Simple watermelon rind pickle
The first proper summer days with hot temperatures are rather late this year. While some summer fruit has already appeared on the shelfs of green grocers over the weeks, I wasn't exactly tempted to try them when every other week one had to dig out the winter coat. So finally the temperatures are rising and I got in the mood to have berries, cherries and also some watermelon to help myself cool down.
Watermelon is actually a vegetable and belongs to the gourd family, nevertheless I regard it as a fruit. People are starting to learn about the versatility of watermelon. There is more you can do with it than just cutting it in wedges and eating it as a simple refreshment. I suppose many are familiar now with the pairing of salty cheeses such as feta or halloumi. There are quite a few dishes where it is served warm: watermelon soups and grilled slices for instance. One restaurant in NYC marinades halved melons for days, then smokes it and serves slices that resemble rare steaks. Apparently it convincingly mimicks the flavour of meat.
When I was a child I always regretted that such a big part of the watermelon is being discarded. My family shared a watermelon usually as a refreshment on a hot summer evening and the rind ended up on the compost of my parents garden. I never questioned this and believed that the rind must be bad for you if people aren't eating it. I wasn't aware that in some parts of this world it is very common to also use this part. Only a few years ago I found a recipe in the New York Times Cookbook edited by Amanda Hesser where I learned that the rind is in fact edible. So you are definitely not going to die from it or sit on the toilet for days if you eat it. True, it doesn't taste of much when you eat it raw. Especially in contrast with the red flesh. However isn't that the case with many other vegetables? Zucchini doesn't taste of much, neither does aubergines or pumpkins if you try an uncooked piece. For a while I have been part of a food exchange group where people meet regularly and swap things they have made in the kitchen. It was a good testing ground for many recipes and once I decided to try a pickle from the New York Times Cookbook and let people try it without telling them what it is. If you only have the rind without the green skin and it has been pickled with all the spices it is easily mistaken with pickled pumpkin. That's what people thought and they took a long time guessing that it is actually the rind of the watermelon.
People always shy away from preserving, because they believe it means having to stand in the kitchen for hours on end and producing large batches. However it is worthwhile making smaller batches and it is not a lot of work.
I will write about some experiments with watermelon rind on this blog over the next few months, while watermelons are in season. Watermelon rind kimchi is one thing I am intending to try, also other kind of ferments such as watermelon rind sticks fermented with different herbs and spices. To start I am making a simple pickle that is popular in the southern states of the US. For a while I have been part of a food exchange group where people meet regularly and swap things they have made in the kitchen. It was a good testing ground for many recipes and once I decided to try a pickle from the New York Times Cookbook and let people try it without telling them what it is. If you only have the rind without the green skin and it has been pickled with all the spices it is easily mistaken with pickled pumpkin. That's what people thought and they took a long time guessing that it is actually the rind of the watermelon.
This blog isn't so much about leaf-to-root, however I feel it is wrong to discard the rind of the watermelon, not only because it makes up such a substantial part of the fruit (or rather vegetable). We don't grow it where I live, so it has traveled quite a bit. That's why I believe it is vital to make use of all parts of the produce. Unfortunately I have not found a way to make use of the mostly pretty skin. Maybe some clever startup will develop a way to make shoes or clothes out of one day. I would be happy to add some watermelon skin shoes to my outlandish footwear collection (serious!).
I use the quick pickling method for this recipe. Which is very simple and good for small batches. If you find you don’t have enough pickling liquid, it is easy to make some more to top up whatever you are pickling. I have adapted a recipe from Epicurious and have added some lime leaves I had in the freezer, some chilies that have shriveled up and a piece of fresh turmeric. Most recipes I find use spices like cinnamon, allspice etc. But I was in the mood for some Thai or Vietnamese flavours. Feel free to play around with herbs and spices. I can’t wait to use this for sandwiches or as a condiment for a BBQ.
simple watermelon rind pickle
peeled rind of one watermelon (ca. 470 g from one watermelon weighing about 2.5 kg)
2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup light-brown sugar
5-6 lime leaves, slightly bruised
5 cm turmeric root, sliced (or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric)
3 dried chilies
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Make sure you have thoroughly cleaned the watermelon rind. You don’t want any peel or parts of the red flesh on it. Cut into pieces of about 5 cm and cut those pieces into matchsticks. The rind of my watermelon was about 1 cm thick. If you find yours is thicker, you might want to cut it into smaller pieces.
Put the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, turmeric and peppercorns in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, lower the heat to medium and let the pickling liquid cook for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile put the watermelon rind pieces in preserving jars (I used about two 400 ml jars and one 200 ml jar). Add the lime leaves and the chilies. I like to place them on the wall of the jar for visibility - will make your pickle look pretty.
Pour over the hot pickling liquid. Push everything down with a clean spoon and seal immediately and leave to cool on your counter. With this quick pickling method it is advised to store them in the fridge once cooled where it should keep for at least a week or two. I have found they last even longer, sometimes over a year, even if you don’t store it in the fridge. Just make sure that you place it in the fridge once you have opened the jar.