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Monday, July 21, 2014

Do you make pickles and relish? I've been making watermelon pickles this past week

I make a few varieties of pickles and relish each year. I usually make dill green bean pickles, zucchini bread and butter pickles, sweet green tomato relish, dill green tomato relish, and these, sweet and tangy watermelon rind pickles. I use green beans, zucchini and green tomatoes from our garden. And for the watermelon pickles, I use the white portion of the rind of 1 large watermelon to make 4 pints of pickles. This year, I'd also like to add two more varieties of pickles. 1) something like an end-of-season relish mix, using all the bits of the tail end of harvest, and 2) a pickled shallot, as my shallots did very well this year. (Any recipes for either of these are welcome!)

Watermelon pickles 

From what I understand, pickled watermelon rind has a long tradition with feasts and celebrations of the southern states of the US. Watermelons thrive in the sandy soils of the southern US. And what could be more thirst-quenching than a juicy slice of melon on a hot southern afternoon? At 92% water content and a good source of electrolytes, the red flesh of the watermelon must have been to hard-working Americans, what Gatorade beverages are to today's athletes. And thrifty housewives surely would have recognized the value of the rinds for pickles.

Watermelon pickles are virtually impossible to find in local supermarkets, any more. And online, they sell for $6 or more per jar. But, as they're made from what most of us would toss on the compost heap, it makes good frugal sense to make your own.

I find that pickled watermelon rind is more versatile than most of the other pickles that I've made. 
  • Pickled watermelon rind is a nice accompaniment to cooked meats. 
  • Chopped up, I like it as "relish" on sausages in buns.
  • It adds some tang when sliced and added to sandwiches and salads. 
  • Sliced thin, and used as the sole filling on a bread and butter sandwich, watermelon pickle makes a nice "tea sandwich". 
  • It makes a wonderful little bite when wrapped in thin-sliced bacon and broiled. 
  • I also like to use it as replacement for some of the candied fruit in Christmas fruitcakes, as per the suggestion in the Joy of Cooking (rinse and chop before adding to batter).

Seeded watermelons make better pickles

Seeded watermelons have thicker rinds than the seedless varieties. So I buy the seeded ones. Plus, they're usually less expensive per pound, so a win-win situation. However, it's the seedless watermelons that are the ones often found in supermarkets. Where to find a seeded watermelon? I find seeded watermelons at farm and highway produce stands, often about 10 cents less per pound than the seedless ones.

How I make watermelon pickles
Basically I follow the recipe in Joy of Cooking. I modified it slightly, as I have whole cloves and cinnamon sticks, and not oil of cloves or oil of cinnamon. I have also used the ground spices with success. However, the liquid is not as clear as using the whole spices. And I make pickles from just a quarter of a watermelon at a time, as it can take us an entire week to eat a whole watermelon. So, my instructions will only make 1 pint of pickles, and will use 1/4 of a 12-lb melon. Size up the syrup measurements, as needed for the amount of pickles you wish to make.

I cut the watermelon lengthwise into quarters. Then I slice into 1/2-inch thick slices. I trim the green off the slices, first, then the red portion off the rind. If I won't be making the pickles right away, I save the white rinds in the fridge until I have enough for a batch. A quarter of a 12-lb watermelon will provide enough rind for 1 pint of pickles.

When ready to begin the pickles, cut the white pieces into 1-inch to 1 & 1/2-inch lengths. 

Place in a pot, cover with water and parblanch the rind pieces, just until it can be pierced with a fork or point of a sharp knife, but do not overcook (it takes between 7 and 10 minutes, depending on size of pieces, thickness of rind). 

Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. Place drained pieces in a medium-size bowl.

Make syrup and bring to a boil, for 1/4 of a 12-lb melon (adjust the syrup proportions for more melon rind):

1 & 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
12-15 whole cloves
1 piece of cinnamon stick (I break cinnamon sticks in half, lengthwise for these pickles, and use a half stick)

When syrup is just boiling, pour over the rind pieces, making sure all is covered with syrup. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and allow to stand overnight. (To insure the melon pieces remain under the solution I place a small plate on top of the plastic wrap.) My recipe (from Joy of Cooking) doesn't specify whether this should be kept in the fridge overnight or not. To err on the safe side, place the covered melon pieces in the refrigerator overnight.

Next day, remove bowl from fridge and allow to come to room temp for about 30 minutes. Remove the rind pieces, and reboil the syrup. Pour over rind again, and allow to stand overnight, in the refrigerator.

On the third day, allow to come to room temp for 30 minutes, then remove rind pieces, and reboil the syrup. 

Sterilize one 1-pint jar or two 1/2-pint jars, place rind pieces in jar(s) and pour hot syrup over, leaving headroom. 

Seal and process in a boiling water canner for 10-15 minutes (10 minutes, up to 1000 ft altitude, 15 minutes for 1001 to 6000 ft altitude -- as per National Center for Home Food Preservation). (For information on safe water bath canning, read this article by the NCHFP.) 

According to and the recipe on the National Center for Home Food Preservation's website, it is "safe" to waterbath these pickles, due to the vinegar and sugar content. 

I store these pickles in the fridge for up to 9 months. Many folks store their preserves and pickles in a cupboard, but I prefer to err on the side of caution, and keep these in the refrigerator -- I'm paranoid that way.

These pickles are ready for the table after 1 week.

Any leftover watermelon pickle syrup makes a nice glaze for baked ham. Brush on in place of a brown sugar glaze, in the final baking period (about the last 15 to 20 minutes).

I wish I could show you a photo of my jars of pickles. I think they're beautiful in their own way, translucent pickles in light golden syrup. I leave 1 cinnamon stick piece in each jar, as well as the whole cloves.

Buying canning jars

I frequent second-hand shops looking for jars. Value Village has the highest price on canning jars around here, at as much as $2.99 for a quart-size jar. St. Vincent de Paul prices their jars slightly better, at 99 cents per jar. But my favorite place to buy canning jars is Goodwill. I have found canning jars for as low as 20 cents each, there. And of course, when talking with friends and neighbors, I often just put out the word that I buy used canning jars. Many times I've been offered several jars for nothing more than a jar of jam or some pickles in exchange. Many women simply don't have the time or inclination to can any more, and are happy to have their jars go to a happy home. :)

So, will you be making any pickles or relish this summer?


  1. I have not made either ......... although I am quite happy to take some from some people :) hahahaha

  2. I tried making pickles once but they weren't crisp. Haven't tried again. :( Though, if I ever get pickling cucumbers to grow here, I will give it another shot. Buying them at the Farmer's Market would make for expensive pickles. We seem to have better luck growing the Armenian and lemon cucumbers here with it being so hot and dry normally.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Yeah, texture with pickles matters. I've only made cucumber pickles twice. I did them as chunks and not as whole pickles. They turned out okay, but not as crisp as the good kosher dills I like from the store. I do like green bean dill pickles. They retain a fair amount of crispness. Relish might be a better option for you, as "crispness" isn't usually associated with relish. Zucchini relish is very good. Also, I make a green tomato relish with the tiny green tomatoes that could never ripen, at the end of the season.

      And you're right, buying pickling cukes to make pickles would certainly drive the cost up!!

  3. I have made a lot of pickles over the years, but don't do it so much any more. My favorite is a lime pickle. You use actual lime and it takes two weeks of doing something everyday before they're ready to can. They are a sweet pickle with an extra tartness. With much less work, I really like freezer pickles. They have such a fresh taste. I've also make pickled beans, but not bean pickles. However, I've not made watermelon pickles before. I'm intrigued. If you have the rind, but not time to make the pickles right then, how do you store it and how long do you have before you need to use it?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      lime pickles sound intriguing! I'm going to have to find out more about those.

      With the watermelon pickles, I store the white part of the rind in the fridge, in a plastic bag or container, up to 3 days. I will often wait until I have enough for 4 half-pint jars, which can take us about 3 days. I'm actually not sure how long the white rind pieces will keep refrigerated. I just try to err on the side of caution. One thing that I will do, if I think I need to get the batch started, and I don't quite have enough rind, is cut up a bunch of watermelon slices (w/o the rind) and just keep in the fridge to snack on, or add to meals.

  4. Wow... I've never pickled anything... or canned anything for that matter. I have sort of an irrational fear of poisoning myself. But you've really got me thinking... and if I kept them in the fridge I'd feel less worried about it.

    I'm not sure about pickled watermelon rinds, but I'd LOVE to have your recipe for bread & butter zucchini pickles. I can't eat normal pickles because I'm allergic to both dill and celery, and I've yet to find any that aren't made with either dill or celery seeds, and I really miss them in tuna and potato salads.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Here's the recipe for the zucchini bread and butter pickles.

      It does call for celery seeds, but just leave them out. It won't ruin them to not have the celery seeds. If you ever get brave enough to try sour cucumber pickles, you could make a Kosher dill recipe, and simply leave out the dill. I believe that Kosher dill pickles usually call for garlic, and that's the flavor that I taste most (besides vinegar). You could substitute a different herb, like oregano or thyme, for the dill.

      So, I'm totally paranoid about losing family members to bad canning. But jams, jellies and pickles seem fool-proof, plus keeping them in the fridge is extra insurance. I still do all the sterilizing and sealing stuff. I just don't keep them in the pantry, but in the fridge instead. I also try to use them up within the year. I told you, I was a tad paranoid. I think likely b/c my mom didn't can, nor my grandmother. My mom would make jam, but that was about it.

      Good luck if you try to make pickles. Those zucchini ones can be eaten right away, so you don't even need to wait for them to pickle.

  5. Each year I make bread and butter pickles, Summer squash pickles, pickled okra, and jalapeno relish. This year I might try making green tomato pickles. I have also pickled grapes but I did not can them, they were just a refrigerator variety.

    I never tried watermelon pickles. I have had them a few times and have never developed a taste for them.

    1. Hi Anne,
      Jalapeno relish sounds really zippy! I would like to branch out into more interesting pickles. For now, I just use what we have in our garden.
      I've only had okra a couple of times. I liked it, but I have heard other people say that it's something that you develop a taste for over time. But then, I like almost all vegetables.

      I made sliced green tomato pickles one year. We didn't care much for them. But the relish I make from green tomatoes is a hit every year (and a great way to use those itty bitty green tomatoes that would never ripen). I should revisit those sliced green tomato pickles, though. Sometimes I find something that we didn't like once, is considered good by the family, years later.

      Have fun pickle-making this summer!

  6. Live and learn is the first person I've heard of making pickled beans outside of my family. My Grandma makes pickled beans, pickled corn, sweet pickle chips and pickled beets. I LOVE the pickled corn! And her sweet pickle chips are really good. They are very different from the sweet pickles I've bought in stores.

    Most people look at me like I'm nuts when I mention pickled beans and pickled corn. The first year we were married, my husband filled his plate at my Grandma's family reunion. He took a bite of pickled corn and had a horrified look on his face, but managed to swallow without making a scene. He whispered to me "What on earth is wrong with that corn?" I explained about the pickled corn, beans, etc. that my family makes. "Please don't ever let me get that again!" he said. I guess it's an acquired taste.

    I haven't tried making any pickles or pickled anything yet. I'm new to canning. So far I've only canned fruit jams and jellies, hot pepper jam and last year I tried apple and pear butter, which turned out really well.

    I should get my Grandma's recipes for pickles and pickled beans and corn, before they are gone and forgotten. My Grandma had three sons, and none of them are carrying on her traditions. So far none of her granddaughters have either. I think I should learn to make these things because it would be sad to see the traditions/recipes completely lost.


    1. Hi Angie,
      that story about your husband and the pickled corn is laugh-out-loud funny! His first bite must have been a shocker.

      You should give your Grandma's recipes a try. You may find them easier than you think.

      Most of my pickle recipes are easier and less time-consuming than making jam. My green bean dill pickles are so quick to make, my only obstacle is getting enough beans in the garden to make several jars. This year I planted extra beans, with the hopes of freezing beans, of course, but also of many, many jars of pickles. They're a favorite in our house.

  7. hi lili,
    i will make tomatoe-zucchini relish and i will try your watermelon pickles.
    have a nice day,

    1. Hi Regina,
      Yum, tomato-zucchini relish sounds good! I hope you enjoy the watermelon pickles!

  8. I did my share of pickling fruits and vegetables, but I never tried watermelon pickles. Every year I run out of jars, and they are hard to buy here. We have the weck system and those jars are expensive. You rarely find them at flea markets or in second hand stores, simply because people don't can as much here. I am thinking of making another order on jars at whole sale prices, but that means I have to buy for at least 200 euros on jars... I am now making a list what I want to have in storage (x jars of green beans, x jars of canned beans etc.) So I can also buy some extra for pickles and other condiments.
    There are a couple of recipes we love to make each year like all kind of chutneys, piccalilli and olive salad. Also I try a new recipe each year. I guess you guessed by now: I love canning ;D

    1. Hi greenpioneerwoman,
      I see the Weck jars in thrift shops from time to time. I don't think many Americans know how to use them, so they often sell for quite cheap. They're beautiful looking, though.
      Yum, olive salad sounds delicious!

  9. Lili,
    I love making lacto-fermented pickles! I enjoy the sour taste much more than that of vinegar pickles, and they're refrigerator pickles, so no can processing necessary! I find it almost kind of magical that I can make them with not much more than salt and water! So far this summer, I've put up an abundant supply of cucumber dill pickles, and some fermented salsa! I'd really love to try green tomatoes. Would you mind sharing your recipe for the dill green tomato relish? :)

    1. Hi Alice,
      Here's the green tomato dil relish recipe:

    2. Ah, should have searched for it. Thanks, Lili!


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