Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ginger Infused Preserved Watermelon Rind in Fun Shapes

Watermelon Rind Preserves Cut in Fun Shapes

To Preserve Watermelon Rind

Boil the rind until soft & put it in a dish to cool, boil ¾ lb. of sugar for a first sirrup, while hot stir in fine ginger enough to flavour it, when both are cold put them in a pot and keep it tied until the rind absorb the sugar. then strain the sirrup & with it wash the ginger from the rind. ¾ lb. sugar boild & cooled, then put in the rind & tie it up tight.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

About Watermelon
Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, is native to Africa and has a very long history of cultivation, as seen in wall paintings in ancient Egypt that date back to before 2000 BC. By the 10th -12th centuries AD, watermelons had spread to the Mediterranean and to India and China. However, the historic record shows no signs that the Ancient Greeks and Romans knew about watermelons until after the fall of the Roman Empire. In addition, because watermelons grow better in hot climates they did better in southern Europe than in the colder northern climates.

Watermelons reached the New World in 1613 when slave traders brought them first to Brazil and then to Massachusetts. Watermelon cultivation in the Americas really took off and over the years many new varieties have been produced. As a result, watermelons today can come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Watermelons in 19th Century Maryland
Commercial watermelon sales are hard to track in the 19th century because advertisements for them in local papers and city directories are hard to find, suggesting they were locally grown and sold. However, because Morris includes this recipe in her journal, we do know that watermelons played a role in the diet of the 19th century white Baltimore elite. Furthermore, according to food historian, Michael Twitty, watermelons played a part in the diet of enslaved Afro-Marylanders, as well. He writes, "Just as in West and Central Africa, the women here cultivate small fenced in gardens around their homes, thatched much as they would have been back home. She sees corn, peppers, okra, watermelons, squashes, pumpkins, black eyed peas, muskmelons, eggplants, onions, and tomatoes growing--much as she would in any of the gardens she once kept in her home compound."

About Watermelon Rind Preserves
All watermelon rind can be preserved in sugar and/or vinegar; however, there is one variety, Citrullus lanatus var. citroides, or the Citron Watermelon, that is good for preserving the flesh as well as the rind. These melons are naturally bitter so they are not good for eating raw and are therefore always preserved. Interestingly, these melons are also considered the ancestor of the modern sweet watermelon. You can read more about them by clicking here.

About the Recipe
As has been typical with Mrs. Morris's recipes, this one is another example of an aide memoire, not an actual detailed recipe with step-by-step instructions. Morris assumed the recipe reader would have a certain level of knowledge and therefore she did not feel obliged to be too specific. As a result, I have had to look to other period recipes to get some more information.

Many 19th century recipes for preserved watermelon rind give directions to soak the rind in alum or lime to keep the rind crisp. Also, these recipes give directions to soak the rind with peach, grape, or vine leaves to impart a nice, green color to the rind. However, while watermelon rind preserves can be made green in this way they could also be dyed yellow with saffron or turmeric and lemon skins. Mrs. Morris's recipe does not specifically state that it should be dyed green with leaves, therefore I can assume she meant the rind to be yellow.

Additionally, many period watermelon rind preserve recipes give instructions to peel the outer skin off the rind and to cut the rind into either strips or pleasing shapes such as stars, diamonds, crescents, etc. Again, Morris left out this detail.

Here are two good period recipes to use as a guide to making Morris's version of preserved watermelon rind:

Favorite Dishes by Carrie Shuman (Chicago, 1893)

La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn (New Orleans, 1885)

Because I do not have access to peach, grape, or vine leaves and because Morris does not mention it in the recipe, I am skipping this step. Instead, I am going to make a yellow preserve by boiling the rind with lemon skins and saffron because I can certainly get those at any market. I will add ginger too because Morris does include that in her recipe.

additionally, I decided to cut the rind into some fun shapes to add to the visual appeal of the dish.

Preserved Watermelon Rind: Modern Recipe Redaction

  • 1 Large Watermelon
  • 2 Lemons, Seeded and Cut in Large Chunks 
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Saffron, Indian Saffron or Turmeric
  • 3  3/4 Pounds of Granulated Sugar (about 8 1/2 cups)
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
  1. Peel the outer green skin of the whole watermelon (it is easiest to do this before you cut into the melon). Discard the peel.
  2. Cut the watermelon into wide pieces. Cut out all of the red flesh. Some will remain on the rind, but get as much of it off as possible.
  3. Weigh your rind. You should have about 3 3/4 pounds of rind.
  4. Using cookie cutters, cut the rind into strips, starts, diamonds, flowers, crescents, etc. You will need to also use the edges from the cut-outs; you can just cut them up into small chunks.
  5. Place all of the rind, lemon chunks, and saffron (or other colorants) into a large stockpot and cover with water. Mix together. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the largest pieces of the rind are tender enough to be pierced with a sharp knife.
  6. About halfway through the simmering of the, place the sugar, ground ginger, and 3 3/4 cups water in a large stockpot. Mix together and bring to a boil over high heat. Stay near the syrup as it comes to a boil because it can easily start to boil over the edges of the pot. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, stir, and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until it starts to thicken slightly. 
  7. While the syrup is simmering, drain the water from the rind are remove the lemons and any lemon seeds that may have worked into the mix.
  8. Place the drained rind into the sugar syrup and simmer on medium-low for about 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rind looks translucent. You will know the rind is ready when the white spots that appear subsequently disappear. The cooking time for this will vary depending on the thickness of the rind.
  9. If you plan to use a water-bath canner, you can start sterilizing your jars while the rind is cooking in the syrup.
  10. Ladle the rind and syrup into the sterilized jars, seal, and process in a water-bath canner for the recommended amount of time for the jar size used.


  • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University, 2014)
  • Twitty, Michael. Fighting Old Nep, The Foodways of Enslaved Afro-Marylanders 1634-1864 (2006).

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