4 cups of sugar, 3 cups of white vinegar, 4 cinnamon sticks, 8 whole cloves, and a 2 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, making sure all of the sugar has dissolved. Boil for about 10 minutes, to extract the flavors from the spices. Remove from heat, remove the whole spices and set aside.
While the syrup cooks, pack prepared canning jars tightly with the watermelon strips, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Depending on the size of the watermelon, you should get about 6-10 pints. Once the jars are packed, fill the jars with syrup, making sure to remove any air bubbles. Once the jars are filled, wipe the tops clean and add the prepared jar seals and screwbands. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (or whatever your local extension service recommends for your area). Remove from the bath and let seal, any that do not seal should be refrigerated. These are best after about 6 weeks of maturing, and will keep for about a year.
The finished product: