Growing up, I remember my Dad always talking about watermelon rind pickles. His mother (my grandmother) used to make them, and they were his favorite thing as a kid. But you can't find them these days, he would say, with just a touch of nostalgia and wistfulness in his voice. They sure were good, he'd say.
While in Virginia, one night some locals, friends of a friend with whom I was traveling and working, feted us with a dinner party at their home. They were the most delightful people. As we finished a very tasty meal and leaned back over dessert - spiked watermelon cubes - and conversation continued to range over politics, the state of the economy, history, and art, we got to talking about watermelon. And wouldn't you know it? My hostess voiced with that same wistful nostalgia a fondness for watermelon rind pickles. Which, apparently, were not to be found in the Virginia shops these days, either.
And then, one night while eating out at a fancy restaurant, my friend and I were served pickles and chutneys with our bread - including watermelon rind pickles. Oh lordy, I get the hype. They're sweet, they're spicy, they're a little chewy. Oh goodness, they are tasty! Why don't people make these things anymore?
Well. I had a mission, clearly. A bit of digging, and a bit of swapping around, and here's what I've come up with:
I use this recipe for the process because when it comes to canning, I trust the government to keep me from giving myself and my loved ones botulism. They know what they're doing.
(just to confirm, here's the process in brief: I salt brine the watermelon pieces overnight, then drain and rinse. Gently boil the pieces in fresh water for for 5-10 min, then drain again. Pour the reduced syrup/pickle over the drained, cooked pieces and let sit for another 8 hours. Then I cook for 1 hour in the syrup, then can and process for 10 minutes using the boiling water method.)
However, that syrup/pickle recipe is REALLY sweet, so I substitute this pickle/syrup recipe. And since I'm out of pickling spice lately, I just pop in a few cardamom pods, some juniper berries and mustard seeds, up the peppercorns, whole cloves, and other spices a little bit, and call it good.
And they are good. Really good. So good, in fact, that I had to make and can a fresh batch for my Dad's birthday because I'd gifted and eaten all but one little jar of the first batch (whoops). When summer rolls 'round, give 'em a go! A little bit of effort, but totally worth it - for novelty's sake, if nothing else. Oh, and I like to leave just the tiniest layer of pink flesh on the rind for these - it's a softer, toothier texture before you get into the pickle proper, and from what I read, sounds like a lot of home chefs and home canners who still make these delicious little edibles feel the same.