By Sheryl Joy, NS/S Seed Distribution Coordinator.
Last summer's grow-out at the Conservation Farm gave us a nice harvest of Rio Grande Red-Seeded Watermelon, a variety that hasn't been available to the public before. The small fruit have beautiful red seeds and juicy pale yellow flesh that is not very sweet, but has a crisp refreshing taste like a cucumber with a hint of citrus.
This variety, like many of our other heritage watermelons, have a thick rind that is perfect for making watermelon-rind pickles. If you haven't had a watermelon rind pickle, you are missing a spicy, slightly crunchy, sweet-sour treat! Though rare now, watermelon-rind pickles were much more popular back when families grew most of their own food and were careful to use all the usable parts of their produce. If you'd like to try them, check out the family recipe from NS/S volunteer Maggie White. Modern store-bought watermelons just won't do ..... their rind is too thin to be useful for pickles (and besides, there are usually no seeds to spit at your cousin or to and grow your next crop!)
Watermelon Rind Pickles - Maggie White's Family Recipe
The majority of modern watermelons have been bred for rinds that are too thin to bother pickling. Use an heirloom species like Rio Grande Red-seeded, which has a thick rind. The rind from six of these watermelons will make 12 half pints. My family always served this pickle at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It’s good right out of the jar, too!
Preparing the rind
Remove the green outer rind with a vegetable peeler and scoop out the flesh of the watermelon. Cut remaining rind into pieces about 1" square. In a stainless steel or enameled pot, dissolve 1/3 C pickling salt in water. Add the rind and enough water to cover. Let stand overnight, drain, and rinse well. Add fresh water to cover. Boil the rind until easily penetrated with a fork, about 20-30 minutes. Drain.
Pickling the rind
6 lbs of sugar
2 quarts vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar)
2 Tbs allspice
2 Tbs whole cloves
4 sticks cinnamon, broken into pieces
2 pieces of ginger root, peeled and cut into sticks
Tie the spices loosely in a doubled piece of cheese cloth. Place in the pot with sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Add the rind and boil until the rind looks somewhat clear and the syrup thickens, about one hour. Remove the bag of spices.
Canning the pickle
Divide the rind pieces among the canning jars, leaving enough headspace to cover them with the syrup. Use the water-bath method, leaving the jars in the bath for 15 minutes at Tucson altitude. The pickle is good when new, but gets even better a few weeks later.