Learn these handy tips on how to make your own watermelon syrup.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/CHRISTIAN JUNG
Learn how to make your own watermelon syrup using your homegrown watermelons from the garden.
Believe it or not, the least known of nature's nutritious sweeteners may well be the best (tastiest, easiest to make, most economical) of them all! Read on, as Charles Franklin Jenkins of New Riegel, Ohio explains how to make your own watermelon syrup.
Most of MOTHER's readers know that honey,molasses, and maple syrup are three mighty good alternatives to the likes of cyclamates, saccharine, and white sugar. But I'll bet only a relative handful of you have discovered that there's yet another "organic" substitute for super-processed sweeteners . . . and that you can easily make your own, right now at home, from (are you ready for this?) common garden-variety watermelons!
Yep. As novel as the idea may seem, folks have been dabbling with the production of an ambrosial sweetener from America's favorite summertime fruit for over a hundred years. The United States Commissioner of Agriculture's Report for 1876 states that one group of California farmers and promoters actually formed a corporation (the California Sugar Manufacturing Company) for that purpose. And the company — after conducting extensive preliminary experiments which showed that the plan was indeed feasible — set up a factory complete with imported German machinery at Isleton, in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River delta region.
Over the next twenty or thirty years, a goodly number of other entrepreneurs and researchers from sections of the country as widely scattered as Oklahoma, Virginia, and Nebraska also tried to make a go of similar schemes. Unfortunately, all such efforts were doomed to eventual failure, thanks to the sheer economic clout of the conventional cane-sugar industry.
But that's not to say that you can't make your own natural sweetener from watermelons . . . because you can! Compared to gathering honey or boiling down maple syrup (both of which involve a considerable investment in time and money), the process is a breeze! Here's all there is to it:
First, of course, you need several juicy, fully ripe watermelons fresh from your garden (or from the local supermarket, if you're not a purist and don't mind spending the extra money).
Thoroughly scrub the outside of the fruit with a vegetable brush (this is particularly important if you're using store-bought produce . . . in which case you might want to peel the skin away entirely to avoid possible spray residues). Next slice the green globes into halves, then quarters, and finally inch-wide strips or cubes.
Some folks prefer to cut and use the entire melon — rind and all—or you can simply spoon out and save just the pulp . . . in which case your syrup will be a somewhat lighter honey-toned color. In any event, always be sure to hold the juicy pieces of melon over a bowl or dish as you work, to catch and retain every drop of liquid nectar.
Next pick all the seeds from the pink flesh (a job which can be called either horrendously messy or wonderfully messy, depending on your own particular psychological makeup). Set the little nuggets aside to dry — for use in next year's garden — and put the cleaned seedless chunks of pulp into as many bowls as you need to hold all the melon you've cut up.
Now you can proceed to extract the bulk of the juice from the chunks of fruit. And it doesn't matter how you do it: You can put the melon through a crank-type food grinder or mill, an electric blender (slow going, but the results are satisfactory), or — if you're lucky enough to own one—a vegetable juicer.
(Then again, if you happen to be attracted to a certain amount of old-time revelry, you might just pour the whole mess into a vat, take off your shoes and socks, and stomp the pulp into submission. This latter alternative, however, is not the most sanitary . . . and the end product should not be offered to friends or neighbors without due warning.)
Once the melon has been thoroughly ground, mashed, milled, or blenderized, pour the gooey mass directly into a colander, and press the liquid through the strainer and into containers . . . pots, pans, wide-mouth bottles, anything you have on hand. Chances are you'll need every vessel you can find. (A considerable volume of juice is required to make a supply of watermelon nectar. On the other hand, think of the poor fellow who manufactures maple syrup. The sap from his trees frequently contains only about three percent or less sugar, whereas melon juice tests out at nearly ten percent. So, while a producer of maple sugar usually needs a full forty — and sometimes as many as eighty — quarts of "starter" to make a quart of his or her finished product, you need only seven! You've got a head start before you even begin.)
The next — and final — step is to boil your melon juice down to a thick, sweet syrup. Pour the strained liquid into a large porcelain-enamel container (a cold-pack canner serves nicely) and place it over a burner set at about 220 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a wood stove or a range without thermostatic controls, just use a candy thermometer to help you gauge and maintain the proper temperature.
As the juice boils, a froth will form on its surface. Skim this bubbly substance off frequently with a spoon or spatula (your syrup will look "muddy" if you don't) and stir the steaming concoction occasionally to keep it from sticking to the sides of the pan. When the brew appears to be reduced to about one-seventh of its original volume, taste it. Mmmmmm . . . good!
Remember that the longer you continue the evaporation process, the sweeter and darker the end result will be. (In fact, if you want to take the procedure one step further, you can cook the sap all the way down to a cake that tastes even better than maple candy!)
At any rate, let your sweet tooth be your guide and continue boiling the thickened liquid until your taste buds tell you it's decidedly — and deliciously — done. Then let the nectar cool for twenty-four hours, and transfer your "homemade honey" into bottles . . . taking care to leave any and all of the sediment which may have settled to the bottom of the cooker right there (in the bottom of the cooker).
Congratulations! You've made your first batch of Mother Nature's Homegrown Watermelon Wonder . . . an ambrosial delight that some epicures swear is unsurpassed by any other substance known to mortal man! One bite of hot brown buckwheat pancakes drenched in this delicious honey-colored goodness from your own garden's fruit, and you'll know for sure: Making watermelon syrup is one mighty sweet idea!