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Watermelon Pickles Recipe

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Last week, we made our first-ever watermelon pickles. I used a watermelon pickles recipe that my sister gave me some years ago, and I also consulted our Ball Blue Book, keeping in mind the principles of safe canning and our adventurous palates.

As 20 Minute Jim previously noted, our inspiration in part was the several small non-mature watermelons we harvested from our vines. Yes, the squirrels got there first, but we don’t let a small inconvenience like that slow us down; I simply cut off the offended portions and used the rest.

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As you can see in the picture, the insides of the watermelons did not have a chance to ripen and get pink. I sampled the interiors and the flesh was fairly sweet– alas! Nonetheless, I used the rind only for the recipe, scraping out the soft interior and peeling off the dark green skin.

Watermelon pickles are a multi-step process, so be sure to read through the whole recipe before you begin and allow time for the various stages.

Watermelon Pickles

Ingredients:
5 cups of watermelon rind (white parts only)
1 medium lemon sliced thinly
1 tablespoon of whole allspice
1 tablespoon of grated ginger root
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups of sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup of water

Method:
Step 1:
Cut watermelon rind into 1 inch square pieces. Measure to equal 5 cups. Blanch 8-10 minutes. Cool in ice water. Drain well.

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Place rind and lemon in 8 quart non-metalic container. Tie spices in cheesecloth. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Pour syrup over watermelon, stir. Cover and let set for 12-18 hours, stirring 2 or 3 times.

Step 2:
Remove lemon. Into 6 to 8 quart saucepan, bring mixture to bil. Reduce heat and simmer 40-50 minutes. Remove spice bag.

Step 3:
Fill hot 1/2 pint jars with mixture, leaving 1/2″ inch space. Remove trapped air bubbles. Wipe jar tops and threads clean. Process in boiling water canner 15 minutes. Makes 6 – 7 jars of 1/2 pint size.

If you don’t know how to can, learn! It’s not that hard, but it’s a task where a clear understanding of the equipment and methods is necessary for producing safe and delicious foods.

You can always make a recipe in a small portion and store in the refrigerator, rather than processing, but what you gain in convenience and speed you lose in the ability to brighten a winter’s day by opening a jar of your very own Watermelon Pickles!

Posted in • Cooking.

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Poetry, Old Lovers, and Watermelon Pickles

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Janice and I were married at an age so young we should barely have been granted a driver’s license let alone a marriage license. But even at that obscenely young age, we found when we merged our belongings that we had duplicates. In addition to a couple embarrassingly naive records, we both owned a copy of Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle, a poetry anthology published by Scholastic Books and assembled by Stephen Dunning.

The title poem of the collection was about nostalgia, as I recall, about the memories of summer preserved like a jar of watermelon pickle… whatever that was. I grew up around canning jars, around the involved late summer ritual of steaming pots and quart jars, the gentle “ping” as the lids sealed when they cooled. My relatives canned just about everything – tomatoes, cucumbers, even corn and beans– Everything except watermelon pickle. When I first read the poem, I suspected this “pickle” was a literary convention, a fabulation concocted because it fit the conceit.

Years later, Janice was able to take several classes with Stephen Dunning, the anthologist, who was a professor at the University of Michigan. Dunning was a kind and encouraging man, just as I’d suspected from the book I knew as an adolescent. Back in the 60’s, he was also responsible for creating a series of record albums where he got the rising stars of the poetry world to read their own poems. We have a couple of these vinyl treasures. Janice considered it a marvel — how could Dunning have known which poets would become important 10 to twenty years earlier.

There is a football quotation popular in these parts that I suspect relates: “If you stay, you will be champions.” The famous, “successful” poets are the ones who have kept at it, perhaps, though honestly that sounds a bit too Protestant-work-ethic. Keep at it; keep failing. Keep trying.

Earlier this summer Janice and I were in Atlanta for a writers’ convention, and we both had our first taste of actual, honest to goodness watermelon pickle. It did not taste like watermelon and did not, really, taste much like a pickle. This cube of skinless rind, translucent, a color near yellow as I recall with perhaps a blush of pink, was sweet, nearly candied with a hint of spice. It was indeed an experience to remember, worthy of encoding into a poem.

I have never, ever successfully grown a watermelon. Some years, they come off with all vine and no blossom, or they’ll blossom and not set fruit. Most years, I haven’t even bothered trying but this season apparently was set to break my streak. Our watermelon vines were healthy and took to a trellis with zeal. They got plenty of sunshine and the rains this year made sure they were well-watered. A month ago, Janice lifted a leaf to show me a small watermelon, the size of a baby’s fist. We were so excited we hugged each other but then, as the weeks wore on, these vines too withered and crumpled as if responding to some curse. The story was not over. Janice dug out a recipe and made our own watermelon pickles from the rinds of those failed melons. She supplemented them with rinds from a couple larger examples procured from the farmers’ market too.

Last weekend, Janice and celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary, which is a wonder and somewhat a miracle. We fight, viciously at times. We bore each other at other times. We are not the role models, I suspect, for a “happily married couple” whatever that insipid phrase might mean. How did we ever stay together so long? We just didn’t split up.

“Those who stay…”

A half dozen precious jars. Thirty three precious years together.

Posted in • Cooking, • Sitting Still.

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Before and After: What 20 Minutes Looks Like (8) – Weeding the Wedge

Weeding the Wedge (Before)

Weeding the Wedge (Before)

It rained this week. At least, inclement weather is my excuse for waiting until today to head outside. I was glad to see the plants were not waiting for the weekend. The tomatoes that Jan placed in the “Wedge” bed were nice and stocky, signs that the soil is approaching the temperature of a comfortable bath water which is what these nightshades prefer. Just as diligent, however were the weeds, some felicitous. There were several volunteer dill plants, for instance, appearing along the edge of the flagstone patio. Yellow wood sorrel, that deliciously tart native plant, poked up here and there. I confess I chewed on them while I worked. Gardener’s treat, I declare. Of course there was bindweed (“We have always been at war with Oceania, er, I mean, Bindweed”) as well as pigweed, witch grass and several other less useful types of foliage. I snapped a photo, set the timer and got to work.

The beds were still moist, a rich damp black. Luckily, only a few droplets clung to the leaves. Any high level organic gardener will note that weeding shouldn’t take place under these conditions. The rationale is that weeding will disturb the soil, stirring up microbial beasties, and if the leaves are wet, these monsters might stick to the plants. Sure, yes. Yet I will quote a deeper wisdom: Make Hay when the Sun Shines. Not all of us have the luxury of weeding ONLY when the beds are most opportune. This is my day off. It’s not pouring down. I am weeding. In my defense, we’ve put down the start of mulch which minimizes soil to leaf contact.

I confess the results of my 20 minutes are not too impressive visually, but I was able to clear the weeds around all these tomatoes, as well as around the basil plants in the raised bed just off to the south. I also pulled a few of the larger weeds in the path.

Weeding the Wedge (after weeding)

Weeding the Wedge (after weeding)

I tacked on a little un-accounted time by mowing the back lawn. I figure it’s most effective to mulch right after weeding. If there are already weeds in a bed, there’s a chance they’ll weasel their way through the mulch. If there are only weed seeds, the mulch will have a better chance of smothering them. Plus, the soil was damp and a mulch would help keep that moisture from evaporating. I don’t time how long it takes to harvest grass clippings, mostly because it’s not a task I’m about to stop halfway. It costs what it costs in terms of time. I was able to gather enough clippings to blanket most of the tomatoes. Next time, maybe there’ll be enough for the basil, too. On the positive side, the amount of mulch on the wedge bed proper looks to be optimal. I’ll just supplement it a bit as it decomposes throughout the season.

Well, that’s it for today. Now I get to sit on the back porch and admire my handiwork at least until tomorrow.

Weeding the Wedge (after mulching with grass clippings)

Weeding the Wedge (after mulching with grass clippings)

Posted in • Growing.

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Before and After: What 20 Minutes Looks Like (7) – The End Cap Bed

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Our gardens are divided into beds distributed around the property. Our design was to have the kitchen gardens integrated into the yards, rather than having one big rectangular plot, so we have squares and circles and pathways between. This gives us lots of flexibility with planting, with plot rotation, and with indicating which bed we are talking about because they all have different names!

This year, I decided to put tomatoes in the End Cap bed, where we have not grown them before. The bed is about 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep. In my book, that’s big enough for 6 tomatoes and a couple of basil around the perimeter. Keeping the individual plant’s growth habits in mind, we plant our plants closer together and stagger them to discourage weed growth between the plants, practice which come out of the biodynamic French intensive gardening traditions.

Before planting, some clean up was needed. Weeds had gotten a little bit of a foothold here, so I removed most of those. I think a good way to view weeds is competitors to your plants for nutrition from the soil and sunlight; you want to minimize that competition and give your plants the edge. There’s no need in totally obsessing over weeds however. Do what you can in the time you have. They’ll be back regardless, so you’ll have another chance!

The End Cap Garden "after"

The End Cap Garden “after”

I also wanted to get the tomatoes in the ground as quickly as possible. We have sometimes made the mistake of bringing home more sets than we have time to get planted in a weekend, say. Seedlings do okay in trays, but they really want to be in the soil, deepening their roots and stretching their stalks. Get them in the ground as quickly as possible for the best results all around.

That’s what I accomplished in 20 minutes!

PS: if you haven’t gotten your garden in, it’s not too late! Think small and successful. A half dozen tomatoes and some basil plants make a great little garden. In 20 minutes or so, that could be yours!

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Garden Inventory 2015

Plant Sets

The 2015 Garden is in the ground and ready to grow! Here’s what we’ve planted so far:

Tomatoes:
Cuor di Buoi (Project Grow) — Red — Oxheart — 80 days
Dunneaux (Project Grow) — Red — Paste — late
Costolutto Genovese (Project Grow) — Red — Saladette — Mid
Stupice (Project Grow) — Red — Saladette — Early
Purple Russian (Project Grow) — Purple — Paste — Mid/late
Cherokee Purple (Project Grow) — Purple — Beefsteak — Mid/late. Popular dark tomato; tasty.
Saucy (Project Grow) — Red — Paste — Mid. Extremely productive bush plants
Brandywine Tomato (Farmers’ Market) — 90 -100 days
Roma Tomato (Farmers’ Market) — 76 days
Black Prince (Farmers’ Market) — 70-90 days
Japanese Trifele (Farmers’ Market) — 85 days

Peppers:
Corno di Toro (Farmers Market) — 68-72 days
Jalapeño (Farmers Market)– 65-75 days
Ancho Hot Peppers (Farmers’ Market) — Green 68 days; Red 93
California Wonder (Project Grow) — 70 days
Sweet Pimento (Project Grow) — 80 days
Bull’s Horn Mix (project Grow) — 80 days

Others:
Table Ace Squash (Farmers’ Market) — 70-78 days
Extra Triple Curled Parsley (Farmers’ Market) — 75 days
Raider Cucumber (Farmers’ Market) — 62 days
Little Fingers Eggplant (Farmers’ Market) — 71 days
Waltham Butternut Winter Squash (Farmers’ Market) — 82-97 days
Sugar Baby Watermelon (Farmers’ Market) — 73-86 days
Italian Green Sprouting Broccoli (Farmers’ Market) — 70 days
Santo Coriander (Farmers’ Market)
Gem Marigold (Farmers’ Market)
Disco Red Marigold (Farmers’ Market)
Disco Yellow Marigold (Farmers’ Market)
Large Leaf Italian Basil

Perennials:
Asparagus
Black raspberries
Black currants
Red currants
Horseradish
Rhubarb
Pippen Apple (2)
Roxbury Russet Apple
Strawberries
Sage, thyme, rosemary, lovage, mint…

I’ll add on what I’ve forgotten as I remember!

Here’s to another great gardening season!

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