By Kristen Miglore
Today: The best part of the watermelon might be the skin. Discuss.
The stiff, white outer wall of the watermelon—for good reason—has always seemed like nature’s cue to stop. “Back it up,” says Nature. “Oh, and don’t forget to compost ;)”
In reality, it isn’t a stop sign, but a yield; like so many of the secret treasures of the plant kingdom (looking at you, artichoke!), you just need to suspend judgment and know the right way to get in.
Here, in Olia Hercules’ Watermelon Skin Jam from her new, beautiful Ukrainian cookbook Mamushka, the navigation is pretty straightforward: Peel off the tough green skin, chop up the white remains, mix them with sugar and lime and let them macerate overnight, then cook it all down to a sticky conserve.
Despite the simplicity, you might be wondering if it’s worth the trouble, and I don’t blame you. I tried not to take it on myself (I already have jam, so…). I made it only halfway the first time, then got lazy and passed the recipe off to Lindsay-Jean Hard, our editor who oversees a lot of noble projects, including our new Cooking with Scraps column.
But after tasting her jam at our photo shoot, I had to steal the recipe back for this column (Lindsay-Jean is also the mom of a toddler, so she’s very patient and versed in trouble-making). Since then, I’ve made several variations, including one without lime (tastes like sweet honeydew!) and one leaving on the dark green skins (olive-colored, and only marginally chewier!).
In jam form, the rind holds its own: What was once pale and crunchy turns into sticky, glassy caramel, with a slight candied chew. The lime slices are candied, too, adding fragrance, acid, and a bitter edge, as good marmalades do. “When I was little, it seemed like all of the ‘old people’ in my sphere had Sunkist Fruit Gems lying around,” Lindsay-Jean told me. “This reminds me of the lime-flavored ones.”
Yes, this is about making clever use of waste, as we’re trying to do more and more these days. But it’s also about seeing a new side of a fruit that provides a pretty straightforward experience most of the time. And not only does it have more depth and personality than you ever thought watermelon could, it’s also the backbone to a better and brighter marmalade.
Plus, if you’ve already lugged a 10-pound watermelon home—you might as well make the most of it. Now we just need to figure out what to do with those seeds.
Olia Hercules’ Watermelon Rind Jam
Slightly adapted from Mamushka (Mitchell Beazley, 2015)
Makes two 450-milliliter (¾-pint) jars
500 grams (1 pound) watermelon skin, tough thin green rind peeled and discarded, white skin finely chopped
300 grams (10 ounces) golden caster sugar (or substitute superfine sugar or demerara or turbinado, ground fine in the food processor)
4 limes, halved and thinly sliced
- Mix all the ingredients together in a container, cover with cling film, and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
- Cook the mixture in a non-reactive saucepan over low heat, making sure the sugar melts before it boils, for 50 minutes or until the watermelon skin turns translucent.
- Pour into 2 warm sterilized 450-milliliter (¾-pint) jars, seal and let cool. Store in the refrigerator. It should keep unopened for several months.
Photos by Bobbi Lin.