Watermelon Rind Preserves

by on June 2, 2011
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Watermelon Rind Preserves

Last weekend, E and I took a train down to Louisiana for a quick, two-night visit to my parents’ house in the country. We were eating a surprisingly sweet watermelon for lunch on Saturday when my father noticed it had something he hadn’t seen in a long time: a thick rind. It seems that watermelons are being bred to have increasingly thinner rinds because the red flesh is what most people care about. You probably haven’t missed the thick layer of white between the part of the watermelon that you eat and the green outer skin–unless, like me, you grew up eating sweet watermelon rind preserves on toast, made from a recipe that your grandmother probably got from her grandmother.

With watermelon rinds so skimpy lately, my father–chief preserve and jelly maker in my family–hadn’t made preserves in years. But here was a rind that had potential, so soon my mother was taking down her recipe box and looking for my grandmother’s hand-written recipe. As she unfolded it, it almost fell apart in her hands:

Watermelon Rind Preserves Recipe

We decided two things: First, that technology needed to preserve the recipe, so I immediately started taking photos of it with my point-and-shoot camera (unfortunately, I’d left my good camera at home); and second, that we needed to follow that recipe, no matter how time-consuming it was. Though the recipe itself was skimpy and vague in places (“boil up real good”), my parents had both made the recipe many times, so I trusted them to fill in all the blanks.

With all four of us trimming off the red and green parts of the watermelon and cutting the cubes into bite-sized pieces, it wasn’t long before we had a bowl full of rind waiting to be preserved. We got it soaking it in salt water, as directed, and faced our first challenge: finding alum. After many calls to local grocery and drug stores, my mother finally tracked it down to WalMart, of all places. (It’s in the spice section, if you’re looking.)

Watermelon Rind Preserves Prep

My mother trimming, E chopping, rind soaking, and jars waiting

Early the next morning, we found that my night-owl father had already rinsed off the salt and gotten the rind soaking in fresh water. So all that was left was to make an alum bath, a ginger tea, and a sugar syrup and boil the jars and canning lids to sterilize them. Soon, every pot my mother owned crowded the stove, and the kitchen grew as hot and steamy as a Louisiana summer.

Because the recipe wasn’t completely clear, we made a couple of changes as we went along. After cooking in the syrup for about a half hour, the watermelon rind (or citron, as my grandmother called it) had become translucent, but the syrup wasn’t very thick. I made an executive decision to transfer the rind into the canning jars with a slotted spoon, add a little more sugar to the syrup, and let it cook down a little more before pouring it over the rind in the jars. This seemed to work well, and a couple of days later when we tested the preserves, the rind was tender but still retained some “bite” and the syrup was sweet (probably too sweet to most tastes) and lightly ginger-flavored.

I’m glad I got the opportunity to make my grandmother’s recipe as-written, before the paper it was written on completely disintegrated. Since embarking on this experiment, I’ve done a little web research and found other, easier recipes for watermelon rind preserves, and if I find another thick-rind watermelon, I will definitely try to find a less complicated way to preserve it. Some versions include lemon or cinnamon or cloves, and I’d like to experiment with those flavors. My father suggested making the syrup with watermelon juice instead of water, and I think that would be a great way to increase the watermelon flavor and decrease the sugar.

For now, I’m treating myself every now and then to a bite of this old-fashioned confection that reminds me of childhood and home. It’s full of sugar, so I certainly don’t call this a health food, but a little bit is good for the soul–my Louisiana soul at least. It was a lot of work but worth it to preserve an old family recipe with my parents and bring my daughter in on the tradition. I think I’m going to have to find more of my family’s old recipes to cook with them!

Watermelon Rind Preserves


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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 janet June 2, 2011 at 11:54 am

I love how everyone helped to rekindle a family heirloom of a recipe. That’s what counts the most. :)

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2 Tiffany June 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm

What an intriguing recipe. The collaborative effort that went into preserving the recipe is simply lovely.

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3 Gloria Kersh June 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Oh my gosh, my grandmother (Maw-Maw as we called her) used to make these. I don’t have any of her recipes – I doubt she had anything written down. I love to can but don’t have much time to do it these days. However, I am going to have to find the time to make these and travel down memory lane. THANK YOU!

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4 Beth June 2, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Thanks so much. I remember having these when we were kids. I have a recipe book of my mother’s that contains some interesting old time recipes that I also treasure. Most are definitely not Vegan, but they bring back memories and that’s what counts I think. I’m going to print this one out to stick into that book!

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5 Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) June 2, 2011 at 2:16 pm

How ironic! I was shopping at Whole Foods this past weekend and there they were-adorable little jars of watermelon rind preserves! I was so tempted to get one because of the novelty of it all and then the woman behind the counter said, “It’s very sweet!” and I thought to myself, “I’d probably down the whole jar in one sitting so I’d better leave that alone.” I’m loving that you shared your family’s experience and history with this food. Really great memories are oftentimes associated with a particular food. Wish I could have a little taste of your preserves!

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6 Tricia June 2, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Interesting recipe. I live in the Dordogne, France and they make a preserve from ‘melon d’Espagne’, Spanish melon. It’s a smallish green skinned melon but with a pale green flesh
They dice the melon flesh and leave it to macerate overnight in 500 g sugar.Then the next day cook with lemon juice and some of the rind from 1 lemon cut into pieces with half a chopped vanilla pod. Boil for around an hour, watch carefully towards the end, don’t let it become a caramel.

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7 Maria M. June 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Susan, if I may ask , is this suppose to be a preserve as in a topping for toast or more of a sweet pickle conditment? Last year was my first year putting up “preserves” and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Thanks for posting the recipe.

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8 SusanV June 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Maria, this is definitely a sweet topping for toast, biscuits, or anything else you would put jelly or jam on. Very, very sweet, not like a pickle at all.

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9 Maria M. June 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Mmm. I am so going to try my hand at your recipe.

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10 Maria Magana June 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Susan — we made your family’s recipe for watermelon rind preserves! I had them on biscuits, while my one of my sisters added some to her stack of pancakes. Definitely sweet but good. By the by, after sealing the jars, we put processed them via a water bath for a little more than 15 minutes as a means of preserving them for use over the course of the year.

Thanks for posting the recipe.

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11 SusanV June 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Thanks for the feedback! I’m so glad you liked them!

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12 Shannon June 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

Maria, you could try this recipe if you want watermelon pickles: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Watermelon-Rind-Pickles-5643

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13 ShopCookMake June 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm

What a great idea. I’m salivating already.

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14 Chile June 2, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’ve made the recipe from the U of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation and really liked it. It calls for a boatload of sugar, though. However, when I took it for samples at my CSA, lots of people commented that it tasted just like what their grandmother or old aunt used to make. Very old-fashioned kind of recipe!

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15 moonwatcher June 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm

What a beautiful post, Susan! Thank you–the memories, the preserves, the revival and you all doing it together–and the photos are lovely.

xo

moonwatcher

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16 Boohoo June 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Ginger’s icky – sorry, it’s an aversion that more or less runs in the family – so do you have any other suggestions for what to flavour this with? I’ve never had watermelond rind preserves so it’s difficult for me to imagine the taste. So, flavours: Allspice? Nutmeg? Mahlepi? Another fruit? I have plenty of limes on hand.
Thanks for the recipe,
A

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17 SusanV June 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I think lime peel or slices (without seeds) would be good. Cinnamon and/or cloves would also be tasty.

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18 The Mad Scientist June 3, 2011 at 8:51 am

Absolute treasure! thanks for sharing your grandmother’s recipe in her own hand. I will definitely try this recipe out.

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19 Charissa June 3, 2011 at 11:29 am

That’s awesome! I have been wondering how people made it…someday I must, must try this! Seriously, this is really, really cool!

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20 Nikki @ The Tolerant Vegan June 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

This is beautiful and surely delicious! I think it’s so wonderful that you had the chance to make this recipe with your family. I also love that she wrote, “boil up real good” because it reminds me of my own grandparents.

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21 Torwen June 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Thank you so much for this recipe!!!
I always felt like waisting food when throwing away the rind and was very sad even if it went to the compost. Motivated by your preserve I will experiment more with the rind and try what else I could do :)
Great post!

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22 Annie June 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

How cool, and how thrifty our grandparents were. It sounds like it would be very summery with the watermelon and ginger. Love ginger.

If I were making this, I would put the jars in a boiling water bath as for other preserves; probably 15-20 minutes. Jars sealed just with the heat of the preserves are definitely not safe for long-term pantry storage but would probably keep for a couple-three months (maybe more) in the fridge.

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23 hannah June 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I loved seeing that old paper recipe.

I’m wondering if it’s really necessary to use the alum? I buy alum-free baking soda and baking powder at our local health food store, so I just assumed it’s unhealthy.

The only time I ever had pickled rinds, it was some people, the Peters family, from Boga Lusa (sp?) La. They were great people, and because of all their deep south ways, those of us in my N.J. village where they lived for just a year or two thought them very exotic! I missed them terribly for years when they moved back to La. Thanks for reminding me of them!

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24 SusanV June 4, 2011 at 11:35 am

The alum just helps keep the rind from softening or breaking down too much so that it’s still in cubes. Some recipes don’t call for it, so it’s possible to leave it out.

My home town is not too far from Bogalusa. :-)

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25 M. @ V. Gourmet June 4, 2011 at 11:51 am

I’ve never heard of using watermelon rind, but this looks utterly fantastic, and perfect for summer! I’m so excited to try it, thanks for sharing!

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26 Debra June 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm

How much sugar was in the orginal recipe?
thanks

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27 SusanV June 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm

The original recipe, which you can see in the second photograph, was unclear about how much syrup to make, but the basic proportion was two parts sugar to one part water. How much you need to make would depend on how much watermelon rind you’re preserving.

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28 SaraJane June 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm

How timely! I was just thinking that I wanted to try and do something with watermelon rind this summer. This sounds delicious. Now to find that alum…

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29 emiglia June 6, 2011 at 6:19 am

What a fun family recipe to try out together! It looks delicious…

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30 Lenna June 7, 2011 at 6:26 am

This is such an interesting recipe!!! I have never heard about using watermelon rinds! I always thought they are good only for throwing them into the bin! Thank you :)

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31 erin June 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I made this recipe and unfortunately is turned out terrible! the syrup turned brown very quickly and I think my watermelon got tougher in the syrup! I’m so sad.

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32 SusanV June 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I’m sad, too! I don’t know why that could have happened.

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33 Carolyn June 13, 2011 at 9:06 am

Well of course I just cut up a watermelon for smoothies, AND put the rinds out for the birds/squirrels/whoever, AND it had a nice thick rind, AND I read your post the day after I did this! The squirrels may not be so lucky next time- this looks fabulous and ready for the try list.

By the way, the handwriting on the original recipe looks spookily like my own grandmother’s handwriting- makes me wonder if everybody back then had the same penmanship teacher!

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34 Pearl June 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

wonderful. so glad you found her recipe. I remember eating this growing up.

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35 Shannon June 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

Susan, I don’t at all care for watermelon but my goodness did this charming post and the recipes it highlights make me smile. In fact, I can’t stop grinning! I wish my family had a proper set of heirloom recipes. I’m hoping I can compile a few in the event that I have children. Enjoy your preserves!

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36 Kim July 23, 2011 at 10:17 am

Do you know i just threw out 2 huge watermelons worth of rinds?? And this was yesterday… ugh! I wish i was here sooner!!!!!!

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37 Kitty August 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I made pickled watermelon rind and it is very similar to this. It has vinegar, but is incredibly sweet and you would never guess it had vinegar in it (sort of like cinnamon apple slices). I am sure the taste is quite similar. It also called for lemon slices. I am sure I will make more.

So far as the canning aspect, I am NOT trying to be disrespectful of your grandma’s recipe, but today’s canning guidelines would render it unsafe for shelf storage.

This recipe does not have enough acid to be considered safe for waterbath canning. That is why vinegar is usually added. The high sugar content can also prevent the growth of botulism spores, but acid is considered key. Most fruits are high enough in acid to can, but figs, melons, and asian pears are supposed to be acidified. Additionally, the jars would be processed (boiled) in a water bath canner before shelf storage. It is good that you are refrigerating.

That said, these are lovely and have worked for your family for many years. They look delicious and beautiful.

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38 kathy October 6, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Looks yummy!

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39 shamshadbegum February 4, 2012 at 12:25 am

I liked the recipe . Is there Any scientific reason to use alum in the recipe? please let me know?

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40 Susan Voisin February 4, 2012 at 8:49 am

The alum is to keep the watermelon rind crisp. You could leave it out if you don’t care about that. Do keep the jars in the refrigerator, though. The recipe really needs more acidity to be properly preserved.

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41 Sally-Page Stuck March 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Hi Susan!

In reviewing my blog stats, I just realized you linked to my recipe for Watermelon Rind Preserves. Thank you so much!

When I saw your mother’s hand written recipe, it looked almost exactly like my mother’s! In fact, my recipe was ‘modernized’ from Mom’s old recipe (which, of course, she got from Grandmother.). Watermelon Rind Preserves were a Christmas time treat in our house. Now that our parents have passed, I make these & send them to my brother.

This old recipe always wins a ribbon at the State Fair of Texas. You might enjoy my modern Chai-Spiced Watermelon Rind preserves. They won, too.
http://auntsallygoodfood.blogspot.com/2010/09/chai-spiced-watermelon-rind-preserves.html

If you are ever in Dallas, please stop by & let’s cook together!! Thanks again.

Blessings, peace & joy,

Sally-Page Stuck (a.k.a. Aunt Sally Good Food)

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42 Sally-Page Stuck March 16, 2012 at 7:56 am

P.S. In regards to using watermelon juice, in a word – don’t.

I made Watermelon Jelly once (original recipe). Never again. All the flavor is in the red pulp. The canning process separates the red pulp and the water. The clear water ends up taking like, well, clear water. Very, very sweet clear water. The red pulp ends up grainy.

Also, the full amount of sugar is needed to make the jelly set and to preserve the product. Until one has become very proficient at canning, it is very dangerous to tweak a recipe. The salts, sugars, vinegars are there to preserve the food. Without them in full amounts, the food can spoil. Recipe tweaking, for the inexperienced can result in disaster – like Watermelon Jelly. lol

I think Erin may have cut the pieces too large. The same thing happened to me once.

I can A LOT every summer & enter the State Fair of Texas. Again, if you’re in Dallas some summer, it would be fun to can together!

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43 Susan Voisin March 16, 2012 at 7:58 am

Sally, both of your recipes look delicious, and I’m really eager to try your chai-spiced one. After I made my grandmother’s recipe, I thought “Isn’t there supposed to be lemon in there?” It was missing from the instructions, so I didn’t add it, but wish I had.

Thanks for writing!

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44 Nini June 24, 2012 at 6:18 am

Hello Susan,
I’m from germany and really intereset in your delicious looking recipes at that blog. They are so much inspiring. The recipe of that watermelon reind preserves above is very catching me, too.
I wanted to ask you something abut the ingredients, because I don’t really understand what alum is. What is it needed for in your recipe and do you think there is a possibility to substitute/replace it? I think it’s not well known in Germany and I don’t know if I can buy it in my small homewtown. You would really help me with answering my question. Thanks a lot!

Greetings from Germany

yours Nini

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45 Van September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Today I bought watermelon and ate some and I remembered our favorit jam mom used to make for us (5 brothers) back in the 50′s. The rind was cut like a pickeld long cucumbers and soked in a white Lime ? water which made it very crunchy and very soft and sweet inside. I tried to find this in Meditarian or Grecce deli stores with no luck. I will be calling my sister in law and get the receipt. If I am succesful I will email you the receipt. this jam is very popular in middle eastern countries.

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46 Carrie September 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I live in a country where I can`t can preserve things. Can I just make a half batch and keep it in the fridge for a while?

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47 rez June 25, 2013 at 7:58 am

I believe grandma really did mean “citron” in her recipe, or at the very least something citrus-y. Lemon or lime would also work. Reading the recipe, it wouldn’t make sense to boil the rind in the ginger tea, then make the syrup and boil the rind in it until clear, then put it back in the tea again, would it? Maybe, I dunno. She calls the rind “rind” the whole time, so to come up with a new word which is also a citrus fruit doesn’t make sense to me anyway. I think this would taste great with a bit of citrus, and it would help balance out the sweetness.

I am going to try this the way I read the recipe, and instead of alum i will use vinegar water since the alum is just making an acidic solution (and i love apple cider vinegar!). Thanks for sharing the original document, I just love looking at that sort of thing.

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