One day, my wife asked me to get a watermelon. I brought one back from the grocery store and it sat on the counter for a few days. As I was getting ready to cut it up, my wife informed me that she wanted the watermelon for its rind not the fruit! She was going to make Pennsylvania Dutch watermelon pickles. .
As I have mentioned before my wife grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch area of Pennsylvania so Pennsylvania Dutch food was part of her childhood. She claimed that this type of pickle was served everywhere including school lunches. So, to my surprise, my task was to remove the outermost hard green skin and leave just the white of the rind and maybe a little of the pink from the fruit. (My wife told me that there is controversy about whether or not to leave any red of the fruit. We decided to leave the red.) It was not as easy as you think to remove just the green skin from the rind of a watermelon, but I used a technique similar to skinning the filet of fish.
After consulting a few Pennsylvania Dutch cook books, she decided on one of the recipes from a 30 year old cookbook called “Pennsylvania Dutch People’s Cookbook”.
I served her watermelon rind pickles with chicken salad (made from chicken hot smoked in the Weber). I served the pickles with watermelon and corn and black bean salad using the new plate/bowl combination we acquired on our recent visit to New York.
My wife took over from here.
Watermelon Rind: 2 pounds of prepared rind with dark green skin removed. Dissolve 1/2 cup of salt in 2 quarts of water. Add the rind to the brine, cover and let stand overnight. (First picture below). Next day drain off the salt water. Put the rind in a sauce pan and cover with fresh water. Cook until the rind is just tender when pierced with a fork. Take off heat and let stand for several hours. Drain thoroughly.
Pickling syrup: 1 tsp. whole allspice, 1 tsp. whole cloves, 1/4 tsp. mustard seed, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 cup rice or sushi vinegar, 2/3 cup water, 1 cup sugar
They are a very sweet pickle with a strong flavor of the spices. They have a very pleasing soft but not mushy texture. My wife told me you either love or hate these pickles. I fall into the latter category and she falls into the former. I just found the flavor too strong—I found the flavor of cloves overwhelming. In contrast, she reveled in the strong sweet flavor. She said it reminded her of her childhood. She asked me what I would like to have changed. I suggested not so sweet and less spices. She replied that then they would not be watermelon pickles.
My wife pointed out that the recipe called for the spices to be removed after the pickles were cooked. She chose to leave the spices in the syrup. The longer they are in the syrup the more intense the flavor becomes. As a compromise my wife made a second batch but this time immediately removed the cloves. She also used regular rice vinegar rather than sushi vinegar (the regular rice vinegar does not have the sugar the sushi vinegar has). I found these pickles much more tolerable. So should you decide to make these pickles, keep in mind you can adjust the intensity of their flavor by how long the spices remain in the syrup.
As a comparison, my wife found the commercial watermelon rind pickles (picture above). I was amazed you could get a commercial product. Although it looks very similar and texture is the same as my wife’s, there is no comparison. The commercial one is just sweet and sour without any taste of spices.
Meanwhile my wife has been looking up other recipes for watermelon pickles on the internet. She found several using different combinations of spices…I’m afraid we will be seeing more of this.