Avoidance Cooking

 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, this 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!!?

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24 Responses to “Avoidance Cooking”

  1. Becky Says:

    I hope your “Waatlemeon Konfyt” lasts you a long time. Cause I imagine it will be a long time before you decide to try this again.
    I have never heard of it. Maybe if someday I try it and like it, I will be willing to spend 3 days making it.

  2. Lady Fi Says:

    My goodness – the patience! The determination to avoid whatever it is you’re avoiding… and for three days! Still, I’m glad it was worth it, cos it will probably be another ten years until the next time…

    In Brazil and Spain, they have a sort of very sticky jam that comes in slices and which is delicious eaten with strong cheese. (And then again, Christmas cake is also yummy with cheese…)

  3. hayseed Says:

    Hi, this reminds me of a poem we read in high school (and actually the title of the poetry book) by John Tobias:

    Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle
    Received from a Friend Called Felicity

    During that summer
    When unicorns were still possible;
    When the purpose of knees
    Was to be skinned;
    When shiny horse chestnuts
    (Hollowed out
    fitted with straws
    crammed with tobacco
    stolen from butts
    In family ashtrays)
    Were puffed in green lizard silence
    While straddling thick branches
    Far above and away
    From the softening effects
    of civilization;

    During that summer–
    Which may never have been at all;
    But which has become more real
    Than the one that was—
    Watermelons ruled.

    Thick pink imperial slices
    Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
    Dribbling from chin;
    leaving the best part,
    The black bullet seeds,
    To be spit out in rapid fire
    Against the wall
    Against the wind
    Against each other;

    And when the ammunition was spent,
    There was always another bite;
    It was a summer of limitless bites,
    Of hungers quickly felt
    And quickly forgotten
    With the next careless gorging.

    The bites are fewer now.
    Each one is savored lingeringly,
    Swallowed reluctantly.

    But in a jar put up by Felicity,
    The summer which maybe never was
    Has been captured and preserved.
    And when we unscrew the lid
    And slice off a piece
    And let it linger on our tongue;
    Unicorns become possible again.

  4. Madge Says:

    you. are. crazy.

  5. Maggie Says:

    I really love Tobias’s poem (sent by Hayseed), by the way! It reminds me of several British poets including Dylan Thomas.

    OK, first off – you are amazing to attempt this recipe – I WELL remember this “konfyt” growing up – we also called it “Melon and Ginger jam” but ran all the words together in a sort of melodic way, melonangingerjam. It wasn’t actually my favourite – the way we’d get it in jam tins and the way it was the ubiquitous jam in boarding school (that, and the infamous “pumpkin” jam – which was, we thought, falsely named “mixed fruit”). But I have to say, the REAL stuff – homemade – was, and is, EXCELLENT. I LOVED your detailed and gritted teeth description of your efforts – hilarious really, if I didn’t identify too personally with the pain involved!
    We must be kindred spirits…
    Anyway, I really was planning a comment before reading your last paragraph, but if I win the draw, that would be a bonus – a very tasty and appreciative-of-the-sweat-and-tears one!!
    Enjoy the fruits of your labours!

  6. Mandy Says:

    I started this feeling all inspired to ask you for the recipe – I miss konfyt & the thought of it all grown-up with cheese!! Now I figure I’ll go to the SA shop 30min away & see if I can just buy a jar… You don’t want to try green fig preserve next do you – it could be quicker…

  7. Reluctantfarmchik Says:

    Becky – thanks for stopping by. I think I’ll have the Konfyt around for a while :-) Unless I start feeling generous and start giving it all away.

    Lady Fi – your visits make me smile. Yes, strong cheese and Konfyt would be fantastic. Will try it, as soon as I get to town to buy strong cheese.

    Hayseed – I love, love, love your poem. Thanks so much for sharing it!

    Maggie – you ought to come by; we could have rooibos and konfyt, and I think I even have some rusks stashed away. Actually, of all the jams they served, Melonandginger was my favorite – I’d go “trade” our mixed fruit bowl with another unsuspecting table who had melonandginger. YUM. It’s a totally different taste and texture.

    Mandy – you have to catch me up on your life – would you attempt this madness? I’d probably eat all the figs before they had time to preserve. It’s almost impossible to find fresh figs here, and I L O V E figs.

  8. Mandy Says:

    Had green fig preserve in the Cape last year – & I’d be addicted if a) I had any idea where to get green (ie unripe – I think) figs here or b) if I could be bothered producing something so time-consuming anyway. BTW Mum says hi & can she have konfyt recipe – apparently she is game to try… I’m game to be finished product tester…

  9. Louise Says:

    I must say I’m shocked. Well, sort of. I can definitely see the “avoiding,” thing.

    This bears NO resemblance to watermelon. Rind. I’m with you on who in the world thought of this and what process go them here? Really, I can’t imagine it ever got to a finished product.

    Terrific story. I’m avoiding going to bed, which I tend to do when I’m in Missouri. (The whole single parent thing.)

  10. Renou Says:

    Send me a jar too. . . even if I don’t win!

  11. Maggie Says:

    Now, now. Net omdat jy ‘n boetie is, dink jy, jy kan al die lekkergoed “bonsella” kry?…All right, we’ll let you cheat. ;-) . Your childhood life of sibling rivalry must have its rewards!

  12. Cally Barlow Says:

    Hi there
    I searched the length and breadth of UK to find “kalk” – this is what they call slaked lime in South Africa – with no joy. Went back to where I had lived in SA and asked a WPK(Farmers stores). “We have it in 20kg bags” I only wanted 500gms so was sent to the chemist where I bought two packets. It is fine white powder so put it in my hold luggage rather than hand so as to avoid questions at customs!! Today I bought the watermelon and tomorrow I shall begin the process, eagerly awaiting the finished result. I made fig konfyt by the bucketful when I lived on a farm in SA and gave it as presents. This year my fig tree may produce enough figs to make one pot. I can’t wait.

  13. Nadia Says:

    It is finding little gems like these that make me miss home oh so much.
    When i left Cape Town i never thought that i would miss it so much, especially the food.
    As i sit here on an island in the South Pacific, i find myself searching for recipes that will taint my kitchen with the unique aroma of South African cuisine.
    When i was a little girl i had this dear old lady who took care of me in the afternoons. She was the master of konfyt. Apparently i always smelled like konfyt when i got home. lol.

    I know the process is long…but i have a serious craving for watermelon konfyt.
    I would love and cherish this recipe if you would be so kind to share it with me.

    Happy cooking

  14. meta ottosson Says:

    Thank you so much for your account of how to make konfyt! I am currently translating ZoĆ« Wicomb’s book Playing in the Light into Swedish and I was completely lost when I met this in the text: /…/ an extra bowl of konfyt to the church bazaar which, by the way, she expects Brenda to make. All that PRICKING of melon has become too much for her arthritic hands. Now I know exactly why the old lady did not want to do the cooking of konfyt.
    Meta Ottosson

  15. Jai Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I never had watermelon konfyt in SA but I knew about it. I grew up in Natal. I searched for a recipe in 2006 and found one from Australia but it was a pickle with some spices and turned out good. Now that we have watermelon in full season I tried this konyft and i had a recipe with me in one of my copies of Your Family magazine that I brought with me. The recipe was perfect expect that I also had to cook it a long time in the last stage and it seemed like I was running out of the syrup so your write up helped me. I still ran out of syrup for the last jar and I found another comment which said you could leave it without syrup and sevr it as candy, which I did this last saturday at our church meeting as dessert and everyone loved it very much. I will try and attach my photos. Thanks for all the details they do rally help.

  16. Jai Says:

    By the way I think all of you from SA are now in USA, I am in Israel and I enjoy cooking all SA food all the time. I did not have kalk so I soaked the rind in a mixture of bicar and water with some salt and it worked very well. Thanks again for sharing.

  17. Becky Says:

    Thanks for the recipe.

    I had a craving for konfyt and thought I’d attempt the recipe. Wow, was this a tricky one but worth it in the end!

  18. Angie Says:

    HI RFC from MAC Nelson Mandela Bay SA
    This comes a bit later than the rest of your thread but as a result of some googling re use of limewater – WHY??? – for preserving figs and waatlemoen.I love what you wrote – very entertaining – and sense the longing for the comfort stuff of yesteryear. Well, Waatlemoen konfyt and green fig preserve is hot on my list of to dos here in the Eastern Cape.Every fruit and veg place as well as home industry sells the stuff at fiercely exorbitant prices (go figure) Did you know the watermelon preserve is now known as Makataan.(Pronounced Afrikaans way Muckertaarn, its etymology is actually Venda).Folks look blankly at you if you ask for konfyt nowadays. Language moves on I guess, as well as the rest of our country.

    My co-author and I have a favourite recipe for using fig or watermelon preserves: Slice a camembert round as though splitting a sponge cake, sandwich the two halves with roughly chopped preserved fruit. Slather/ice/”frost”(for USA) the reassembled cheese ‘cake’ with cream cheese (OK, LO-FAT cottage if you must)and roll into toasted split almonds. Slice and serve with savoury biscuits. NUMNUMNUMNUMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    Here’s some info picked up on the net about slaked lime and other interesting miscellany:
    Thanks for you blog – good read.

    Lye or Lye water in Asian cooking is used as both a preservative and it breaks down hard fibers, as the lye opens up the fibers to allow them to cook, and you do not cook thing in lye, but soak them or treat them to soften them before cooking and you rinse off the the lye.The lye assists in hydrating the fish and also prevents spoilage. Then several changes of fresh water are used over a day or so to flush out excess lye and “firm up” the fish to the desired texture.The source of most quicklime (calcium oxide) and slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) is limestone, commonly called lime. I think the fruit lime has a completely unrelated origin for the name. Limestone is heated to a high temperature in a furnace, resulting in calcium oxide. When you add water to this ‘quicklime’ it reacts to form slaked lime, releasing a _lot_ of heat. If you drop single drops of water on quicklime, you can actually get little puffs of steam. The term quicklime comes from the old use of quick to mean living or alive, as in ‘the quick and the dead’. Slaked is course from ‘to slake one’s thirst’. Slaked lime is quick lime that is no longer ‘thirsty’. ;) What is Limelight?
    The principle of burning limestone to produce light was discovered in 1825 by a Scotsman named Thomas Drummond. Limelight is created by heating a block of quicklime using a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen. This produces an intense white light, which, when projected from a lantern with a reflector and lens, is highly directional.
    How was it Used in Theater?
    Limelight was first used in 1837 for the pantomime season at Covent Garden in London, England. It was generally used for effects or following performers around the stage. Because the quicklime block needed to be adjusted constantly to maintain an even beam from the limelight, each one required an operator.
    What Replaced Limelight?
    Limelights were replaced with electric arc lamps as follow spots in the early 20th century, although their legacy remains. Follow spots and their operators are still sometimes referred to as “limes” in theaters, and the phrase “in the limelight” refers to their use to highlight a particular person onstage.

  19. Megan Says:

    Ooohhh I’m so glad I came past this post. I’m attempting it right now (about to rinse and soak the rind for two hours).

    I’ve had a lot of the same questions running through my head, although I think I am slightly crazy to make it, as when I tried it in South Africa as a seven year old I didn’t like it!

    Thanks for sharing the experience!

  20. Trevor Says:

    And the blog goes on. Thanks for the narration of your trials and tribulations. We live in Toronto and my wife Avril decided to make it using your recipe. Yep, it was the boiling time that was the challenge. but fortunately it is Summer and we did it on the side burner of the barbecue. My mom and mysister came along and though my sister has only made it once (she says 40 years ago, both of them immediately told us that we should not have the lid on the pot. Well, it wasn’t mentioned here so we knew no better although it makes absolute sense that it will thicken faster if the water evaporates faster.

    Thank you, I’m eating it right now and it tastes just great with a very nice texture.

    Now I have to search for a good fig and orange preserve recipe.

  21. Noelene Says:

    Diedre, thank you for such a candid account of konfyt making.. lol! I am still laughing….
    Cant wait to try the recipe(!?)/ concoction. will keep you informed of my attempts to mimic your konfyt!!!

  22. Carol Manning Says:

    This is a fantastic story that i will get my other Safrican friend to read through, cry and laugh at the same time. we live in Noosa, have you heard that song Another Day in Paradise, well that’s mythological Noosa, Queensland,Aus.
    before we meet on Tuesday (small prayer group) I will attempt to make this mess and pray that I’m not ashamed, but I’ll only offer some to Mary, as she may have had the same ervarnis (experience?). Thank you for this delightful story recipe. You can put it on dvde and make a fortune – may be quicker than konfyt!

  23. Gordon Hall Says:

    Hi Rel,
    Waatlemoen konfyt is all very well, but did you ever run into the other kind of African melon (never knew its name) that grew out of cowpats? That’s the one my folks made melon konfyt from. I was looking for references to that melon when I came across your page. Hou die blinkkant bo!

  24. Andre Says:

    That is a good story and I am glad it turned out alright.
    I remember my Gran always used to make the stuff and give us kids a bottle of it each whenever we used to visit her. It brought back pleasant childhood memories from 30 years ago which is about the last time I ever had it. Thank you so much for that.
    Mooi man!

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