Saturday, July 26, 2008

Were You Gonna Throw That Away?

Wait--I might wanna eat it. This week, I've had a couple of neat experiments in stretching my definition of "food" just a bit. It's easy to imagine what it might have been like in the days before refrigeration, and how you'd have wanted to make the absolute most of every bit of food you produced, before giving over what absolutely couldn't be eaten to the compost heap or the livestock. Over here, I wrote about how it happened that I made "grape" jelly out of the the hulls of purple-hull peas (and it was yummy, too!). I'm still kind of amazed that you can start with something completely inedible, and wind up with a sweet spread for toast and PB&Js, but there in my kitchen sits the proof.

pack hulls into a heavy pot, cover with water

strain into jars, seal

But better than my faux-grape jelly, by far, is what I just finished putting up the other day, after Bella and I finished a big, beautiful watermelon from the farmer's market. The watermelon meat scraps and seeds went to the chickens (after being frozen), for a cooling treat on a hot afternoon...and then I set to work on the watermelon rinds. I'd had watermelon pickles before, but never dreamed I could actually make them myself, until I spent the better part of a day researching recipes, finally settling on one that was sent my way by a fellow BYC forum member, who reports having gotten it originally from a past edition of "Betty Crocker's Cookbook."

Peel the smooth, shiny outer skin from the melon with a potato-peeler, cut it into one-inch cubes, and what you've got is something similar in flavor and texture to a very firm, seedless cucumber. It's extraordinary. You start by brining it in cold water overnight.

watermelon rind soaking in brine

I would imagine that you could pickle this rind in pretty much any style you can use for a cucumber pickle, but I went with the traditional Southern "watermelon pickle" flavor. All I needed was apple cider vinegar, organic sugar, lemon, water, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. I just followed the cooking instructions in the recipe, then packed the result into sterilized, hot jars, and processed the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. The hardest part was getting the jars out of the canning pot, since I do not yet own a jar-lifter, and am not particularly graceful.

combine, heat

These pickles are so good that, when I realized I wouldn't have quite enough to fill a tenth pint jar full, I caught myself while reaching for a half-pint jar, and opted instead to just eat an entire half-pint of the still-warm pickles, one after another, while standing over my kitchen sink. Great galloping wampus-cats, but these things are delicious. I can only imagine how good they'll be a few weeks from now, if I can manage to leave them alone that long.

Thanks to my friend SJ (and to my friend Adena for looking it up), I know that I'm not alone in my admiration of a good watermelon pickle, either. This is a pickle that inspires poetry.

Jars of Watermelon Pickles

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was--
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

~John Tobias


  1. All these posts on food are so interesting. I've never heard of watermelon pickles before. Hey, do you know of a site that lists what fruits and veggies are in season when? I can't find one.

  2. I still love that poem as much as I did in high school.

    But I thought it was Adena who tweeted you the link?

  3. SJ--Right you are! I had Twitter Myopathy. ;-)

    Sheryl--I think it was Melissa who provided this link earlier in the month:

  4. Scratch that above URL. What you want to do is use the URL below, substituting your own state's abbreviation for the "AR" in the URL.

  5. My mother likes to recall the watermelon rind pickles that her family used to make. I've always wondered what they were like. I've never seen pickling with cinnamon!

  6. I am a research freak!

    I am still sort=of afraid of the watermelon...

  7. I'm good at using leftovers, but you, my dear, are amazing.

  8. That actually piqued my interest...

  9. Oh lawd, you southern gals can turn water into wine.

    We northern gals will sit back and drink it. *L*

    Looks pretty though!

  10. Watermelon pickles?!?!

    OK, I am going to have to learn how to use my stove and other kitchen stuff to cook this! (and fried pickles is one thing I can cook by myself).

  11. Okay I came here to find out why you haven't been on Twitter for ages (well, at least during the hours I'm on - and I'm back & forth all day every day). I think I know now... I hope you're packing all your canned goods in your bomb shelter, 'cause you'll be GOLDEN in such an emergency!

    You are such an inspiration. I always want to start some kitchen adventure after reading about yours - and then I stand up and trip on a toy walking away from the computer, and the two year old jumps on my back and says "giddyup" and the five year old demands, yet AGAIN, that I become the voices of her 34 stuffed animal cats during their adventure at the imaginary doctor's office.

    Does Bella help you? I know my five year old would love helping me do this kind of stuff it we didn't also have a two year old.

  12. Okay, first off, I am growing those field peas next year just to make the faux grape jelly. Not that I don't have grapes already to make jelly, but because this is just so freakin' BIZARRE I have to try it.

    Did you know you can make a very nice fake honey with pealed plums? I will have to try to find the recipe. My sister in law made some last year, calling it Plum Jam, and it wasn't, it was HONEY I tell you! Freaky, huh?

    I am doing all of these, btw. I am going to grow the peas next year, I am going to make the faux honey, and I'm all over those watermelon pickles like brine on a cuccumber.

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