Sunday, July 29, 2012

Watermelon Pickles: Preserving the summer harvest

How my Gramma Myrtle loved to make pickles! Among her favorites were sweet gherkins, mustard pickles and the unusual "watermelon pickles". I say unusual, because I think of watermelon as a cool, juicy, summertime treat. These pickles are made from the white part of the watermelon rind, and are cooked down in a sweet syrup. 

When I say cooked down -- I mean it. It takes about 16 cups of the white part of the watermelon rind to make 4 or 5 pints of the watermelon pickles. So try packing these in 1/2 pint jars to make them "last" over the winter.

Soak overnight covered in a glass bowl in the fridge:
  • 3/4 cup salt dissolved in 12 cups of water. 
  • 16 cups watermelon rind, white part only, cut into cubes about 1 inch or so
Myrtle (Weiser) Player Severinson, and her second husband Harold Severinson
circa 1965, Puyallup, Washington. Original in possession of the author.
Item #1: Drain rind and cover with fresh water in a non-aluminum pan (stainless steel works fine.) Bring to a boil, and turn down heat slightly to maintain heat for 30 minutes. (Drain before adding to item #3 below)

Item #2: While the rind is cooking down, place the following in a gauze bag. (I use a tea towel cut to a square, and tied with cotton string.)

  • 2 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 10 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces (Gramma purchased 3-4 inch sticks, but had to break them to fit down the side of the half-pint jars later.)
Item #3: Add the spice packet to the following in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat to rest for 15 minutes.
  • 1 quart apple cider vinegar (better than white vinegar according to Gramma Myrtle)
  • 2 cups white sugar
Item #4: Having drained the rind from item #1, place rind into the spice brine (item #3) in the large pot. Bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat to what she called a simmer. It is about right when the rind turns almost translucent, perhaps 45 minutes at sea level. (She lived in Puyallup, Washington when she made these pickles.)

Item #5:  Gramma would remove the spice bag, opening it on the side counter so she could place one cinnamon stick in each of the jars. She would fill the jars to within 1/2 inch from the top, with rind, juice and the cinnamon stick. It didn't seem to matter of some of the mustard seeds or cloves got into each clean jar before securing on a new lid from her collection of rings. She used a big water-bath canner, making sure to cover the jars by perhaps an inch or so of water. Processing time to seal the jars was 10 minutes. She used a implement to retrieve each jar from the canner, placing them upside down on a cookie sheet lined with a terry towel on her kitchen table.

I remember playing checkers, "give-away" (opposite of checkers) and solitaire with a deck of cards on the dining table to pass the time while the jars were "cooking" in the canner. She told me to listen for the "pop" of the jars as they cooled on the kitchen table, meaning they had sealed. 

An hour or so later, Gramma moved the jars to their upright position, and wrote the date with a grease pencil on each lid. She told me if you could press down on the lid, and it "gave away" the jar was not sealed and the contents were not safe to eat.

Unlike dill pickles that must ferment and "take in" the dill flavor for about two months, watermelon pickles are good to eat immediately. It is best if you keep the a jar in the fridge, so you can enjoy the cold, sweet flavor at a moment's notice. Room temperature from the pantry is OK, but I love 'em cold from the fridge.

It's a lot of work, but the resulting watermelon pickles are surprisingly sweet. But it takes a family reunion of sorts to come up with 16 cups of watermelon rind in the first place!

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont    


  1. I remember watermelon pickles. The only problem is now days they have made the white part of the rind so thin that it is hard to make watermelon pickles with today's watermelons.

  2. Thank you for this reminder from my own childhood. This is a topic for my "Memory Journal" for sure. I can see in my mind the pans my mother used for her pickle making, and remember how hot the kitchen was during the canning.

  3. My mother used the whole rind when she made hers. I would never touch them or any other pickle, but I remember them well. It was a good way to use the entire watermelon. Good to see someone else knows what they are.