Thursday, August 18, 2011

Making the Most of Melon: Watermelon Rind Pickles

A melon – especially a watermelon – often seems like a mountainous task. Even before it's cut open, the plotting to use it up begins: How much melon can I eat on my own? Who can I get to help me eat it? Can I do anything else with it? Really, how much melon can I eat?

If you're asking that question nutritionally, the answer is quite a lot. Not only is it roughly 90% water, but, per pound (~3 cups, several slices), it contains about 130 calories, 60% of the RDA of Vitamin C, 50% of Vitamin A, and a wealth of antioxidant and anticancer compounds (read more about watermelon nutrition). Cantaloupe is even more of a nutritional powerhouse. Also, they're tasty and refreshing and go down real smooth.

Most of the time, they're really big though.

What do you do after the first 3 slices? Increasingly, I'm seeing more varied uses of it as an ingredient, from grilled watermelon dishes to savory cold salads to its inclusion in stir-fries, SE Asia-style, and it's really exciting! If I get a chance to photograph it, I will post my recipe for black bean and watermelon salad, one of my favorite uses for old watermelon that's picked up some weird fridge taste.

But here's one more incentive to finish eating the beast: you get to make watermelon rind pickles.

I'd been thinking about it when a friend said she had designs on making them, inspired by a favorite memory of a boarder her family had in the summers when she was younger. Every watermelon was accompanied by the ritual of passing back the rinds to be trimmed and stored for pickling. Before you're grossed out by the use of chomped-down rinds, remember that not only is that part trimmed off, but it is subsequently salted, boiled and soaked in vinegar. It will be as free of germs as the surface of the moon, and significantly tastier. I won't be offended if you prefer to cut the melon off the rinds first, though. A big bowl of melon chunks in the fridge is a great snack.

Which brings us to the process, in 5 easy steps, including eating the watermelon on both ends:
  1. Eat watermelon (save rind).
  2. Salt rind.
  3. Boil rind.
  4. Brine rind.
  5. Eat watermelon.
As an extra added bonus, we found that the leftover brine made a killer drink, just this side of a Dark & Stormy, when paired with dark rum and seltzer, which has yet to be named.

    Watermelon Rind Pickles

    Vegan, grain/gluten-free
    Makes ~3 pints of pickles

    Salt Soak:
  • 2 qts watermelon rinds, trimmed and cut into 1" chunks
  • 1½ qts water
  • ½ c. salt

  • The Brine:
  • 5 c. sugar (we split 3 c. white, 2 c. brown)
  • 3 c. water
  • 3 c. white or cider vinegar
  • 6-8 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 Tblsp. whole cloves
  • 1 Tblsp. whole allspice berries
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger, cut into thin sticks.

  • The Rest:
  • 1 lemon, halved, thinly sliced and seeded
  • 1 orange, prepared as lemon
  • 3 one-pint glass canning jars with lids
Trim rinds by cutting off green edge and chomped-down rim and cut into 1" chunks. Soak the watermelon in saltwater overnight or at least 6-8 hours in a 2+ gal. stockpot.

Drain through colander and rinse well in cool water. Return to stockpot, add water to cover and set to boil for ~15 min, or until fork-tender.

Meanwhile, prepare brine in a 4 qt or larger saucepan. Drain the rind pieces, then return to stockpot and add brine and citrus slices. Cover and let stand overnight, or at least 6-8 hours.

Pickles are now ready for canning. Bring them back up to a simmer, and boil a water bath to sterilize jars. Into each sterilized jar, scoop the rind/citrus with a slotted spoon until mostly full, then top up with brine to the base of the mouth. When all pickles are scooped out, process jars in a water bath for 10-15 minutes. Don't forget to stick something like a vegetable steamer in the bottom of the pot so the glass doesn't touch the bottom. Otherwise you run the risk of cracking the bottom out. If this happens, those jars make neat candle-holders. Not that I've ever done that before.

    As Promised, a related drink recipe

  • 2 oz. watermelon rind pickle juice
  • 2 oz. dark rum, such as Gosling's or Kraken
  • ½ c. seltzer

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