Growing up, I always remember Watermelon Pickles being on the table for every special meal, holidays, guests over etc. I was endlessly entranced by the translucent quality of them and the unique and unexpected flavor; sweet, citrussy tangy and spicy all in one.
It was a summer tradition for my folks to pick up a watermelon and make a batch every summer. My favorite watermelon pickle memory of all though, is one summer when the wires got a little crossed…
I was maybe ten years old. One weekend at the end of summer was scheduled for the big event. We just didn’t know how big at first. I remember my folks standing in the kitchen and looking over the recipe. Each was preparing to run errands and they were deciding on a battle plan. Large kettles and boxes of canning jars were already assembled like troops on the sidelines.
Mom was going to pickup the watermelon at the farm stand when she ran other errands in that direction. Dad would pick up enough cider vinegar, sugar, spices, canning lids etc. when he went to the grocery store to do the weekly shopping.
A couple of hours later, I helped Mom unload the car. She was all excited because the melons were all half-price at the farm stand so she bought two large ones. Soon afterward, Dad pulled in and I helped to bring in groceries. I couldn’t help but notice the two large watermelons on the back seat of the car. Turns out, the grocery store was having a buy-one-get-one-free deal, so of course, he got two…. “Won’t your mother be surprised!” he said. I nodded enthusiastically, thinking she won’t be the only one. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t want to spoil anybody’s surprise…
Well, it wasn’t long before the truth was apparent. We now had four large watermelons to wrestle with. And what a job it was. Making these pickles is already a two-day job with one day for all the trimming, cutting and prep work, including brining…The pickles sit over night in brine and you pick up from there on the next day.
There is a lot left over after all the rind has been cut off and cubed for pickles. My folks always turned the pulp into a relish and made the juice into watermelon sherbet. They didn’t want to waste anything. Well, let me tell you, four watermelons is a lot of pickles, relish and juice! In fact, they were all night dealing with pickle preparations. The next day was more of the same, with big kettles steaming away all day and fragrant pickle juice spicing the air.
Late the second night, dozens and dozens of jars filled every conceivable surface in the kitchen and adjoining areas. They were beautiful, almost a clear green and a rosy red. Five or six glass gallon jars of watermelon juice filled the fridge for further dealings at a later time. The sink overflowed with kettles and funnels, mixing bowls and spoons. Everyone we knew received watermelon pickles and relish for Christmas! My folks were sleepwalking. But what a good deal we got on those watermelons!
To this day, I still make watermelon pickles (and relish, and sherbet…) about every 3 summers or so. And I smile almost the whole time, remembering that one summer day so many years ago…
If you want to give it a go yourself, here are the recipes:
Watermelon Pickles Elizabeth
½ half large watermelon
2 Tbsp. slaked lime (available in drugstores)
2 cups and 6 cups cider vinegar
5 pounds of sugar
2 Tbsp. allspice
2 Tbsp. cloves
12 cinnamon Sticks
Water as indicated
Prepare ½ large Watermelon; peel skin off ½ melon, cut melon in half. Scoop pulp out of peeled half. Refrigerate pulp for future use in Watermelon Pickle and Watermelon Sherbet. Slice rind into 1-inch cubes. Dissolve 2 Tbsp. powdered slaked lime in 2 qt. water. Add rind cubes and soak for 3 hours Drain. Add rind and cold water to cover, to a large kettle, cover and simmer for one hour or until tender. Drain and cover with a mixture of 2 cups cider vinegar and 4 cups of water, let stand overnight. Drain.
To prepare syrup; in a large kettle, combine:6 cups cider vinegar, 2 tsp. salt, 1 cup water, 5 pounds of sugar and spices (2 Tbsp. allspice, 2 Tbsp. cloves, 12 cinnamon sticks, all tied in cheesecloth) Bring to a boil, shut off, cover and let stand for one hour. Add watermelon and simmer, covered for 2 hours.
Ladle pickles and syrup into hot, sterile jars. Add 1 cinnamon stick and 2 cloves to each jar. Seal with hot water bath method. Makes 8 pints.
Watermelon Relish Elizabeth
4 qt watermelon pulp, mashed, seeds removed, well squeezed (save juice)
5 cups sugar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup cider vinegar
6 slices lemon
6 whole cloves and 2 cinnamon sticks, in pieces, tied in cheesecloth
Let pulp drain for one hour after squeezing juice out.
Combine pulp, sugar, salt, vinegar and lemon in heavy kettle. Add spice packet. Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Pack into hot sterilized jars and seal. Process in hot water bath. Makes 2 pints.
Watermelon Sherbet Elizabeth
3 cups watermelon juice concentrate*
½ cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
Juice of 1 lemon
Mix juice, sugar and salt. Remove about ¼ cup to a small saucepan. Soften gelatin in the juice in saucepan. Dissolve over hot water or very low heat. Add with lemon juice to first mixture. Freeze in crank-type freezer. Makes about one quart.
*To make juice concentrate: Force watermelon pulp through a food mill or colander. Put juice into a large clear jar or pitcher. Allow to sit in refrigerator for several hours. Juice will separate and darker, more concentrated juice will settle to the bottom. Siphon or pour off the lighter juice on the top. Use the more concentrated juice at the bottom to make sherbet. The lighter juice makes a refreshing drink, served plain or mixed with other juices, soda water or wine.