I wasn’t more than six or seven when the Cross and Blackwell jar with rectangles of the pickle suspended in a briny syrup called to me. My mother found me in the kitchen, an empty jar and a smile on my face. The pickle was assertive and crisp-tender, heavily spiced with cinnamon and clove. They were the most exotic food I had ever tasted.
Time passed and a few years back, before I knew Stella Parks and called her my friend, I read about candied watermelon rind on her blog, The Brave Tart. Ever since, I have been making little batches of these pickles trying to figure out a way to take some of Stella’s technique and incorporate it into the safe structure of canning I found here and here. I made batches that were close to what I wanted, but weren’t quite right. They were rubbery, not tender and crisp. The flavors were dull. The spicing was too heavy.
Watermelon Rind Pickle
Four 12-ounce jars or 3 pints
Special Equipment: 1-1/2 inch star cutter (optional)
One large watermelon
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon alum (optional)
4 quarts non-chlorinated water
One lemon, thinly sliced and seeds removed
2 cinnamon sticks (3-inch)
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 star anise
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4-1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup white vinegar
1-1/2 cups non-chlorinated water
To prepare the rind, cut the watermelon in half and scoop out all the flesh down to the white part of the rind. Reserve for another use (tomato/watermelon/feta salad or agua fresca are my two go-to watermelon dishes.)
I use a large table spoon to scrape the rind and remove all traces of the fruit. Cut the rind into strips about 2-inches wide and use a vegetable peeler to remove the green outer rind. You should be left with white rind about 1/4-inch thick.
Cut the rind into 2-inch by one-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 non-chlorinated 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. If using alum, in a large non-reactive bowl add the alum and 4 quarts of non-chlorinated cool water. Stir until dissolved. Add the rind and soak for two hours. Be gentle with the pickles from this time forward, they will be delicate.
Tie up the cinnamon, cloves, star anise and peppercorns in a cheesecloth bag. In a heavy non-reactive 3 quart or larger pot, add the sugar, vinegars, water and spice bag and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and hold at a low simmer until the rind is blanched.
Rinse the rind well. Bring 3 quarts non-chlorinated water to a boil. Add the rind and blanch, simmering for 5 to 10 minutes until it is tender.
Using a spider or strainer, remove the rind and place it in the simmering syrup. Simmer the rind for about 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 brine and rinds back to a boil. Pack the rinds into the jars then pour the syrup over the rinds to a 1/2-inch headspace. Clean the jar rims, place the lids and rings and process ten minutes.
Let the pickles mellow for at least a week. Serve ice cold.