I like watermelon rinds even better than watermelon. I went to Catholic school from first grade through my senior year of high school which explains a few things about me: my fetish/terror relationship with plaid skirts, my panic reaction to small, lockable booths, my chronically inflamed guilt gland. But perhaps most significantly, my gut-deep aversion to wasting food. Not only did I have my grandmother linking blame for the “starving Armenians” squarely to my failure to choke down the last two bites of liver and lima beans—our school principal, Sister Mary Thomas, would daily glide through the cafeteria wagging a gnarled index finger at anyone dawdling over their sloppy joe. It’s a sin to waste food, she said, and I believed her. Still kinda do. So I eat watermelon rinds.
Have you not? They’re satisfyingly crisp and cool, stand just shy of sweet and won’t drip stickily down your chin, staining your white uniform oxford and again, earning nun-wrath. But even if you’ve been leading a nun-less existence, they’re still delicious. Watermelon rinds are traditionally put up as pickles, but cookbook co-authors and Southern Uncovered hosts Matt Lee and Ted Lee (a.k.a. The Lee Bros.) developed a watermelon rind preserves recipe that underscores their off-fruity crunch with notes of ginger and lemon—and produces a little bit of lagniappe in the form of excess syrup that makes an instant cocktail, just add bourbon. No waste, no guilt—none at all.
Lee Bros. Watermelon Rind Preserves
Watermelon rind preserves on buttered biscuits or toast is one of our favorite breakfasts, and these days watermelons are available virtually all year long. Until recently, the labor-intensive recipe for watermelon rind preserves kept us from making them at all. The typical recipe involves one (if not two, even three) overnight soakings in lime and/or salty brine; scraping down the watermelon flesh until it’s snow-white; and making sure the rind is the right thickness (it varies widely from melon to melon). We took the traditional recipe back to the drawing board and came up with quicker, easier, and more delicious watermelon rind preserves than any we’ve made before.
Another thing: don’t spend precious kitchen time scooping off the pink flesh until the rind is bone-white. A few millimeters of pale pink watermelon clinging to the rind makes the preserves absolutely gorgeous, like rose-tinted quartz. A 6¼-pound slice of a larger, whole melon with a medium-thick sliced rind should yield 8 cups of peeled rind and make 2 pints of preserves.
We’re usually left with more gingery, lemony syrup than we need. We bottle that, too, and use it to glaze baked ham. We also substitute the syrup in drink recipes that call for simple syrup; it gives a glass of sweet tea an otherworldly sweetness, and you can use it as inspiration for your next breakfast cocktail.
One 1-inch-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
Six 4-inch-long strips lemon peel (from ½ lemon)
How to Make It
Fill a 3-quart pot three-quarters full of water and bring to a boil. Using tongs, carefully set the jars on their sides, along with their lids and a long-handled, slotted metal spoon, in the boiling water to sterilize. Boil for 15 minutes, then remove from the water with tongs or a jar lifter and set aside.
Scoop the flesh from the watermelon and reserve for another use. With a vegetable peeler or a knife, peel the thick green skin from the watermelon rind and discard. Cut the rind roughly into ½-inch dice. You should have about 8 cups.
Place the diced rind in a 3-quart pot and add the lemon juice, water, sugar, ginger, and lemon peel. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring a few times to distribute the ingredients evenly and help dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, over medium low heat for 40 minutes, or until the watermelon rind is translucent.
With the slotted spoon, transfer the pieces of rind to the jars, and leave the syrup to simmer and thicken for 10 minute more. Carefully pour the syrup into the jars (using a funnel, if necessary) until it is ½ inch from the rim. Place the lids on the jars, seal, and set aside to cool. Refrigerate for 2 days before using. The preserves will keep for about 4 weeks in the refrigerator.