Friday, October 20, 2017

Moon and Stars Watermelons

     A serious up side to our move to from the west side to the east side of Washington State is the increased warmth and the resultant longer growing season.  This allowed me to grow watermelons in my garden for the first time since 1977.  I grew four different kinds.  One plant was a Sugar Baby, a type of small personal sized watermelon.  I grew that at Linda's request.  I have to confess that I am a little unclear on the concept when it comes to growing small watermelons on purpose.  I misplaced one of the seed packets so I'm unsure of the names of one of the varieties that I grew.  It was a nice round red-fleshed watermelon that ripened earlier than the others.  I also grew an orange-fleshed variety called Tendersweet.  Those melons were medium sized and were somewhat elongated.  However, the obvious  "Star" attractions of the watermelon patch were the red-fleshed Moon and Stars watermelons.  These were the last to ripen, but they were easily the largest melons.  That plant set two melons, the largest one weighing 34 pounds.  The reason for that name is pretty obvious.  The melons start out green striped, but at some point the skin turns darker green and lots of yellow dots appear all over the melon.  The yellow dots are the stars while the big yellow patch on the underside of the melon is the moon. They are really quite pretty watermelons.

     Moon and Stars is an heirloom variety.  Obviously it has seeds. Another trait of many of the older watermelon varieties is a much thicker rind than most modern watermelons.  Obviously some people considered a thick rind to be the sort of flaw that needed to be bred out of watermelons.  Anyone who has raised chickens would disagree.  Watermelon rind is my chicken's favorite treat.  I usually throw all of the watermelon rinds into the chicken pen. The following day the rinds are like curled up pieces of green paper.  The chickens peck out everything except the green skin.

Moon and Stars Watermelon

    Another benefit to a thicker rind is the possibility of pickled watermelon rind.  I remember my mother making pickled watermelon rind when I was a child.  This is a well known pickle in the South.  On the other hand, when the subject of pickled watermelon rind is raised, people from the North will often comment that they had never heard of such a thing.  I wasn't raised in the South, but my mother was.

    Recently my sweet wife gave me a special gift, a book entitled "The Joy of Pickling".  This book happened to have three different watermelon rind pickle recipes.  I tried out two of them.  The first recipe was called Gingery Watermelon Pickles and involved first soaking the peeled watermelon rind in pickling salt.  After a six to twelve hour salt soak, the pieces of rind are rinsed and cooked in a syrup seasoned with lemon, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon seeds, cloves, and allspice berries.  The second recipe was called Minty Watermelon Pickles.  In this recipe the peeled watermelon rind was first soaked in pickling lime (CalciumOxide) for eight to twelve hours.  After rinsing, the pieces of rind were cooked in a seasoned syrup containing the same seasonings as the first recipe.  The only difference was the addition of a sprig of mint to each jar before it was sealed.  Both recipes turned out well.  The primary difference was that the first recipe produced a somewhat soft pickle while second recipe produced a very crisp pickle.  I actually found the pickles made with lime to be a little too crisp.   I will have to try it again with a reduced time soaking in the lime water.

     My mother sampled the Gingery Watermelon Pickles and commented that they tasted very close to the watermelon pickles she remembered growing up in Arkansas.  However, the watermelon pickles she had as a child had more sugar and less vinegar.  I was surprised by this as there was a lot of sugar in the syrup used in each of the two recipes.

Gingery Pickled Watermelon Rind

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