The food challenge for July is Cucurbitaceae, a plant family commonly known as melons and gourds, including crops like cucumbers, squashes (including pumpkins), loofahs, melons and watermelons…
Watermelons, you say?
My mother used to eat pickled watermelon rind that she bought at the very fancy market on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. The pickled watermelon rind from the market came in some sort of appalling green syrup in tall, narrow jars. She would buy them, hoard them, and then dole them out like emeralds — but only to herself. I remember once she caught my father eating one, and to make up for it a very expensive night out in San Francisco was the price he had to pay to restore order to the house. Such were the wages of sin.
Whenever we would ask her for a taste, she would just say that we wouldn’t like them until we were older. Older was always left undefined.
And so it took until now for me to actually eat one. And they are good. Damn good. So this one is for you, Mom, wherever you are!
Slap my hind with a watermelon rind
This recipe (and the cucumber one that follows it) are both adapted from Bryant Terry’s excellent cookbook, Vegan Soulfood Kitchen, which regular readers know that I put on the 2009 list of my favorite cookbooks. I cannot recommend his books enough. Buy it for someone you love, especially if they cook for you (heh).
- Rind from a medium watermelon (10 – 12 pounds, he recommends; I used half the rind from an icebox-sized watermelon, it was what I had on hand after the Watermelon Martinis.)
- 3 Quarts + 3 Cups water
- 3 1/4 Cups organic raw cane sugar
- 3/4 Cup coarse sea salt (I used kosher salt)
- 4 2-inch cinnamon sticks
- 2 Tablespoons whole cloves
- 2 large oranges (because oranges are not in season here — eat local!–I skipped this part; however I think it would have been even better with them. Damn my localvore ways!)
- 4 lemons (from my tree outback)
- 1 Cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 Cup distilled white vinegar
- Day one in the morning: peel the watermelon rind – leave none of the hard, bitter green skin behind, and cut away the sweet red flesh. But leave some of the pink on the rind – it really is very pretty. Cut it into cubes about 1-inch, but don’t obsess over it. Set aside.
- Prepare a brine: add the 3 Quarts of water to a non-reactive stockpot and add 1/4 Cup of the salt, 1/4 Cup of the sugar, 2 cinnamon sticks and 1 Tablespoon of the whole cloves. Heat the water until the salt and the sugar completely dissolve, remove from the heat and let come to room temperature. Add the watermelon rind, and put a plate over them so that the rind is completely submerged. Let them soak overnight.
- Day 2: Drain the rinds and rinse them several times with fresh water. I reserved the cinnamon sticks and cloves. Put the rinds into the stockpot and cover with enough water to cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the rinds for 10 minutes — you want them to still be crisp. Drain the rinds and set them aside.
- Thinly slice the citrus — I removed all the seeds. Combine the vinegars, citrus, the remaining sugar, and all the cinnamon sticks and all the cloves with the remaining 3 Cups of water and bring it to a full boil. Add the rinds, bring it back to a full boil reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.
- Remove the rinds from the syrup and set them aside, and bring the syrup back to a full bowl, and reduce the liquid to 4 1/2 Cups total. It should take about 12–15 minutes.
- Put one of the cinnamon sticks into each of the 4 pint jars, and pack with the watermelon rinds and citrus (cloves included), and pour in the hot syrup.
- Follow the Tigress’ instructions on canning – I processed the rinds for 10 minutes.
I tested the acidity of the brine, which came out to a pleasing 4.2, so this is a very safe pickle, and as you can see from the picture at the top of this post, it is really pretty. They are almost yellow, and the pink that you left on the rind is a really soft color. I don’t know how to describe the taste – it is somewhat like a sweet pickle, but the cloves and cinnamon give it a really exotic warmth. The texture is variable – the outside edge is definitely more firm than the pink inside edge, but this is not a crunchy pickle. That said, I can see why my mother hoarded these; I also think that she was right – a little kid is not going to like them much. These are very sophisticated and are wonderful served with grilled foods.
Spicy Dill Pickles
These are also from Bryant Terry’s book – I have not eaten one yet, I just made them, so I’m going on faith that these will be as delicious as the rest of his cuisine.
UPDATE: O.M.G. This pickles totally rule. We opened a quart jar last night, they are all eaten. Even the pickle-phobic friends and family went back for more. The comment that surprised me the most was that they really tasted the cumin — which I didn’t, or at least not as much as they did. These pickles did remind me in taste and crunchy texture of the pickles my Dad used to get at the jewish deli in Oakland for us. I am amazed.
- 1 Cup coarse sea salt (I substituted Kosher and made it 1 1/4 cups)
- 1 1/2 Gallons + 3 cups of water
- 18 Kirby cucumbers (4 inches or less in length, quartered — I’m not sure what a Kirby is, so I used whatever the cukes were at the Farmers’ Market)
- 3 Tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 Tablespoon coarsely ground white pepper (I smash the pepper corns with the bottom of a small frying pan, like you would for steak à poivre)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 Cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 1/2 Cups distilled white vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons agave nectar (if you are Vegan, but because I am goosey about food safety and canning, I substituted organic cane sugar, in the same amount. Sugar is part of the acid requirement.)
- 2 bunches of dill minced (I substituted 2 Tablespoons of dried dill weed)
- Day 1 in the morning: Make a brine by combining 3/4 cup of salt with 1 1/2 gallons of water in a non-reactive stockpot. Heat over a low flame until the salt is dissolved, remove, and cool to room temperature. Once cool, add the cucumbers and place a plate on top to keep them submerged overnight.
- Day 2: Drain the cucumbers and rinse several times in cold water. Set aside.
- Toast the spices in a small frying pan until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large saucepan (or the stockpot) and stir in all the remaining ingredients. Simmer until the salt is dissolved.
- Pack the cucumbers into quart jars – it made 2 quarts for me. Add the hot brine.
- Follow the Tigress’ instructions on canning – I processed the pickles for 15 minutes because of the size of the jars.
Bryant Terry does not process these pickles – he puts them in the fridge for 48 hours before eating. But because this is a hot-water bath canning challenge, I canned them.
Hints, Tips, and other Stuff
- The flavor of the lemon in the watermelon rind pickles is similar to some preserved lemons I’ve used in the past, and not too salty. So go ahead and use them just as you would preserved lemon.
- The step in the watermelon pickles where it says to reduce the syrup to 4 1/2 cups… well, how do you know? It’s easy! Take the stockpot you plan to use and put 4 1/2 Cups of water in it. Take some unused chop sticks from your last take-away dinner, and dip the sticks in the water. Remove them and note where the water line is. You can mark the line with pencil (I would not use a marker, please) or tie a wet string at the right place to mark the depth. Then you can easily measure.
A friend’s mother, who is a prize winning pickler sent me some tips when she found out I was doing this:
- Tough, shriveled pickles are the result of too much salt or sugar, or too strong of a vinegar. (So measure well!)
- Soft pickles are the result of too strong of a vinegar or being put in too weak of a salt brine.
- Hollow pickles come from imperfect cucumbers, so check your produce well before buying.
- Soft, slippery pickles are from letting them rise above the brine (hence the plate technique in Terry’s recipes.)
- Off-color pickles mean you used the wrong kind of vinegar – or your pan reacted to the vinegar.