23 August 2010

Family recipe Monday: let the canning begin: melon pickles

August on the prairie. Feel the heat?

For the first time in three years, we broke into triple-digit temperatures on Sunday. Classic August: the heat is on, the farmers' market was bursting with produce, and the Central States Fair has started. We may check out the quilting and canning displays later in the week, when the cold front predicted for tonight brings the high back down to the 70s.

I realize that our friends and family in Texas are howling with laughter at our wimpiness in the heat. Don't forget that we could have our first snow as early as five weeks from now, if last year is anything to go by.

So we are stocking up on the fresh produce and hauling out the canning gear in earnest. The jars and spices are back on sale at the feed store. I bought a pint of chokecherry jam at the farmers' market and will report on the taste as soon as the biscuits are done. You have to have biscuits for a jam taste test, after all.

Canning in August is counterintuitive--no one wants to work on a hot day in an even hotter kitchen. The older girls knew that this was the right time, though, and that the work could not wait, especially pre-refrigeration. Anything that could be preserved was canned, smoked or salted. Out here, berrying was (and is) in full swing.

I'm especially intrigued with melon pickles. I've seen more varieties of watermelon rind pickles up here in three years than I ever had before. It takes a truly gifted cook to figure out how to make an apparently inedible rind or a very watery, juicy fruit into a splendid preserve.

The cantaloupe pickles are new to me, and they are amazingly good. Here you are preserving the cantaloupe flesh itself, not the rind. Heed the warning about selecting non-mushy cantaloupes, though.

Cantaloupe pickles

3 firm (not mushy) cantaloupes
4 T pickling spices
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
4 cups granulated sugar

Seed and peel the cantaloupes. Cut into 1” cubes (about 12 cups). Tie the spices and cinnamon into a double layer of cheesecloth. Place in large nonreactive pot along with the vinegar and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat; add melon ands let stand for 1 ½ --2 hours, tossing occasionally. Add the sugar and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until the cantaloupe becomes slightly transparent. Pack the melon into 4 sterilized pint jars, making sure there are no air pockets in the jars. Cover with the hot syrup, leaving ¼“ head space. Seal and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Watermelon pickles are just the opposite: you can't really save the flesh (so eat up!), but the rind makes a lovely, savory, translucent preserve that goes well with anything just off the grill. There are  dozens of recipes for watermelon pickles: here is my favorite. Note that, in all watermelon pickle recipes, the green outer rind is peeled and discarded. You can't save everything, but you can come close.

Ginger watermelon pickles

White part of rind from 1 small watermelon (~5 cups)
4 T salt
6 cups water
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tsp. whole allspice
1 tsp. whole cloves
4 cups sugar
2 pieces preserved ginger, sliced thin
2 cups white vinegar
1 3” piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Peel outer green skin off whole water melon and cut watermelon into wedges. Cut off white rind and reserve pink flesh for another purpose. Cut white rind into 1” pieces and put into a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and add cold water to cover. Soak overnight for at least 12 hours. Drain in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Place in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to boil and boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain in colander. Combine remaining ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, then add rind and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 1 hour or until the rind is clear. Remove the fresh ginger. Ladle pickles and liquid into hot sterilized jars, leaving ¼ ” headspace. Divide lemon slices and spices among jars. Top with lids and screw bands tight. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Store in cool dark place.

Give these until at least November before you open them. You'll love the aroma in the cold months. Happy Monday, and stay cool.

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