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« Book tour: segment 8! | Main | Book tour: segment 7! »

Preserving watermelon 

Put up watermelon three ways.

1. Gingery pickled rinds

If anyone ever gives you a jar of watermelon rind pickles, know that they love you a lot. Extracting the white, edible portion of rind from beneath its darker green facade is a royal pain in the ass. Now that I’ve done it twice I can safely make that bold claim. I used Linda Ziedrich’s Gingery Watermelon Rind Pickles recipe from her Joy of Pickling book, which I’m actually giving away right now. Since I didn’t change it in the slightest, please borrow from a friend, check out from the library or purchase (if you can) a copy of Linda’s book. (July 2013 Update: I’ve rewritten, but not modified ingredients for Linda’s recipe, you can now see it here)

I made this recipe last year just before leaving for our Fire Island vacation. It’s cool to see the memories that pop out unexpectedly when I’m tackling seasonal foods each year. In this case, I remember discovering how slow-going rind extraction is and butting up against pre-vacation time constraints with the 12-hour brining instructions and wishing I’d read the recipe more thoroughly before starting such a venture. [I was up late the night before we left and using my canner pot up until an hour before we wheeled half our house over to the Long Island Railroad.]

Anyhow, this year all went according to plan, except that I ran out of syrup when putting the pickles in jars. I improvised (out of not having time before leaving for book tour travels to infuse the spice mix into another vinegar/water/sugar syrup) and boiled a half white wine vinegar, half water plus some sugar and salt brine I had leftover from my rhubarb pickling experiment last month. We’ll have to wait and see how those less-spiced rind pickles turn out!

2. Jelly and/or Syrup

One thing is pretty standard about working with watermelon; there’s always more of it than you expected once you get in there and start chopping things up.

I had enough strained juice for two batches of jelly. This of course meant one attempt straight-up from a published recipe and another attempt using my apple pectin stock and a few underripe blueberries, thrown in for good measure.

For the added-pectin attempt, I followed Sherri Brooks Vinton’s recipe in Put ‘em Up for Heirloom Watermelon Jelly, which uses Pomona’s Universal Pectin. I think next time I’ll go with the advice on Pomona’s packaging; they suggest making a tiny test batch to make sure the ratio of calcium water to pectin in the sugar makes the consistency you’re most happy with. The set achieved by following this recipe turned out a bit too firm for my liking. I consider it a fine opportunity to do some further Pomona’s experimentation. (Same deal goes for the recipe here; I didn’t alter it at all so look it up in her book or find another recipe for watermelon jelly online.)

The apple pectin stock version turned out to be an excellent watermelon syrup. Perfect for adding to club soda and/or vodka. A fizzy version of summer in a cup!

Watermelon Syrup, fridge storage

yields a little more than a pint jar

1. Combine and place covered in the fridge overnight:

4 cups strained watermelon juice (I chopped, food-processed, and then strained the pulp in my jelly bag to make juice.)

2 cups sugar

2 Tbs lemon juice

2. The next day add 3/4 cup apple pectin stock (see link above for instructions) and a handful of underripe berries of some sort if you’ve got ‘em. I placed the berries in a muslin spice/tea bag.

If you don’t have the berries or the pectin stock, use unsweetened apple juice or frozen juice concentrate or just skip it altogether since the only reason it’s in there was to achieve a possible jelly set.* (Next time I tackle a watermelon I’ll probably tweak this syrup recipe to omit this step, but the syrup I ended up with tasted great, these ingredients included.)

Using underripe berries can help add some pectin oomph to your jelly3. Bring the mixture to a simmer to dissolve any remaining sugar granules. And then raise heat to med-high and boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep sugar from scorching the bottom of your pan. Remove from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes before ladling it into a clean, hot jar.

Let sit on counter to cool for an hour or so and then keep this in the fridge because watermelon is a low-acid food and this syrup recipe is not written/tested for safe shelf storage.

*I realized once it was simmering that, since the watermelon juice is primarily water and contains hardly any pectin in the fibers remaining in the skimmed juice, I was cooking and skimming all the red and flavor out. Making non-added-pectin jelly with watermelon (and retaining watermelon flavor) wasn’t going to happen, so I hopped ship and made syrup before I’d lost all watermelon flavor entirely.

3. Dried watermelon

Many thanks go out to a hip Facebook page follower, Reena, who gave me the idea to dehydrate some of the endless red interior. [You can only eat so much watermelon at 9pm, a funny predicament to be in when usually what people go for when they pick up a watermelon is the red deliciousness.]

I sliced a quarter of the melon into 1/4”-strips or thinner if you can and then cut off the crescent-shaped rind portion from those slices and then made watermelon chips about the size of regular tortilla chips.

My Nesco dehydrator has a setting for fruit, which is 135 degrees F. I plugged it in and let it go overnight (~8-12 hours) and voila! A perfectly textured Jolly Rancher fruit leather!

You could make these with alternative methods of dehydration (oven, sun, etc.), but I don’t have tips for dehydrated watermelon via those methods since I used my (beloved) machine. Let me know how it goes for you if you try it another way.

Happy summer my friends; don’t forget to use the most fun part of the watermelon: challenge someone to a seed-spitting contest!

Reader Comments (34)

neat! especially like the dehydrated idea. it seems i must have my melons blanched in some way as raw they have a tendency to make my mouth itch horribly. & if i still can't eat the leather, the grandkids can (jelly or pickled are processed & not an issue).

June 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjonquil

I can attest to the fact the dehydrated watermelon "chips" are delish! Can't wait to make some of my own, along with some syrup. Yay summertime.

June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAimee G

I have been making lots of kale chips... watermelon chips are an AMAZING idea!

June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErica V

Oooh, those melon chips look like a great idea! Might have to give some oven experimentation a whirl.

June 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosie Suska

Great post! I love that dehydrated watermelon!

June 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

Yum! I really want to try all these ways.

Oh my gosh, this post is killer! We're just starting to see melons at the bay area markets but I'm going to make myself wait until they're really good, then have a melon-preserving-palooza! Slowly doling out the watermelon rinds you gifted us and they are super freaking tasty...

June 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate (BCF)

I am completely fascinated by the dried watermelon. We have so much available locally in the late summer, but I've never figured how to put it up in a way that I like. Thanks for the tip!

Thanks for posting these great ideas! I've been getting a bit bored making watermelon lemonade-- needed something new to do with my watermelons!

June 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I bought a yellow watermelon today because I had read the heirloom watermelon jelly recipe last week and thought it sounded great. I have no idea where to get the specified pectin in the book and was planning on using a packet of regular ball pectin. Is this a terrible idea?

June 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Anne

Wow, it seems like watermelon's been a popular topic lately! I started making watermelon jelly last year to sell at my local farmer's markets & again this year it's been very popular. (Actually it's technically a jam since I just strain out the seeds but not the rest of the flesh, but I make so many other jams I named it a jelly instead.) People are always surprised that you can even make jam out of watermelon (I also branched out into cantaloupes & honeydew melons too). To use the whole melon I make watermelon rind pickles as well & it's fun introducing people to them for the first time or bringing older people back to their youth - I've had many folks tell me my pickles "are better than grandma used to make!"

June 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Z.

Thanks all for the notes!

Hey LIsa Anne, if you use regular pectin, you're going to need more sugar (unless it's specifically a low-sugar Ball pectin). I'd say increase sugar to at least two cups. Let us know how it goes!

June 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterKate

Ahem. *taptaptap* You'll be submitting this to Punk Domestics, right? RIGHT? :)

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSean

Ok, so I was able to find a place here that sells the Pomona's. Something about the ratio of sugar to pectin powder didn't work out quite right and I got some clumps, that I tried to get out with a spoon. I think I also need to play around with this pectin some more too. I can tell it is going to set up too firm as well, but it will still taste amazing.

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Anne

Sweet! We just got gifted another watermelon from a neighbor. I am going to grab the dehydrator and do this. Yum!

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkimberly

I'm thrilled to have found your blog today. My watermelons are going to be ready in the garden very soon and I was just wondering this morning how they would be dehydrated! Thanks! I'm off to wander around your site some more now.

I can hardly wait for watermelon time in Northern Europe. There's one recipe to preserve watermelon that I'm surprised is not mentioned here. In Eastern Europe, we used to marinate small watermelons. They should be as big as a grapefruit and not very ripe. To marinate watermelons we would use the usual salt, parsnip, celery leaves, etc. My favorite recipe in the world :)

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauras

I'm so intrigued by those watermelon chips! I don't have a dehydrator, but I'm curious enough that I might try one of the alternative methods you mentioned. A question about texture: these are leathery/chewy, right? I noticed you said fruit leather in the post, but these almost look crisp!

July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Hey @Laura, Yep, most of them were chewy and leather-like; a couple that I'd sliced too thin prior to dehydrating were crisp and chip-like.

July 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterKate

Just read a review for your book and found your blog:) I can't wait to try the watermelon chips. What a unique idea!

What kind of Nesco Dehydrator do you have? I can't decide which kind to buy.

July 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSimplySarahSweet

Hey Sarah,
I have this one. I'm very happy with it! Hope that helps.

July 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterKate

What a lovely idea. Do you put the watermelon on the trays or do you need a special drying sheet? Can you use parchment?

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSherry

wow, dried watermelon! never would have thought of that. those watermelon "chips" look amazing though.....i know these would get gobbled up @ my house.

August 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Mixing Bowl Diary have Oral Allergy Syndrome. google it. i do too, and have to cook all fruits and veggies. cooking will stop the reaction though. Cannot WAIT to try this dehydrated myself!! i havent had watermelon in 15+ yrs!!! THANKS!

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlaurie

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