Friday, June 20, 2014

Fannie Farmer's Watermelon Pickle

Even though pickled watermelon rind is a quintessential American food, appearing in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, The New York Times Heritage Cookbook does not have a recipe for it. Go figure. However, since a half watermelon had been lurking in our crisper since June 2, and both my husband and Laura, who lives in our basement, go nuts over pickled watermelon rind, I decided to put the rind to good use.
Canning seems to have increased in popularity among the younger foodies out there, so there should be an audience for this. As pickle recipes go, it is moderately time consuming. The rind needs to soak for three hours if you add lime water (more on this later) and all the cutting, peeling, and boiling takes about three more hours. It also requires a fairly substantial outlay of cash on canning equipment. You will need a canning kettle for the boiling water bath, equipped with a rack so the jars are not sitting on the bottom of the kettle, and jars, lids and rings. These things are now available at your local hardware store. If you make the expenditure, you will be able to enjoy canning vegetables, fruits, jams and pickles for the rest of your life.
I chose this particular recipe, among several out there, including one in the always popular Joy of Cooking, because it did not call for hard to find ingredients such as oil of cloves and oil of cinnamon. The Fannie Farmer Cookbooks were a staple in our house when I was growing up. My mother had the 1941 edition when she embarked upon her married life and actually had to learn how to cook. I used to pour over the menu section, drooling over such highlights of entertaining as the smorgasbord, the young children's party and the buffet. By the time I cleaned out my parents' house, 20 years after their deaths, the 1941 edition had virtually crumbled into oblivion. I did keep my sister's copy, the 1965 edition, its pages slightly singed from the time she fell asleep and burned up the cabinets in her New York apartment. This recipe comes from that cookbook.
Watermelon pickle is the original "Use it up, wear it out, make it last or do without," recipe in the spirit of the Depression. The cook is making use of a part of the fruit that would ordinarily be thrown away. I wanted to use up the half watermelon, but as I looked at it, and at the recipe, I decided that one half watermelon would not be enough. So, Thursday, after yoga, I found myself in the odd position of buying a food product so I would have enough material so as not to let leftovers go to waste. I lugged my new watermelon home on the bus, along with two pounds of sugar and two quarts of white vinegar.
After lunch, I started cutting, peeling and boiling. For some reason, this recipe, along with many others written before 2000 suggests that the cook boil the watermelon rind and then peel it. That always seems dumb to me. I find it easier to peel vegetables first, and then boil them. For one thing, it is easier to peel a cold vegetable than a hot vegetable. You need a good peeler to peel watermelons. The peel is tough. Remember to peel away from you. I forgot this elementary safety tip and took a hunk of skin the size of a navy bean off my left thumb. Blood began flowing everywhere. I wrapped my thumb up in a kitchen towel and went back to work. It was a moderately serious injury. By dinnertime, there was a collection of bloody towels worthy of Sweeny Todd lying at the foot of the basement stairs.

By four o'clock, I had cut up my left over watermelon and half a new watermelon, boiled it, cut what was left of the watermelon fruit off the rind, and put it to soak in lime water, or its modern equivalent. Last week, when I was looking into making watermelon pickle, but decided I wasn't up to canning, my husband Bob came back from the hardware store with a jar of something called Pickle Crisp Granules. This is the chemical calcium chloride. Lime is actually calcium oxide. The label on the jar of granules says it works three times faster than pickling lime. So, if I had read the directions, I would have had to soak the rind only one hour instead of three. But, I didn't read the directions. Pickle Crisp Granules are available at your hardware store, and possibly at your local supermarket if you live in an area that does a lot of canning. I don't expect much from my supermarket.
While the rind is soaking, make the pickling syrup. Fannie's quantities turned out not to be sufficient for an entire melon, so I am increasing the proportions by one-fourth. The result is spicy, not too sweet, and a beautiful, translucent gold. Bob pronounced the finished pickles up to standard.

Watermelon Pickle

Rind of one watermelon, about the size of a basketball

Pickling Syrup

5 cups white vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
5 cups sugar
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 1/2 sticks of cinnamon
1 tablespoon allspice berries

Put all the ingredients of the syrup in a large saucepan and boil until the sugar dissolves. (About five minutes.)

1. Cut the watermelon in the traditional crescent shaped slices, remove the flesh of the melon, and peel the rind. Cut the rind into six inch pieces and boil it for five minutes. Scrape the remaining melon flesh off the rind, and cut the pieces into cubes.
2. Cover the cubes with water in which Pickle Crisp Granules have been dissolved and soak for one hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the pickling syrup, wash your jars and sterilize them and the lids and rings in the boiling water bath kettle.
4. Drain the melon rind, rinse it off, and cover with fresh water. Simmer until the melon rind is tender.
5. Drain off the water, and cover the melon rind with the pickling syrup. Simmer until the rind is clear (translucent, really) and the syrup thick, adding water if necessary.
Note: My rind became translucent after about 40 minutes of simmering, but the syrup did not thicken. I just went ahead and canned the pickles at that point.
6. Pack the hot pickles and syrup in the hot, sterilized jars. Put on the lids and rings, and submerge the filled jars in the boiling water bath. The pickles should stay in the boiling water for 15 minutes.
7. Lift the hot jars out of the boiling water bath with the rack and leave them to cool.
Makes seven pints.

No comments:

Post a Comment