My non-apologies for the length of this post. I’m sure you’re here doing exactly what I was doing to make this post possible (avoiding life). So grab a cup of tea, then sit back and enjoy!
This is a strange concept really, because normally I would choose to avoid cooking. Like set-fire-to-the-stove avoid. But my life is currently in a bit of a twister, and so I did what anyone might have done. I avoided my life and made Watermelon Preserves. This is something from my childhood that is a comfort food. I’ve had the recipe (well, if you can call it that) for about 15 years, and this was the first time I’ve tried it. You must understand then that my schedule crisis must be significant – for me to attempt this thing that I LOVE but have put off for this long. I understand now why I put it off. See, the recipe is hand-written on a half sheet of paper, now faded and stained from being shuffled in that box of recipes for so long. It’s moved from CA to TX to GA to OH to DE and to its final home here (yes, I moved with the recipe box through all those states too). But that half-sheet is misleading. When you see a half-sheet recipe, you don’t imagine that the thing will take 3 days to accomplish. At least I didn’t. Apart from that little section that says to soak something overnight – there is NOTHING that would make you think it would take as long as it did. But I’m getting ahead of myself. (In hindsight I did notice the writers’ recognition of the lengthy procedure where she says "to speed up the process." I wonder if she was successful)
In addition to cooking, I actually took pictures too (big shock, huh?) Thought you’d enjoy the experience, but in a fraction of the time, even considering how long you’ll be reading this. You’re welcome. And you know, because there’s so much for me to accomplish
this week, today, t his hour immediately yesterday, I’m going to bring you the full report. Right now. Yet another symptom of this growing avoidance phenomenon. I’m not even calling it procrastination. No, that word is for the people who intend to do the work, but just not yet. You understand that I’m trying to get out of doing it altogether. Like "go ahead, fire me!"
Watermelon Preserves (I grew up calling it "Waatlemoen Konfyt") probably stems from my ancestor’s desperate attempt to make every resource go as far as it possibly could. So when the rest of the world was eating their delicious watermelon meat (you know – that reddish pink part), my countrymen were thinking "there has to be something that we can use the rest of this stuff for" (referring to the white covered-with-green-peel part of the watermelon – the rind). So here is what they came up with. And after taste-testing during the process, I can’t imagine the first people a) deciding to go through this process, b) experimenting with the ingredients and c) doing it until they got it "right." I mean, it is insane. I’m so glad they didn’t give up though. I have to admit that I nearly gave up at day 2. I was positive it just couldn’t work out. This might have something to do with the fact that the hand-written recipe was
slightly significantly vague in most steps.
First, you cut the watermelon and eat the naturally yummy stuff (or in this case, throw it out – it was a dud watermelon. I had to find a redeeming quality to make me feel better about the purchase, so I embarked on this adventure). Then you peel the green part off (just like a cucumber, only tougher).
The old people didn’t tell me what to do with this green part. They probably took it out to the "hole" (my grandmother had one – it was a composting hole – so it didn’t go to waste). Or maybe they gave it to the chickens
(I didn’t feed it to the chickens – I fed it to the garbage disposal. Right while the dishwasher was running. DON’T run the disposal while the dishwasher is draining. The peels get washed to the other side of the drain -under the other sink- and it clogs the whole system, making Prince Farming not-so-very happy to have to do an indoor plumbing job while the barn plumbing job is still unfinished.)
After peeling the entire watermelon, you have to poke it with a fork. I imagine that the first time this recipe was made, way back when, they omitted this step. I mean, it doesn’t totally make sense. Until you’re part way through, and it’s just not working. I’m sure the poking of it was probably in the 3rd attempt. I imagine them saying (like after day 1 1/2) "maybe if we prick holes in the stuff it might get softer faster." (these last two words almost rhyming)
This was a bit tedious. Do you have any idea how hard watermelon rind is? And how MUCH rind there is on a watermelon? But I was in the beginning of the process, and still full of courage.
The next part was the easiest to accomplish, but the worst for what I was really trying to do. My objective was: AVOID. This next step allowed me to engage. I had to soak the cut-up pieces of naked, poked rind in baking soda water. Actually, the old people used slaked lime. But a) I have no clue what slaked lime is, and b) I had a box of baking soda handy. I didn’t make this comparison/leap on my own. It was actually provided on the recipe. This soaking had to occur for 12 hours.
My concern was that the watermelon pieces were floating, and therefore not getting all the benefits of the huge pot of baking soda water they were in. I put a dinner plate on top of them and pushed them down (ever so gently – no displacement spillage). I had to wonder here: Did they initially soak the rind in plain water, and it just didn’t work? What made them add slaked lime to the mix? I can tell you, these people were determined to get the rind into something edible. And enjoyably so.
After the baking soda soak, I rinsed the rind (twice, it said) in fresh water. And let it soak in fresh water for 2 hours. I half thought it might be to get rid of the residual toxins of that slaked lime or concentrated baking soda. Not sure.
So here’s where I thought the process would speed up. Boil the rind in water. Until you can poke it with a matchstick. I thought this was strange. But then I remembered that they probably didn’t have toothpicks back then. After completing the process, I imagine they would have suggested a matchstick over a toothpick anyway. They really needed the rind to be broken down more than just fork-prick tender. I really wish I would have timed this part. I didn’t. Nor did they. What I can tell you is that it boiled. For a very. Long. Time. And I only broke one match-stick trying to poke that dull end into the rind. I didn’t take a picture of this step. You know what boiling water looks like. And you can imagine the soaking picture above, just at a higher temperature.
After more than 2 hours of boiling in water, I transferred the rind into boiling syrup. A lot of syrup. Made with sugar, water, salt, lemon juice, and fresh ginger. The recipe called for 2 pieces of bruised ginger. I wonder if, way back when, they could go to a store and purchase bruised ginger. Because when it calls for 2 pieces, I had to ask – how big is a piece? The piece I had would have been 2 tablespoons, had I chopped it up. It’s all the ginger I had, so I used it. Except I rebelliously chopped it into FIVE pieces – hoping to make it go a bit farther.
You can see that this still looks like watermelon. There is still a greenish and pinkish hue to it. I was fairly skeptical at this point, because it’s NOT what I remember Waatlemoen Konfyt looking like. After all the abuse, you’d think it would start changing appearance at least slightly. I was in Day 2. I can tell I have matured over the past 10 years. Ten years ago I would have opened the back door and thrown this whole pot of junk out. And maybe covered it with some leaves. But somewhere between my maturity level and the still strong desire to avoid, I kept on going. I was sure that since the rind was SO tender (what, with being poked, and soaked, and boiled till a match-stick could slide in) it would absorb this delicious syrupy mix and be all done.
I washed all the cute little jars and lids in preparation for the final step. I put the lids in a pot to boil and the jars in the oven (steralize). I was ready.
It boiled. And boiled. And boiled. The 3 litres of syrup reduced and reduced and reduced. For a L O N G time. At 10:30 pm I got up to check on the stupid thing and all the syrup was gone. And the rind wasn’t done. I turned off the stove and went to bed. I was sure that the whole thing was a complete and utter failure. It sat on the stove over night (again) and all morning (while I did some of the work I was trying to avoid). Then I had to clean the house because we have a group who meets here every Tuesday evening and it’s a great motivator to get things picked up and wiped off. But there sat this massive gooey pot of junk, like an elephant in the middle of the room. So I mixed up more syrup. Without fresh ginger. I added some powdered ginger, just in case. And I brought the whole mess to a boil. Again. For a LONG time. But guess what!!~? It started changing color and texture. The recipe said for it to boil until the pieces were translucent. The night before I could still see greenish/pink. And I could see the fork-pokes fairly clearly. NOT the image I had from my childhood. But on this attempt at boiling, I could see the change in some of the smaller pieces. So I turned up the heat and let it boil more. And finally,
It looked more like what I remember. The pieces were translucent.
I could finally drop these puppies into their jars. The only slight hang-up was that syrup was supposed to fill all the jars around the watermelon preserves. But I was totally out of sugar! Do you have any idea how much sugar this recipe takes? It called for 1kg of sugar for every 1kg of rind. Having no kitchen scale and no idea how to guess a kg, I just "wung" it. So not all the jars are filled with syrup. That’s okay. I’ll eat the "empty" one first. This stuff is SWEET. And yummy. And amazing. And wonderful. And DONE.
I used to eat these preserves sliced, and on bread. After Googling it, I see that people around the world eat Waatlemoen Konfyt as an accompaniment on a cheese platter. Mmmmmm. That sounds good too. You’ll notice I haven’t shared the recipe (other than the photo of the half-sheet). It’s not because I’m not willing. I’m more than happy to spread the wealth. I just can’t imagine someone going through this ordeal without a foretaste of what they’ll end up with. If you would like the recipe, I’ll be happy to send it. OR you can get a copy here. Scroll down, click on "preserves" and then scroll down to Watermelon Preserves.
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LATER EDIT: Some stroke of insight hit me while I was doing some of my avoided work. I’ll send a cute little jar of Waatlemoen Konfyt as "Blog Candy" to one of my lucky readers!! Simply leave a comment on this post between now and October 23, and then I’ll do a drawing and email you for your address, and you’ll get to experience the fruits of my labor!! How easy is that!!?