Summer Melon With a Delightfully Fall Twist
By Cathy Barrow, Photography by Space Division Photography
Admittedly, the prep work takes both effort and dedication, but this crisp, sweet, tart, unusual pickle is worth it. For best results, use an old-fashioned watermelon with thick outer shell and seeds.
1½-inch star cutter (optional)
Four 12-ounce mason jars
- 1 large watermelon
- ¾ cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon alum* (optional, see note)
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
- 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 star anise
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 4¼ cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup cider vinegar
- ¾ cup white vinegar
To prepare the rind, cut the watermelon in half and scoop out all the flesh down to the white part of the rind. Reserve the flesh for another use.
Use a large sturdy metal spoon to scrape the rind to remove all traces of the pink fruit. Cut the rind into strips 2 inches wide. Remove the green outer rind with a vegetable peeler until all that remains is a pristine white rind about ¼ inch thick.
Cut the rind into 2-inch by 1-inch squares or have fun and stamp out stars or fluted circles. After all the prep expect to have about 4 cups of rind.
In a 5-quart or larger pot, bring 3 quarts nonchlorinated water and the salt to a boil. Stir to dissolve the salt. Remove the pot from the heat. Add 8 cups of ice cubes to cool off the brine. Add the rind and let it sit in the brine for 3 hours or as long as overnight.
Rinse the rind well. In a large nonreactive bowl add the alum and 4 quarts of nonchlorinated cool water (if not using alum, skip this step and proceed to the next step). Stir until alum is dissolved. Add the rind and soak for 2 hours. Be gentle with your future pickles from this time forward; they will be crispy, delicate and can shatter.
Bring 3 quarts nonchlorinated water to a boil. Rinse the rind pieces well. Add the rind to water and blanch. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until rind is tender.
While the rind is cooking, make the pickling syrup: Tie up the cinnamon, cloves, star anise and peppercorns in a cheesecloth bag. In a heavy nonreactive 3-quart or larger pot, add the lemon, sugar, vinegars, water and spice bag and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.
Gently drain the rind pieces using a spider strainer or skimmer, and place them in the simmering pickling syrup. Simmer the rind for 30 to 45 minutes, until the pieces are translucent and suspended throughout the syrup. Remove from the heat and leave the rinds in the syrup, uncovered, overnight.
Bring the pickling syrup and rinds back up to a boil. Spoon the rinds into the jars then pour additional pickling syrup over the rinds, leaving a ½ -inch headspace. Clean the jar rims, place the lids and rings and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from the water bath; let the jars cool completely before testing the seals.
Canned, the pickles are shelf stable for 1 year. Let the pickles mellow for at least a week before serving. Best when eaten ice cold with cheese, cured meats and spiced nuts.
*Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) can be found at most grocers in the spice and seasoning section. It is a crystalline powder and is commonly used as a firming agent, especially for pickles made of vegetables and watermelon rind. It can be omitted, but the resulting pickles will be mushy.