In & Out of the Kitchen: Late season watermelons
“It’s great to live in Georgia, where summer means watermelons,” my husband said last weekend.
Of course, we don’t live in Georgia, and it’s hardly summer anymore. Here in the North Country, our watermelons tend to ripen just in the nick of time — right before being killed off by frost.
And my husband was making his sarcastic pronouncements while eating our first ripe watermelon of the season, on a cool, breezy, mid-September day.
So it’s late for watermelon. But we have about 20 in a garden down the road from our house — sugar babies, the round, dark green ones with dark red flesh when you crack them open. We also have the traditional long stripey kind, but only a handful of those.
Luckily, my son can eat a lot of watermelon. But even he can’t polish off 20-plus melons, each coming in at more than 6 pounds. So we are going to have to be creative with them.
First of all, it’s good to know how long a watermelon will store. Uncut and refrigerated, it will last a month, maybe more. But really, how many watermelons can you fit in a refrigerator?
On the counter, uncut, a watermelon will last two weeks, maybe three.
I believe this year I will be storing several in the coolest part of the basement, hoping to get two months’ storage.
If you have an overabundance of watermelon, you’re going to need a variety of ways to eat them. My son and I will eat watermelon slices at breakfast and bring a container of watermelon chunks in our lunches. If I leave a bowl of chunks (no rind) or slices (on the rind) in the fridge, my son will graze on them as an after-school snack. And an after-dinner snack and a before-bed snack.
Last year at melon-abundance season, a friend told me about making a salad with watermelon chunks, feta cheese, kalamata olives and balsamic vinaigrette. That makes a delicious lunch.
Watermelon makes a nice breakfast smoothie — just chunk a watermelon, remove all seeds, and put it in a blender with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a spoonful of honey and a handful of ice cubes. You can add mint, or mix in a banana or other fruits.
For a dessert smoothie, use about three cups watermelon, a cup of milk and several scoops of vanilla ice cream.
You can freeze watermelon by cutting it into 1-inch cubes, freezing them on a cookie sheet and then sealing the cubes into freezer bags. It’s nice to taste summer in the middle of winter, but if you thaw them completely they tend to be mushy. So either eat them half-frozen — that’s nice in yogurt — or make them into smoothies.
A reader asked me for a recipe for pickled watermelon rind, but I have to admit it’s been years since I’ve made any. There are two reasons for that — one is that although my family claims to love watermelon pickles, they eat them sparingly and lovely jars of pickled rind tend to sit on the pantry shelf for years. The other reason is that our ox loves fresh watermelon rind, so as soon as we are done eating our watermelon we start feeding the rinds to him. And the sight of an enormous ox, chewing happily with watermelon juice running from his mouth is just too nice a sight to miss.
But in case you don’t have an ox, here’s how to make it.
PICKLED WATERMELON RIND
You don’t use all of the rind, just the white part.
Save the rinds from your cut watermelon, with a thin layer of watermelon flesh left on. Peel off the outermost layer (the green skin) with a carrot scraper and discard (or compost them or feed them to your chickens — or your ox!)
You can cube the rinds or cut them into strips, about 1⁄2 inch wide and 2 inches long. You’ll need to brine them overnight.
Here’s a recipe for 4 cups of watermelon rind. You can double it, or quadruple it if you need to.
In a large bowl, sprinkle chunks with 1⁄4 cup pickling salt and cover with cold water and several ice cubes. Let sit 12 to 24 hours.
The next day, drain and rinse chunks well in cold water. Put into pot, cover with water and boil, 7 to 10 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
In that same pot, make your syrup — 3 cups sugar, 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, about a teaspoon of whole cloves and two cinnamon sticks. You can tie the spices in a spice bag or let them float, your choice.
Boil the syrup until it thickens, pour over the watermelon chunks and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, put the chunks and syrup into a pot, bring to a boil and then simmer for about half an hour. If you’re not canning your pickles, cool them and place in a covered container in the refrigerator, and enjoy. They’ll last around three weeks.
If you are canning them, put the hot pickles and syrup into hot, sterilized pint or half-pint canning jars, wipe down the rims with a clean, wet cloth, place the sterilized lids on top, and tighten the rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
They are spicy and sweet, and just writing about them makes me want to put up a few batches this year. Certainly there will be enough watermelon rind for ox and humans to share.