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Waste Not the Wonderful Watermelon

One of my favorite childhood memories is gathering at my grandparents’ home on summer Sunday evenings with our extended family. Sometimes, my grandmother would stir cream, sugar and vanilla flavoring and pour the mixture into a large cylinder. Packing ice and rock salt around the cylinder in a churn, she attached the hand crank and each child turned the crank until it was too difficult for our small arms to handle. At that point, my grandfather, father and uncles stepped in to complete the job and when my grandmother removed the lid, we all eagerly scooped homemade ice cream into waiting bowls, sighing with delight as sticky drips fell from our chins. While making ice cream was an occasional event, far more often, we enjoyed another treat that was every bit as special and delicious.

Watermelon Moon and stars

Heirloom Moon and Stars Watermelon

Plucked from my grandmother’s garden, chilled in a galvanized tub filled with ice and cold well water, fresh watermelon, with its sweet flavor and singular aroma, signaled Summer like no other food.  Wielding a huge knife, Granny split the melon in half and all the children gathered to watch the first cut, impatiently dancing from one foot to the other until waiting hands received a slice.  A large salt shaker was passed and after a liberal sprinkling, I would dive into crisp, red flesh that crunched, filling my mouth with sweet, salty flavor and seeds.  My brother, cousins and I would hold contests to see who could spit watermelon seeds the farthest and my mother cautioned us to avoid eating any seeds.  “If you swallow watermelon seeds,” she would say, “they will grow in your belly and send vines out your ears.”  Despite the warning, I sometimes ate seeds and anxiously imagined how painful it would be to sprout leaves from my ears. 

After weeks of no rainfall at Heart & Sole Gardens, late summer showers saved the watermelon crop from dismal failure.  Two heirloom varieties produced juicy, sweet fruit and I celebrated the small harvest by enjoying fresh watermelon in every way I could think of and preserving as much as possible for later use.  Although fresh, crisp watermelon flesh is about as Summer-Sensational as a food can be, this fruit offers adventurous cooks a wealth of opportunities to creatively reduce food waste.  Watermelon seeds, despite my mother’s warning, pack a nutritional punch and a significant source of protein and watermelon rind cubes are perfect for pickling, retaining crisp texture and absorbing sweet or salty solutions.

watermelon seeds

Watermelon Seeds Pack Nutritional Punch

Plan now to try some of these suggestions for your next melon harvest and, if you are lucky enough to still have a fresh watermelon, the pickle recipe is tasty and pretty enough to present as holiday gifts.

• Roast watermelon seeds in a 325 degree oven for about 15 minutes, stirring after ten minutes. Add a bit of olive oil and herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cayenne pepper, salt, etc., for more flavor.

• Combine fresh watermelon juice with dried coconut powder to make a thick paste. Apply as a facial and allow to dry. Rinse face with cool water and note how smooth skins feels.

• Save heirloom seeds and place, on a glass plate, at room temperature until seeds are completely dry. Store in a cool, dry place or the freezer and plant next year.

• Dehydrate slices of watermelon flesh for a unique “candy” treat.

• Juice watermelon flesh for a refreshing beverage.

• Freeze juice cubes to add to any beverage for watermelon flavor.

• With or without salt, enjoy a slice of fresh watermelon. Keep a napkin handy!

watermelon rind pickles

Spicy Watermelon Rind Pickles

Wash and dry and fresh watermelon. Slice into sections and remove all colored flesh and seeds. Peel outer skin and cut remaining flesh into bite-size cubes. Add watermelon chunks to large pot of boiling water, lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove watermelon from water and pack into half-pint jars, along with garlic cloves, fresh sprigs of fresh basil and oregano and slices of red Serrano or jalapeno peppers. Pour hot pickling solution over packed jar, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims with clean cloth and adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars and immediately transfer to a countertop covered with a large towel. Invert jars for 6 minutes, upright and cover with towel. After 24 hours, check to be sure lids sealed and refrigerate any that do not. 

Pickling Solution

Note: This recipe is a variation of my husband’s grandmother’s, Vestal Coffey Anderson, and I make it by the gallon to store in the refrigerator, reheating and using as needed throughout the year.

• 2 cups white vinegar
• 1-3/4 cups water
• 4 tablespoons kosher salt

Combine ingredients in a large pot and simmer on stovetop until salt dissolves.

watermelon compost

Rind peelings and the stem end are left to compost