Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grandma Food : Part I : Watermelon Pickles

I had my first canning experience on Monday!  I have been slowly collecting my Grandma's recipes.  I believe that food is very important and is tied to a lot of memories.  I will always remember eating, and helping to make, what I call Grandma Food.  This list includes: Watermelon Pickles, Danish Pickles, Macaroni Salad, Potato Salad, Cucumber Salad, Frikadeller and many cookies.  By learning how to make these recipes now, I hope to always remember my Grandma whenever I make one of her foods. 

For today's post, I am choosing the Grandma Food of Watermelon Pickles!  For the recipe, my Grandma gave me this copy.

It obviously came from a cookbook.  Haven't asked her which one, any ideas? 

I did a lot of googling Monday about how to can and it turns out that the basics of canning has changed a lot in the past few decades.  My Grandma used what is called the "Open Kettle" method of sanitizing the jars, lids and rings with boiling water.  Then, while keeping the jar in a pot of boiling water, adding the pickles and sealing the jar.  The recipe pictured above is indeed older, since it makes no mention of a water bath after sealing the jars. 

The new canning guidelines recommend that on top of sanitizing the jars, lids and rings, that you also completely submerge the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes or more (aka a water bath).  This is to kill any bacteria that may have gotten into the jar from the air.  I am not a pro at this by any means; I got my information from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

The idea of canning watermelon rinds came to me Saturday while I was visiting family (including Grandma) and my mom had a huge watermelon.  I decided this would be perfect because I wouldn't have to eat all of the watermelon in order to get the rind and Grandma was there to help me cut it up.  So, I cut up the watermelon, removing most of the red from the rind and cutting in around in approximately 4" sections.  Grandma makes her pickles 1/2" by 4" large instead of the 1" cubes specified in the recipe.  It was also mentioned by Grandma that my pickles wouldn't be as thick as hers.  I don't have a source on this, but I believe it is true that watermelons have been bred to produce more red fruit and less white rind over the years.  I am sure that this doesn't bother most people...only those using the rind for pickles or preserves.

Once returning home on Sunday, I peeled the red and green off of the rind and sliced it up into 1/2" by ~4" pieces.  I then put the pieces in a bowl and covered with salty water to set overnight in the fridge.  The next day, I drained, rinsed and allowed the rinds to cook until tender.

At the same time, I prepared the liquid.  The cloves and cinnamon sticks were placed in a cheese cloth to be easily removed later.  My Grandma puts the lemons in the cheese cloth as well (to be removed), but I decided to follow the recipe and keep them in the pot.

Once the liquid was boiled for 10 minutes, I removed the spice packet and added the tender rinds in the pot.  Overcome by the smell that reminded me of Grandma Food, I also decided to make tea out of the spice packet.  It was interesting, to say the least...

This next step took longer than I expected.  The rinds needed to boil until they were translucent.  I found the recipe to be misleading when it only stated to "Simmer until clear."  Simmer until what was clear?  The liquid?  I had to call Grandma.  Luckily, having eaten my fair share of these in the past, I knew what the final product was supposed to look like, so I simmered them until they look translucent..or I guess you could say clear.

Here's 2 photo's of my work station:

I have my jars sanitizing themselves in the pressure cooker on the right.  I used the pressure cooker because, after realizing I needed a water bath, which in turn needed a rack on the bottom, that the pressure cooker was the only thing I had with a bottom rack.  This is the first time I have used the pressure cooker even though I got it as a gift for canning a few years ago.  The front small burner holds the lids and rings which I brought to boiling to sanitize and behind that in the large pot is the rinds.  On the cutting board I have wooden tweezers for lifting the rings and lids, a small towel to wipe the rims, slotted spoon for pickles, ladle for the liquid and a small spatula to remove air bubbles.  To the right of the burners is my brand new jar lifter.

Once the rinds were finished cooking, I removed the jars one by one from the pressure cooker to the cutting board and added first pickles to 1/2" from the top followed by the juice.  I then used the small spatula between the side of the jar and the pickles to remove any air bubbles.  Before sealing the jars with the lids and rings, I wiped off the tops of the jars in order to have a good seal.

 This is where my Grandma would have stopped.  But in order to follow good canning guidelines, and not poison my friends and family, I decided to do the 10 minute water bath.

One interesting thing I noticed was that even though my thermometer read 250 deg F, the water still wasn't boiling...

Sorry I didn't get any intermediate pictures of actually filling the cans.  I will have to have the boyfriend take some pics next time.  Here is the final product:

In a few weeks I will open one up and see if they taste like Grandma's.  I think I may have caught the "canning bug".  If I have enough time, don't be surprised to see more canning posts this fall!

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