Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857-1915) was a pioneer in food science, nutrition, and uniform measurement in cooking. She was principal of the Boston Cooking School and published her first cookbook The Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1896. In this book, which became a Bible of domesticity, the idea of using standard measurement and level measurement (a level cup, a level teaspoon) was introduced for the first time. Fannie also included essays among the recipes on such topics as canning vegetables, entertaining, and general housekeeping. At the time, her book was a real game-changer.
At this point, you might be wondering why I am talking about this woman from Boston, which is way way above the Mason-Dixon Line in the great, frozen north and what all this has to do with watermelon rind pickles. This is, after all, a Southern culture blog, and I am a devout Southerner. Well, I’m talking about Fannie because it was through her cookbook (the 1959 edition) that I learned a lot of what I know about cooking.
You see, Mama had a “Fannie Farmer,” as we called it, and when questions came up, we would always “consult the Fannie.” Even though I have at least a hundred cookbooks (I have a little bit of a cookbook problem — I just love to read them like novels), there are only three or four that I consistently actually use, and this is one of them. Any time I need a good basic recipe (layer cake, ice cream custard, gravy), I turn to Fannie. Measurement conversions? It’s in the Fannie. Canning or preserving techniques? In the Fannie.
That’s why when I had a hankering to make watermelon rind pickles one summer, guess who I turned to — my old buddy Fannie.
Now watermelon rind pickles, which would be just perfect for your holiday relish tray, is a great example of how people with limited means make the most of every part of a food item. It’s the old “use everything but the oink” mentality. These pickles use the white part of the watermelon rind, which is normally just thrown out. My grandfather and I used to feed them to our horses. Horses love watermelon.
These pickles turn out to be a really pretty light amber color. And they are crispy and sweet and tangy. Spiced with clove and cinnamon, they have the perfect holiday spice flavor to compliment that roasted turkey or baked ham.
This is a pretty easy recipe, but the process can be a little time consuming due to a 6-hour soaking time, which is why I usually allow 2 days when I make them. I’ve let them soak overnight and haven’t seen a change in the results. Just put them on to soak right before bed and drain them first thing in the morning. A jar of pretty watermelon rind pickles with a few cloves and a cinnamon stick floating in amongst the pieces also makes a great holiday or hostess gift.
Watermelon Rind Pickles
Adapted from The Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook, Tenth ed. (Get your own copy at Amazon!)
- The rind of one watermelon
- 1 quart vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 2 pounds of sugar
- 1 Tbsp whole cloves
- 2-3 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
- Cut the watermelon into several pieces and remove the pink parts scraping right down to the white rind. Keep all the good parts for a snack later.
- Cut the remaining rind into several large chunks.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the large rind pieces. Boil for 5 minutes, then drain and cool.
- Remove all of the dark green rind and discard it.
- Cut the remaining white rind into small-ish squares, however big you’d like the pickle pieces to be.
- Put all the pieces into a big pot that has a lid. Add water to the pot by the quart. When the rind is covered, add ½ cup of salt for each quart of water you used. Stir until the salt has dissolved completely.
- Let the rind soak in the salted water for 6 hours.
- Drain, rinse, and cover the rind with fresh water.
- Simmer the rind in the fresh water until it is tender, then drain.
- Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, and watermelon rind. Simmer until the watermelon rind is clear and the syrup is thick. This is another instance of “until it looks right.”
- While the pickles are simmering, sterilize jars, rings, and seals. I like to use half-pint (8 oz.) jars.
- Fill the jars with the pickles, topping the jars off with the juice so it is as close to the top if the jar as you can.
- When all the jars are filled, take a table knife and carefully slide it into each jar down the side several times, pressing inward with the blade to remove any air bubbles.
- Put the seals and rings on the jars. Be careful. The jars will be hot!
- Put all the jars back into a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
- Remove and let cool. Label and store.