Something from Nothing

By Jean Blish Siers *

PicklesAt Society of St. Andrew, we’re all about seeing the good in food others might throw away. Not much went to waste on the farm where I grew up. My parents planted huge gardens and we all helped tend and harvest them each summer, as well as preserve the produce for later. This was in northern Minnesota, where the growing season was short, the winter was long, and my parents had four hungry children to feed.

When cucumbers were little, we made sweet pickles, then dill pickles, and then, when they got bigger, made sliced pickles like bread and butters. The whole house smelled like brine, which drifted out and scented the yard. By the end of the season, Mom pickled mixed vegetables, all those odds and ends that were too good to throw out, putting up neat rows of colorful jars filled with cauliflower, cucumbers, green tomatoes, green beans, carrots, and more. She canned tomatoes, made tomato jam, and also mincemeat out of the green tomatoes at the end of the season. It’s still one of my favorite holiday pies, and each year I try to can a few jars of it.

Even the things we didn’t eat weren’t really thrown away. The sheep ate the cornhusks. We kept a flock of chickens and they ate potato peels and other leftovers. It was fun to put a watermelon rind in the coop and watch them clean it out!

But it’s also fun to make watermelon pickles, something Mom did most years. I hadn’t had them in a long time, but after a corn gleaning a couple of weeks ago, I stopped at the farmer’s stand and bought a lovely watermelon. What’s better on a hot day than a cold melon, fresh from the farm? I cut it up and the inside was delicious. But I thought, what about the outside? The rind was firm and fresh and I started thinking about Mom’s pickles.

So I peeled chunks of rind, cut them into bite-sized cubes, and pickled them. I added a little red pepper flakes, which my Minnesota mom would not have done. They are amazingly delicious and downright nostalgic!

Here’s the recipe, from Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey by John Currence. I didn’t bother to can them because I can’t stop eating them! Maybe I’ll make another batch or two and I can those, to have a bit of Carolina sunshine this winter.

Pickled Watermelon Rind

3 tablespoons salt
4 cups watermelon rind, hard green peel cut away, cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
6 (1/4-inch-thick) lemon slices (including rind)
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Mix together the salt and 4 cups of water in a large bowl. Add the watermelon rind and refrigerate, covered, overnight. When you are ready to continue with the recipe, drain the rind.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and 1 cup water in a large, non-reactive stockpot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Decrease the heat to low. Wrap lemon slices, cloves, cinnamon stick, and black peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie with butcher’s string. Place in the pot of syrup and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the watermelon rind, bring back to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool briefly in liquid.

Ladle the rind into a quart glass jar. Make sure the syrup covers the pieces of rind completely, and fill the jar to just below the neck. Let cool to room temperature and screw on a lid. Refrigerate. The rind will keep, refrigerated, for 6 to 8 months.

– From Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey by John Currence

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator, and a regular contributor to this News & Events blog.