Old fashioned watermelon rind pickles are crunchy and sweet, with a strong flavor of cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Learn how to make these classic southern pickles using my grandmother’s recipe.
If there is one food I associate with my Grandma Mills, it is her homemade watermelon rind pickles.
She used to keep the jars, filled with sweet syrup and clove-seasoned pickles, on a shelf in her kitchen, behind an old sheet that had been fashioned into a curtain.
Whenever Grandma cooked a family dinner, the pickles were always on the menu. It seemed she always had a jar open in the fridge — and there were plenty of others at the ready in her makeshift pantry.
What are watermelon rind pickles?
Watermelon rind pickles aren’t your typical pickle. The most obvious difference is that they’re made from the rinds of ripe watermelons instead of from cucumbers.
The way my grandmother made them — and the way I like them — they are crunchy and sweet, with a strong flavor of cloves, cinnamon and ginger.
My grandmother always added green food coloring to her watermelon rind pickles, and that’s how I will always remember them. But you can leave them their natural color, as well.
Where did watermelon rind pickles originate?
Cooks have been making watermelon rind pickles for centuries.
Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, the first cookbook published in the United States in 1796, includes a recipe for preserving watermelon rind.
Abby Fisher, a former slave from Mobile, Ala., who was the first black American woman to record her own recipes, also offers instructions for making pickles from scraps of watermelon. Her recipe, which is recounted in What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, calls for 10 pounds of rind and 20 pounds of sugar.
Though cooks in other part of the country make them, watermelon rind pickles are a quintessentially southern food, staking out a place on the table at many a church social or family reunion.
Early Greek settlers in Charleston, S.C. brought the recipe for pickled watermelon rind with them, according to food historians. It’s no wonder rural southerners embraced these pickles, whose nectar is as toothsome as a glass of sweet iced tea.
Whenever I make the pickles, I work directly from my grandmother’s handwritten recipe. I’ve included it at the end of this post, so you can start your own family tradition of making old-fashioned watermelon rind pickles.
It’s like I can hear her coaching me through the process and offering her kitchen wisdom through the phrases she underlined for emphasis.
How do you cut the rind off a watermelon?
The hardest part of making these pickles is preparing the rind. Grandma’s recipe warns about this, and I can attest that it is a time-consuming process. I find it’s easiest to slice the watermelon in half, and then use a chef’s knife to remove the green rind.
Then you can cut it into smaller slices or wedges and use a chef’s knife to carefully cut the fruit away form the rind, removing as much pink as possible. You’ll need to watch your fingers and pick a melon with a thick rind. Don’t throw away the fruit. Cube it for a snack or make one of these delicious watermelon recipes.
Many watermelons today are cultivated to have thinner rinds — hence more melon — but if you’re planning to make pickles, you want to pick one with a thick rind.
The Department of Horticulture Science at N.C. State University has some recommendations for the best types of watermelons for making pickles.
When making watermelon rind pickles, a little pink is OK. But you want mostly the white rind.
Preparing the watermelon rind to make pickles is time consuming, and you’ll want to be careful. But sweet pickled watermelon rind is so worth it.
What do watermelon rind pickles taste like?
Watermelon rind pickles are very sweet, with a strong flavor of cinnamon, cloves and ginger.
My recipe produces crispy watermelon rind pickles.
What supplies do I need to make watermelon rind pickles?
You’ll need some basic canning supplies to make sweet pickled watermelon rind.
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- Water bath canner
- jar lifter, funnel and other canning accessories
- pint-sized mason jars
- large non-reactive bowl
- large non-reactive pot
- cheesecloth spice bag
- pickling lime
How do you make watermelon rind pickles?
If you’ve ever wondered, “What can I do with leftover watermelon rinds?” I recommend that you try these pickles. Sounds like a great excuse to eat more watermelon! You may never throw away another watermelon rind again!
Once you have prepared the watermelon rind for preserving by removing the skin and any pink part of the melon, you’ll need to cut it into cubes.
Next, you’ll soak the rinds for eight hours or overnight in a pickling lime solution in a non-reactive bowl.
Use a plate to weigh down the rind so it stays submerged in the pickling lime solution.
The next day, drain and rinse the rind in cold water several times to remove the lime. Then, soak the rind in cold water for 30 minutes, then wash again.
When you are ready to make your pickles, sterilize your jars, lids and canning rings. (I usually do this in the dishwasher.)
Next, gather spices in a cheesecloth bag. Combine the spices with sugar, vinegar and water and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the watermelon rind to the hot mixture and boil until the rind is clear.
Remove spice bag and pack the boiling hot pickles into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. If you need more liquid to fill jars, add boiling water. Adjust caps and place sealed jars in water bath and process for 10 minutes at simmering temperature in a canner with a rack.
Remove the jars from a canner and allow to cool on towels. You will hear a popping sound as the jars seal.
What can I do with watermelon rind pickles?
Eat them right out of the jar when you’re craving a crunchy, sweet snack! That’s my favorite way to enjoy watermelon rind pickles, but they’re also great on a salad. You can also pair them with a BLT sandwich for a little salty-sweet contrast.
If you make watermelon rind pickles now, you can give the preserved jars as gifts at the holidays. Imagine how festive the green jars would look tied with red Christmas ribbon.
Family members and friends always loved receiving a jar of grandma’s preserved watermelon rind pickles, and it has been fun to carry on that tradition.
The recipe below assumes you have a basic knowledge of canning or pickling making. If you need basic tips for canning pickles, please check out this tutorial. The recipe makes approximately six pint-sized jars of pickles, but I always like to have a few extra jars sterilized, just in case.
- 4 quarts watermelon rind from a medium-sized watermelon
- 3 heaping Tablespoons Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime
- 8 cups sugar
- 1 quart vinegar
- 1 quart water
- 2 Tablespoons whole cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 2 pieces ginger root
Prepare the rind by removing all the pink part of the melon and the skin, leaving just the pale green rind. Cut into cubes. Rind can be tough to cut, so be careful.
Dissolve pickling lime in warm water. The mixture will be cloudy.
Put rind in a canner or a large plastic bowl. (Never use an aluminum pan.) Pour lime water over rind, then add enough cold water to cover rind. Put plates on top the rind to keep it submerged. Soak covered overnight, occasionally stirring and mixing well.
Drain lime water and rinse pickles in cold water several times. Soak in cold water for about 30 minutes, then wash again to remove all the lime.
When you are ready to make your pickles, sterilize your jars. (I run mine through the dishwasher.) Sterilize lids in a pot of boiling water.
Tie spices in a cheesecloth bag. (Instead of the spice mixture above, you can use 2 heaping Tablespoons of whole pickling spices, but be sure to remove some of the red pepper or the pickles will be too hot.)
Combine spices with sugar, vinegar and water and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add watermelon rind, color with green food coloring, as desired, and boil until rind is clear.
Remove spice bag.
Pack boiling hot into sterilized jars, leaving ⅛ inch head space. If you need more liquid to fill jars, add boiling water. Adjust caps and place sealed jars in water bath and process 10 minutes at simmering temperature in canner with rack.
Remove from canner and allow to cool. You will hear a popping sound as the jars seal.
Makes approximately 6 pint-sized jars of pickles.
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