Aunt Joanne’s Lacto-Fermented Watermelon Pickles
My mother’s family is known for food. Not fancy food, just good food and familiar food and lots of food. Various members of the family specialized in certain things. My Grandmother made biscuits like no one else. My Aunt Marge made lemon meringue pie every year for Thanksgiving and my Aunt Joanne made watermelon pickles that were fantastic. These were sweet pickles with just the right spices.
I have seen these savory recipes for fermenting watermelon rind and while I’m sure they are tasty they aren’t what I think of when I think of watermelon pickles. I think of a sweet pickle with a somewhat soft and almost slimy texture (doesn’t that sound delicious?) As a child I thought calling them watermelon pickles was a joke since they looked and tasted nothing like a watermelon yet now I know the secret. I have been hankering for my Aunts pickles so I set out to make a healthier version of them. Mine is made without all that white sugar and filled with health giving lactic acid bacteria. These don’t taste exactly the same but they are a sweet, sour and spicy lacto-fermented watermelon rind pickle and they were just what I wanted.
Aunt Joanne’s Lacto-Fermented Watermelon Pickles
Start by preparing the watermelon rind. Remove the red center but leave just a trace of red on the inside. These can be made with yellow watermelon pickles but they will be prettier with red. I have found that the rind on the small cannon ball size watermelons are not thick enough so go for a larger melon. You can eat the red innards then or freeze for later. Once you have removed the center I find it easiest to cut into the right size pieces before peeling off the rind. You want to just get the hard green part off. It is ok if the inner rind is greenish on that side. It makes the pickles look prettier if you leave it a little green on one side and red on the other side. Cut into uniform sized pieces. It will ferment more evenly if the pieces are the same size.
Put the lemon peel, allspice, cinnamon stick and cloves in the bottom of the jar. They will float up but putting them at the bottom helps keep more of them under the brine till the ferment gets going.
Carefully put the pieces of rind into the jar. You want to fit them together as much as possible. Once they begin to ferment they will get much softer and you won’t believe how much less room they will take up if you haven’t packed them carefully. You may need a bit more than 2 lbs of rind to really fill the jar. You want it filled just to the shoulder of the jar.
Mix the honey with enough water to make 2 cups of liquid and add 10 grams of salt.* Mix it till the honey and salt is all dissolved. You may want to use hot water to make this part easier but then you will need to be sure it cools down before pouring it over the rinds. If this is not enough to cover the rinds make up more brine this time using just 2 cups of water and mixing in 10 g of salt once again. Discard any extra brine. You want the jar filled to the shoulder but not beyond or you run the risk of the ferment coming out through the air lock. (yes I have had this happen with a very active jar of fermenting carrots).
Complete setting up the jar by putting on the lid and filling the air lock with water and putting it into place. Once it is ready to go put it in a cool place to ferment at room temperature for a few days. I let mine go about 5 days at room temperature till the rind was fermented through and then moved it to my fermenting fridge. It tasted ok but not great at that point and I was satisfied but not inspired and I forgot about it! About 3 weeks later I was looking in the ferment fridge and realized these watermelon pickles were just sitting there and we weren’t eating them. I decided to try one and wow! It was fantastic! More time had made it more sour but still sweet and so tasty! Worth the wait to give these a couple of extra weeks after you move them to the fridge for the flavor to really develop. Of course I have no idea how long that really took but I do know that after 3 weeks in the fridge they were great.
My kids are split on these. One child likes sweet pickles and she adores them. The other child does not care for sweet pickles and these are no exception, but she will eat them while she won’t eat sweet cucumber pickles at all.
*Weighing salt. It really is essential that you weigh your salt when using it in fermenting foods. The different kinds and grinds of salt can have very different measurements for the same weight so a teaspoon measurement will not get you the right kind of brine and may ruin your ferment. I use a small digital scale like the one shown below to weigh my salt and other items in my kitchen.
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Thank You! -PattyLA