Watermelon Pickles—The Happy Pickle
I love going for walks with my husband and our dogs. Especially on beautiful August mornings such as today. This morning’s dew on the grass was sparkling like diamonds, the crickets were chirping and the birds were singing above the soft whisper of the breeze rustling the aspen tree’s silvery leaves. Mornings like this always transport me back to lazy August days on the farm.
The first weeks of August was summer on a grain farm. It was when many of the outside chores with the crops are done until harvest. The crops are too big to cultivate or weed and picking the rocks out of the fields is done for the year.
Work in the kitchen slows down a bit too. Most of the summer berries are frozen, sauced or jellied. Canning season was finishing up for peaches, cherries, and beans and had not started yet for sweet corn. However, pickling season was just beginning. On the farm we pickled sweet and dilled cucumbers, beets, crab apples and one of my favorite’s watermelon rinds.
Those first weeks of August were also the time for vacation trips. Even after I married and left the farm, most of our family vacations were scheduled during the first weeks of August. It was at that time we took our children to Gooseberry State Park on Minnesota’s North Shore camping.
The car ride to reach our camping site took us right through Pine City, MN. This is where my husband’s grandparents Henry and Helen Vacinek lived. Every year on the way home we would stop by their home for a visit and they always had a pie waiting for us—usually made with wild blueberries grandpa had picked.
One year when we stopped, unannounced, to visit and grandpa had just been to the store and bought two whole very large watermelons. They had been on sale and he felt it was a good buy. When we arrived they were in the midst of a conversation about what to do with all that watermelon. As we got out of the car we could hear grandpa tell grandma, “See, the kids are here and they will eat the watermelon!”
Eat it we did, I don’t believe I have ever seen my husband or my son eat so much melon in one sitting.
As each slice of watermelon was consumed the rind would be handed back to grandpa. Grandpa had wanted all that watermelon for their rinds to make watermelon pickles. To this day, I never eat a watermelon pickle when I don’t think of grandma and grandpa with a smile. Watermelon pickles may be old lost family recipe, but their delicious sweet spicy tang and the joy of learning how to make them from a grandmother is unforgettable.
Thank you to my mother-in-law Lois for her help finding and interpreting grandma’s abbreviated instructions. I have made these, they are easy to do, but it has been awhile.
Peel 8 cups watermelon rinds and cut into 1 inch by 2 inch chunks.
Place in a large pot and cover with a cold brine.
Add 1/2 cup pickling salt to 1 gallon water, let sit overnight. (Use pickling salt)
Add 1 teaspoon Alum for every 1 quart of watermelon rind chunks.
Soak rind chunks overnight in water in which alum has been dissolved.
The next morning, drain, put in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the watermelon rind and water to a hard boil. Reduce heat and cook until rinds are tender and just transparent.
Drain and cool for ½ hour in clear cold water, drain.
In medium-sized kettle make pickling syrup.
4 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
In a small cheese-cloth bag put 1 tablespoon whole cloves and 1 stick cinnamon. Tie shut with a string.
Bring sugar, vinegar, and spices to boil and pour over chunks, set out overnight.
2nd day–drain and add to syrup 1/2 cup sugar, boil syrup again
and pour over chunks, set over night. (Do not re-boil the watermelon chucks, just the syrup).
3rd day–pour off syrup and again bring to a boil. (Do not re-boil the watermelon chucks, just the syrup.) Once syrup is brought to a boil, remove bag of spices.
Pack watermelon pickles in sterile jars, cover with boiling syrup. Syrup needs to fill the jars so that the pickles are completely in covered. Seal at once.