Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Long and Rinding Road

The hot and humid weather we've been "enjoying" lately has made me very glad that I picked up that watermelon at the market last weekend -- the one I've been consuming like mad.

But the problem with watermelon, as you well know, is that to get to the sweet and juicy fruit inside, you have to cut into a tough rind. That's a bit much to expect my worms to tackle and turn into compost, and who in their right minds eats the rind?


Now before you think I'm completely off my rocker (and I am, but that's not the point here), let me introduce you to one of the Chef Mother's more unusual recipes: watermelon pickles.

Yeah, I know, I've expressed my dislike for pickles time and again, but I think you'll also have noticed that some "pickled" items do appeal to my tastebuds. And since this recipe leans more toward the "sweet and sour" combination that I'm coming to appreciate, I thought it might be worth giving it a try in my efforts to reduce my kitchen waste.

The Chef Mother hasn't made these pickles in many, many years, but I can still remember the juicy brown cubes floating in a vinegary syrup amidst cloves and other whole spices... and the way the sharp aroma tickled my little nostrils. They never appealed to me when I was young. But now? Well, it's worth a try.

After my pasta sauce-making frenzy yesterday morning, I cut up the watermelon, setting the rind aside to chop after I had put away the rest of the fruit. I ended up with 4 cups of rind in a bowl, an even quarter of the original recipe, so it was easy to adjust the measurements of the other ingredients accordingly.

First, I soaked the rind in a bowl for hours along with a salt-water solution.

By the time evening rolled around, it was time to drain and rinse the rind before cooking it until tender, then draining it again.

While it drained, I mixed the syrup ingredients and brought them to a boil. Talk about nose-tinglingly fragrant! (I'm telling you, find some locally-produced apple cider vinegar. WOW!) Once the syrup came together, I added the rind back in and let it simmer for half an hour.

The next step was easy: let the pot sit and cool overnight. What a relief!

This morning I found that the rind had soaked up much of the syrup:

(Is it starting to look tempting yet?)

At that point, I added the remaining sugar and vinegar, boiled it until the rind was clear, packed it into 1/2-cup jars, and ran it through my small makeshift "canner."

I have yet to try the pickles, thinking that a little extra time would be beneficial to the flavors, but from the aroma, my guess is that they'll be a perfect accompaniment to Indian meals.

Sure, it was a lengthy process to make these pickles, but considering that I saved the rind of an entire watermelon from the landfill (or even a slow breakdown in a friend's compost heap), I'd say it was worth the effort.

And won't the Chef Mother be surprised when I hand her a jar!

Watermelon Pickles

I found this recipe in our family cookbook, attributed to the Chef Mother. I've no idea how she came up with it, as I've never seen anything like it. (I consulted Stocking Up, my favorite book on food preservation, and the closest it came was a Gingered Watermelon Rind that didn't match it exactly.) As I added spices to the pot, I noticed that I was essentially using chai spices, so I tossed in the cardamom pods for good measure. I can't vouch yet for the flavor, but they sure smelled great!

4 c watermelon rind, cubed
1/4 c pickling salt
2 c sugar
2 c cider vinegar
1/2 T whole allspice
1/2 T whole cloves
1 stick of cinnamon (I used the equivalent in bits of cinnamon bark)
2 small pieces ginger root (crystallized ginger works, too)
2 cardamom pods

Place rind in a bowl. Dissolve pickling salt in 2 c cold water. Pour over rind. Let stand 6 hours. Drain, rinse, and add to cooking pot, covering with clear water. Boil until fork tender, then drain.

Combine 1 c sugar, 1/2 c vinegar, and spices to 2 c water. Boil 5 minutes. Add rind and simmer 30 minutes. Let stand 12-24 hours in a cool place.

Add remaining sugar and vinegar. Boil until rind is clear. Add boiling water if syrup becomes too thick before rind is clear.

Pack, boiling hot, into hot sterilized jars. Process for 10 minutes in hot water bath to seal.

Makes almost 2 pints


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