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.
These pickles are one of our family favorites, along with these 14-Day Sweet Pickles and Homemade Pepper Jelly.
Grandma used to keep the jars, filled with sweet syrup and clove-seasoned pickles, lined up behind a curtain on a narrow shelf in her kitchen. Whenever she cooked a family dinner, there was always a jar of homemade watermelon rind pickles on the table.
If you’re looking for a recipe for pickled watermelon that tastes just like what your mom or grandma used to make, you have to try these!
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- What are watermelon rind pickles?
- What do watermelon rind pickles taste like?
- Where did watermelon rind pickles originate?
- What supplies do I need to make watermelon rind pickles?
- 🔪 How do you cut the rind off a watermelon?
- What is the best type of watermelon to use to make pickles?
- 🍉 How to Make Watermelon Rind Pickles
- What can I do with watermelon rind pickles?
- Printable Jar Labels
- More Heirloom Recipes
- Printable Recipe Card
- Homemade Watermelon Rind Pickles
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.
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.
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 enslaved person 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. It’s like I can hear her coaching me through the process and offering her kitchen wisdom through the phrases she underlined for emphasis.
I’ve included the full recipe at at the end of this post, so you can start your own family tradition of making old-fashioned watermelon rind pickles. You can scroll ahead to the recipe or keep reading for more helpful tips.
There are also printable jar lid labels for you to use.
Want to see a brief overview of the process before diving into the recipe? Watch my web story on how to make pickled watermelon rind.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make approximately six pint-sized jars of watermelon rind pickles.
- watermelon rind from a medium-sized watermelon
- Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime
- white granulated sugar
- white vinegar – use a vinegar with 5 percent acidity or higher
- whole cloves
- cinnamon sticks
- fresh ginger root
What supplies do I need to make watermelon rind pickles?
You’ll need some basic canning supplies to make sweet pickled watermelon rind.
- Water bath canner
- jar lifter, funnel and other canning accessories – a kit like this with canning essentials has everything you need
- pint-sized mason jars with lids and rings
- large non-reactive bowl
- large non-reactive pot
- cheesecloth spice bag
- cutting board
🔪 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. You could also try using a vegetable peeler to remove the green peel or outer 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.
What is the best type of watermelon to use to make pickles?
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.
🍉 How to Make Watermelon Rind Pickles
If you’ve ever wondered, “What can I do with leftover watermelon rinds?” I recommend that you try these pickles, especially if you’re concerned about food waste.
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.
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 rings. (I usually do this in the dishwasher.)
Cooking the Watermelon Rind
- Gather the spices in a cheesecloth bag.
- Add the spice bag to a large nonreactive stockpot, along with a quart of vinegar, a quart of water and 8 cups of sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the watermelon rind to the stockpot, and add the food coloring, if desired. Bring to a low boil and then simmer for about 40 minutes to 1 hour, until about half the rinds are clear or translucent.
Canning the Pickles
- Remove spice bag and pack the hot pickles into sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch head space. Use a bubble tool to remove any air bubbles in the jars.
- Clean the rims of the jars with a wet paper towel before adding the sterilized lids and adjusting the rings to fingertip tight.
- Place jars in a rack in a water bath canner and process for 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and remove the jars from the canner. Allow to cool on towels for 24 hours before moving. You will hear a popping sound as the jars seal.
- Substitute 2 Tablespoons of whole pickling spices for the cloves, ginger and cinnamon in this recipe. Just be sure to remove some of the red pepper flakes or the pickles will be too hot.
- Add red or green food coloring to watermelon rind pickles for a festive appearance if you plan to give them as Christmas gifts.
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 jars would look tied with red Christmas ribbon.
My 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.
Printable Jar Labels
Along with the recipe, I’m sharing some pretty printable labels to add to the tops of the jars.
Just enter your information below to have the labels emailed to you. They’re designed to be printed on Avery #22807 2-inch round labels.
More Heirloom Recipes
If you love cooking nostalgic dishes, try one of these delicious recipes that have been passed down through the generations.
- 14-Day Sweet Pickles
- Homemade Pepper Jelly
- Old Fashioned Applesauce Pie
- Grandma’s Baked Beans
- Icebox Fruitcake
Pin This! Grandma’s Sweet Watermelon Rind Pickles
Printable Recipe Card
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.
Homemade Watermelon Rind Pickles
- vegetable peeler
- water bath canner
- large non-reactive bowl
- large non-reactive stock pot
- jar lifter
- bubble remover tool
- pint mason jars, lids and rings
- cheesecloth spice bag
- 4 quarts watermelon rind from a medium-sized watermelon
- 3 heaping Tablespoons Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime
For the Spiced Vinegar
- 8 cups sugar
- 1 quart vinegar
- 1 quart water
- green or red food coloring optional
For the Spice Bag
- 2 Tablespoons whole cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- fresh, peeled ginger root about ½ inch in length
- Prepare the rind by removing all the pink part of the melon and the outer 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 watermelon 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 the rind in cold water for about 30 minutes, then wash again to remove all the lime.
- When you are ready to make your pickles, sterilize canning jars, lids and rings. (I run mine through the dishwasher.) Sterilize lids in a pot of boiling water.
- Tie spices in a cheesecloth bag.
- Add the spice bag, sugar, vinegar and water to a large non-reactive pan and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Next, add the watermelon rind to vinegar and water mixture in the pan. Add food coloring, as desired.
- Bring to a low boil. Then simmer for about 40 minutes to 1 hour, until about half the rinds are clear or translucent.
- Remove spice bag.
- Pack hot watermelon rind pickles into sterilized jars, leaving ½-inch head space and removing any bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars with a wet paper towel, then add lids and rings, adjusting to fingertip tight.
- Use a jar lifter to transfer the jars to a rack in a water bath canner. Process covered for 10 minutes.
- Remove jars from the canner and allow to cool on kitchen towels for 24 hours before moving. You will hear a popping sound as the jars seal. Check seals before storing pickles in the pantry.
- 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.)
- Add red or green food coloring to the pickles for a festive color.
2 whole ginger root or 2 pieces?
Atta Girl Amy
Sorry about that. It should be two 1/2 inch pieces of peeled gingerroot, although you could use a little more if you prefer a stronger ginger flavor.
Yours is the only recipe I’ve come across with pickling lime. My grandmother’s recipe was lost but I do remember my mother using that ingredient. We had a hard time finding it but mom always managed some how. I look forward to cooking these and passing the recipe on. Thank you.
Did you use white vinegar or apple cider for the watermelon rind pickles?
Atta Girl Amy
I use white vinegar.
Is using and Some Cider Vinegar acceptable? I’m assuming white vinegar was used as it’s a 5% acid solution, readily available, and (usually) cheaper than apple cider vinegar. I’ll be making these pickles in the next 48 hours. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll ask some other safe canning sites for input.
Thanks for sharing your Gran’s recipe. My wife’s grandmother used to make these and her home was the only place I’ve ever tasted them. When we were dating, she served them during lunch after church. It’s been decades, but I still remember those delicious sweet watermelon pickles. Eating them one time was enough to create a lifelong memory.
Atta Girl Amy
I use white vinegar for this recipe.
I hope you enjoy your watermelon rind pickles. Thanks for sharing your memories with me, too. These pickles are definitely entwined in my memories of my grandma, I hope her recipe is similar to those that your wife’s grandmother made.
You could do 1/2 red and 1/2 green for a Christmas vegetable platter!
Atta Girl Amy
Yes! That’s a great idea. I just made a new batch and did some green and some without the food coloring. I should have done some red!
I love the story about Grandma Mills and the picture in what appears to be her apron! I also love that she made the watermelon rind pickles the same unnatural shade of glowing green as my Granny!
I made these for the first time tonight. I looked through MANY recipes and reviews, and Grandma Mills’ recipe taste EXACTLY as I remember Granny’s! I did have one problem though. Mine were very tough and fibrous on the outermost edge of the rind, despite cutting off the darkest green edge with a vegetable peeler. I cooked them for 2 hours in the syrup but they never became translucent. Here are my theories about what went wrong:
1. Soaking too long in the lime (mine ended up in there for almost 24 hrs)
2. Type of watermelon I purchased had a tough, extra fibrous rind
3. Granny didn’t have a vegetable peeler so she would have likely cut a tad more of the outer portion of rind than I did, although she could peel insanely thin with a paring knife.
I don’t think I cooked them too long as I checked them every 15 minutes and they were like bricks until after the first hour. Then they finally started to soften some. I was wondering if you have any ideas about what went wrong? I’m still eating them, so thank you for sharing the recipe! In fact, if I cut the pickle now, avoiding the tough outer portion and eating only a thin slice of the innermost portion, I’d say it’s perfect!
I made these this summer after following another recipe I found and yours are definitely the best! The children and I cannot stop eating them! 🙂 I’m planning on making another batch today! Thank you for sharing!
Atta Girl Amy
Victoria, this warms my heart. I always loved my grandmother’s pickles, and I’m glad you and your family enjoyed them, too.
When you talk about using 2 pieces Ginger root, does that mean 2 whole ginger roots, or 2 peelings from the ginger root? I don’t normally use ginger, so I am unfamiliar.
How many pints does this recipe make?
Wow. My mom used to make these only with oils. Red and green. Brought out especially for the holidays. I wish I would have paid more attention as I love them. Can’t find her method. But this is surely to be close. Now that I see the process ( and remember her making all kinds of pickles ) maybe my memory of that sweet spicy flavor is all I need. Tons of wor . But my mom homemade EVERY THING. Yummm
Atta Girl Amy
Hope this recipe lives up to your memories of your mom’s homemade watermelon rind pickles. I’m intrigued about her use of oils only. If you ever figure it out, I’d love to know that recipe, too.
Does it take a while for the rinds to become clear? Mine have been boiling for quite a while. Some are transparent and others are not.
I absolutely adore that you have your grandmother’s recipe. What a treasure! As for the pickles, I’ve never ever had them before. You’ll have to bring me one 🙂 I think I missed out on some true Southern traditions somewhere.