Summer is watermelon season: Here’s what you should know

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Summer is watermelon season: Here's what you should know

Mark Twain called watermelon, “Chief of this world’s luxuries … When one has tasted it, he knows what Angels eat.” I agree with Mr. Twain – but only when it’s eaten in season: A mealy center is certainly undesirable, so I always wait for the good stuff in summer when the melon is plump, juicy, and, dare I say it? Luxuriously sweet.

It’s a shame I don’t have any fresh melon to sink my teeth into right now. I do, however, have a few facts and a damn-good recipe instead. Settle in and learn a little bit about watermelon – though perhaps you should grab a slice first to quench your inevitable thirst.

Watermelon mania

Native to central Africa, traveling north to Europe when the Moors invaded Spain, and then brought to America on slave ships, watermelon provides much-needed hydration, especially in desert climates. There are as many as 1,200 different varieties spanning across 96 countries. Some have stripes, what we recognize most in the US, but many do not. Ranging in size, from just a few pounds up to 25, the flesh can be red, pink, yellow, or… purple? Actually, maybe not.

There are many exciting things to do with it – from salads (watermelon, tomato, feta, and an olive oil drizzle), popsicles, juice, grilled melon with arugula – the options are virtually endless. Or you can just eat it plain: sometimes fresh watermelon on it’s own is the most satisfying way to enjoy it.

Summer is watermelon season: Here's what you should know

And don’t forget about the rind. It’s magically delicious; check out my recipe for pickled watermelon rind here to try it yourself (or simply see below).

Watermelon events, festivities, and races are spread far and wide across the country: Check out the Run for the Melon Race held in Vining, MN on August 18, or the Watermelon Festival  September 7 – 9 in Kellogg, MN, for the very best taste before the end of summer.

Don’t live in Minnesota? Check out more watermelon events here, coming to a city near you.

Summer is watermelon season: Here's what you should know
My first batch of watermelon rind pickles

Pickled Watermelon Rind (the humbled pickle)

Makes 3 quarts

Ingredients:
2 lbs peeled watermelon rind, cubed (about 1 small melon)
48 oz. water
3.25 oz. kosher salt
1 lb sugar
12 oz. apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 preserved limes, julienne slices
2 tsp black peppercorn
6 dried chili’s
(I like to weigh ingredients when it comes to pickling; it’s more precise than measuring)

Preparation:
1. In large bowl, combine diced rind, water and salt. Allow to stand for 4 hours, then drain and rinse. Transfer the rind to a pot and cover with 1″ water. Bring to a boil, decrease to a simmer, and cook until tender/translucent, about 20 minutes. Drain.
2. In a pot over medium-high heat, simmer sugar, vinegar, lime, black peppercorn, and chili’s. Once the sugar has dissolved, pour over watermelon rind, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 2 weeks.
3. If you’re keen on preserving/canning, here’s what you do next: skip refrigeration and strain the brine, reserving the rind and spices. In a hot water bath, boil the jars in a fitted rack for 10 minutes -you’ll use this same pot to process the jars. Just before filling, put the jars on the counter and divide the rind, chili’s and spice among the jars (roughly six, 6-8 oz jars for this recipe). Soak the lids in hot water to soften the seal.
4. Transfer the brine to the jars by carefully pouring over the rind, leaving a 1/2″ space from jar’s rim. Check the jars for air pocket. I use a chopstick and stir around the contents to rid the jar of air. Add more brine if needed. Wipe the rims with a clean towel to ensure a clean seal, then screw on bands until snug but not tight.
5. Process jars by placing them in the pot with a rack, making sure enough water covers the top of the jars by 1″. Bring water to a boil and process 15 minutes. You’ll want to start the timer when the water reaches a boil. Turn off the heat and remove the jars. Allow to cool completely, label and store in a cool, dry place.

For more on watermelon, read this next: Jeff tried homemade Viagra (so you wouldn’t have to)