If your family really packs in the pickles, what do you do when the cucumber crop comes a cropper? Well, don't panic! Just bear in mind that the best things in life are free . . . and try substituting that otherwise wasted (or, we hope, composted) watermelon rind!
Pickled rind, in fact, has much to recommend it . . . even in a good cuke year. Besides adding color to a meal, watermelon rind—when so preserved—is less expensive and, in most cases, more easily prepared than "plain ole pickles". (You can, when putting up rind—for instance—cut thirteen days off the ,justly famous "quick and easy" fourteen-day sweet pickle recipe . . . and still enjoy a final product that's every bit as good.) In addition to that, pickled watermelon rind is just unusual enough for presentation to special friends as an unexpectedly delightful gift.
But enough palaver. Here are three recipes that should get you off to a good start . . . and give you some guidelines for converting your own favorite pickling instructions from cucumbers to watermelon rind. Even though the originals call for sugar, feel free to substitute raw sugar or honey—or what have you—and adjust the amounts to produce the sweetness you and your family prefer in the finished product. (As a rule of thumb, Margaret Hasse, in "The Honey Trip" in MOTHER NO. 37, suggests adding about 2/3 of a cup of honey—and deducting 3 tablespoons of other liquid—for each cup of sugar that is left out. For more advice, check The Joy of Cooking.—MOTHER.)
The following instructions are applicable to all three of the pickling recipes below . . . as well as any of your own you might want to experiment with:
Preparing Watermelon Rind for Pickling
Trim the dark skin and pink flesh from a thick watermelon rind. (It's easier if you first cut your rind into long strips, then peel it. And a little pink left on adds to the color of the preserved food.) Cut the trimmed rind into one-inch pieces, or any shapes and sizes you desire. (I happen to have a fluted chopper, a very inexpensive item if you can find one . . . mine was a premium from a mail-order gift catalog and makes short and pretty work of this cutting.)
Next dissolve 3 tablespoons of slaked lime -check the label on the bag to make sure it's meant for pickling—in 2 quarts of cold water, and pour the solution over 4 quarts of prepared rind. Add more water, if necessary, so that all the pieces are covered . . . and let them stand 2 to 4 hours. (A substitute mixture of 1 cup salt to 2 quarts cold water may be used, but you'll have to let it stand 6 hours, and your pickles will not be as crisp.) (Note: I've also seen recommended—in The Joy of Cooking and several other books on the subject-the use of fresh grape or cherry leaves to add crispness to any pickled product. Just toss a few of the leaves in with the salt water before soaking the fruit, and omit the lime entirely.—MOTHER.)
After the rind has soaked, rinse it well and cover it with cold water. Then cook the pieces of rind until they're just tender and drain them again.
Now tie the appropriate spices—for whichever recipe you're using—into a cheesecloth bag. Combine them with the remaining ingredients called for by the recipe and simmer all the natural preservatives and flavorings for 10 minutes. Then add the watermelon rind and again simmer until it becomes clear (add boiling water if the syrup gets too thick during this cooking process). Once the rinds are transparent, remove the spice bag, and pack the pickles—boiling hot—into sterilized jars (leave only 1/8-inch head space). Screw the caps on tight or—for smaller batches that you'll use up quickly—simply refrigerate . . . and you're done!
Now if we could only think of a way to make use of the green outer shell . . . tan it for moccasins, maybe?
Original Watermelon Rind Pickles
This one has a nice lemony flavor and is a pretty pale-yellow color.
2 tablespoons of whole cloves
3 sticks of cinnamon
2 pieces of ginger root
1 lemon, sliced thin
8 cups of sugar
1 quart of white vinegar
1 quart of water
Ozark Lime Pickles
You'll find this a bit spicier than a sweet pickle. It's also attractive with its celery seeds floating around.
1 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of celery seed
(do not tie in bag)
1 teaspoon of whole cloves
9 cups of sugar
2 quarts of vinegar
Sweet Icicle Watermelon Pickles
This was, originally, the formula for fourteen-day sweet pickles.
1-1/2 tablespoons of mixed pickling
spices (available at almost any grocery store)
5 cups of sugar
5 cups of vinegar