Watermelon pickles…or is it candy?

I invited our honorary sister Nicole (she of the welcomed abundance of post-church-potluck molé) to come over and share one of her family’s heirloom recipes, which is very timely in mid-August.  I give you Nicole’s Grandfather’s WATERMELON PICKLES!  (wild applause)

For goodness sakes, do NOT throw away your watermelon rinds!!!

In the tradition of all great “North Dakota-Farm-Families-That-Aren’t-Sure-
If-The-Great-Depression-Is-Really-Over-Yet-or-Not”, we have a practical and scrumptious use for those rinds you so flagrantly cast aside:  WATERMELON PICKLES.

My mom says they should be called Watermelon Candy.  But in the interest of maintaining the tradition of the grandfolks who have “passed on”, we will continue to call them pickles.  Forever and ever.

Don’t mess with tradition.  Unless you don’t have the right ingredients.  Then it’s a free-for-all.

I suppose a 4-day-long recipe is not for the faint of heart.  But it’s sooo worth it.  And kids looove the process: going back every day to see progress, the science of canning, yadda yadda…


(from the kitchen of Grandpa Bud and Grandma Bette — or at least they were the first generation to actually write the recipe down!)

Yield: 8 pints

Collect watermelon rinds until you have as much as a full watermelon will provide.

Night before: Pare extra red part away from rind (leave a narrow strip for color) and pare the hard, green outside part away. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Soak in salt water overnight.

Next day: Rinse in clear water, then boil in clear water until pieces are translucent. Drain. Pour hot syrup (see below) over hot rinds. Let sit.

2nd and 3rd days: Drain syrup off rinds into saucepan; heat to boiling; pour over rinds; let sit.

4th day: Add 2 small jars of maraschino cherries. Bring syrup, cherries, melon rinds to a boil. Pour into sterile jars and seal. (If you sterilize jars in dishwasher, pour pickles into jars when they are still hot from the dishwasher, then put hot lids on and they will seal [boil lids and rings in water to sterilize].)

Note from LB: After much research, I’m convinced it’s safer to put these into a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Better to be safe than sorry!

1 pint cider vinegar
7 cups sugar
1/2 tsp clove oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon oil

Heat to boiling before pouring over rinds.

41 thoughts on “Watermelon pickles…or is it candy?

  1. I remember reading about watermelon rind pickles in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book ‘Farmer Boy’ where Almanzo’s sister talked about doing it.

    It sounds…..strange and wonderful at the same time. I would like to try one piece. Just one.

    My motto “Try anything…..once”

  2. My mother used everything she could instead of throwing food items out. We just finished watermelon tonight and I remembered there was a recipe out there for these. Going to start the process tonight.


  3. If you want to you can also add a little food coloring before putting them in jars for a little festivity. Not that these need that! They are great just like they are.

    But the colors look really nice displayed on holiday trays and such.


  4. OH MY GOSH! These are fabulously delicious. This is my first time making these and the time was well worth it. I used 1/4 C salt w/4 C water for the salt brine. I also used 1 T broken cinnamon stick & 1-1/2 t whole cloves tied in a cheesecloth when boiling the syrup. The next day the house was a little pungent due to the heated cider, but not for long. I just had to taste them after the first syrup..oh yummy already..but from the 3rd day on I was constantly sampling, even my husband was and he would make the HMMMMMM sound signifying they were a hit already. Today I finally canned them and I have to tell you that after I added the cherries with the juice and they are like candy pickles and the color is a beautiful rich red..very festive for the holidays. They will make terrific gifts..I can’t wait. Thank You so much LB as this is going to be a tradition in this family.

  5. I am DELIGHTED to hear that our family tradition has become yours, as well! 🙂 I can’t wait to tell my dad (whose father this recipe came from)!

  6. I am Nicole’s dad. My dad was the wizard of watermelon pickels, he supplied the recipe for the watermelon pickles. From years of eating them, I recognize they are more like candy than pickles. Even for dad sometimes the pickels turned out softer instead of snappy. When they turn out snappy, there is no pickle better !!!
    I hope everyone’s pickles turn out snappy. Good luck and have fun.


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    • Where can I get the Lorann oils? I used to make these pickles and loved them! I made several batches and then in a house fire I lost them all! Anyway, the pharmacy doesn’t sell the oils any more and I don’t know where to get them in a hurry before watermelon season is over! Anybody know where I can get some? By the way, when I made them years ago, I never had enough rind to make a batch, so I asked my local grocery if they would save the rinds when they cut up the watermelon into chunks and I got a whole bag of rinds! Free!

      • Debbie, I looked, and you can get them on Amazon (not cheaply, but you don’t need to use very much for one batch of pickles.) If you want to buy them locally, you might try a health food store, a whole foods-type co-op, or a spice store. Good luck!

  8. My mom makes “candy pickles” too. Though she makes them with cinnamon sticks and red cinnamon candies are the red coloring. She has also (to my knowledge) always made them with cucumbers(sans seeds), but I suppose that the two could be interchanged?

    Anyway, they were always a favorite treat as a child and I still enjoy them! (Too bad I can’t get my husband to like them!)


  9. My chayote vine supplies more than everyone around can use and I made this pickle using chayote; works great. I’m too tight fisted to buy marachino cherries so just put a drop of green food-coloring in them. Also have used watemelon pickle in fruit cake and it’s very nice. Green papaya makes a similar pickle. (I’m in Costa Rica)

  10. Wow! Mary, way to use the ingredients you have! I wish you’d tell us more about what a chayote is, and how you use it. And please share any other Costa Rican specialties you think we ought to know about! We’re all ears….


  11. a chayote is a softball size fruit with a larce single seed that grows on a squash-like vine that will cheerfully take over your whole garden. It’s bland, like zucchini, and takes on other flavors well, but doesn’t get squishy as fast as zucchini so its good for soups (and pickles). The hulless seed looks and tastes like a 3 inch blanched almond.

  12. “Don’t mess with tradition. Unless you don’t have the right ingredients. Then it’s a free-for-all.”

    Reading that made me laugh in the office until a co-worker asked me if I was OK… Thanks for the cheerful diversion ^_^

    Dylan –> Australia.

  13. Yo say that your mom makes candy pickles. If you don’t mind
    would please send me the recipe. We have a garden that has a lot of over sized veges that would be great for.

  14. For the first time in 30+ years I had a batch fail. They were just horrible and I have come to the conclusion that it was because I used the rind from seedless watermelon. The rind seems to be too thin so I didn’t get nice chunky pieces. Has anyone else had this experience? I dumped the whole batch and bought a huge seeded watermelon and made more pickles. I used a recipe quite similar to the 0ne above except that on the last day 7 MORE c. of sugar is added to the syrup which is the “secret” according to the lady I got the recipe from many years ago. I think that using the clove & cinnamon oils permeates the rind with a rich flavor that you can’t get using dried spices.

  15. I was very happy to find this recipe. I grew up eating these pickles which were very sweet and crunchy, but with no cherries or red coloring. They were served at a local date restaurant known for its fried chicken and watermelon pickles. It was about 20 miles south of Tuscaloosa, Al. in the middle of nowhere. My grandmother made pickled peaches in a similar way which were velvety smooth and richly spiced and a holiday table tradition.

    Did anyone ever determine if seedless watermelon was just as good as seeded for this recipe? If so, I want to get started tonight. Thanks for posting this recipe.

  16. My great-aunt (who migrated from North Dakota to Minneapolis along with her sisters and brothers during the Great Depression) used to make watermelon pickles every year. I never got to “help” make them, but boy did I LOVE to eat them! As I took my first bite of watermelon this summer, I thought I should try it–and since it’s from the same area, I hope that your recipe will taste similar. I definitely will give it a shot!

    One question–I’ve never canned anything! What’s the “15-minutes upside-down, sterilizing-the-threads method”????? Just stand the jars on their heads for 15 minutes after putting the lids on?

  17. I grew up with watermelon pickles and loved them. I was looking for a recipe that was similar, and this was it. The oils are the very best way to make these! The dried spices are not nearly as good in my opinion. I never tried them with cherries, but they sound good! Thanks for the recipe!

  18. looks like an awesome recipe…

    I’m curious about this also: What’s the “15-minutes upside-down, sterilizing-the-threads method”????? Just stand the jars on their heads for 15 minutes after putting the lids on?

  19. Hey, thanks for bringing that to my attention–I need to go back and change the post. I’ve always made jams by pouring the hot fruit into sterilized jars, tightened the lids and then turned them upside-down for 15 minutes, on the assumption that this sterilized the threads of the lids and was enough to make everything safe. But I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on canning recently, and this method is drawing more and more criticism from the “experts”–it’s just not safe enough. It doesn’t really kill all the germs inside the jar. I might not have been willing to accept this, but I had an entire batch of strawberry jam go bad last year. It was a sad, sad thing to go a whole winter without my strawberry jam. So this year I put the jars into a boiling water bath to be safe. I recommend the water bath for these watermelon pickles as well.

    • I’m needing to know..when doing the marinating, is it safe to keep at room temperature or refrigerate? Thank!!!! Sounds wonderful to me,can’t wait!!!

      • Denise, it is fine to leave it sitting on the counter. The liquid is full of things that retard bacteria growth, so it does not need to be refrigerated.

  20. Wonderful stuff! My grandmother always made them too. I made them and still had one jar in hiding when we were ready to move. My landlord’s mother in law came to stay and while she kindly minded Emma (age 3) while I pack the last of the things in the car. I opened the last jar to share my family heritage with her. (She brought her POWERFUL polish style pickles, almost inedible to the american palete) She and Emma munched down the entire jar! And I walked into the kitchen as she drank down the last of the juice! Now that is strong stuff.

    I love this, with the cherries like you said. I also made my granny’s style with out the cherries, but I cheated and added a drop of red food coloring. I missed the cherries.
    Added note: in the christmas cookie, Santa’s whiskers. I used watermelon rind pickles as I could not find cherries at that season in Poland. I started by fishing out the cherries from my jar and continued with watermelon rind. Verdict: BETTER!

  21. The friend who gave me this family heirloom recipe told me her family would “eat them like candy straight from the jar”, so I’m not sure there’s a wrong way to eat them. I think they’d be appropriate at a picnic–served as a side like any other pickles.

  22. Many people when they hear about these pickles reaction is, yuck. However, they are the best! I modified this recipe. I kept the cider vinegar because to me it has a better taste than white vinegar and the smell is easier to deal with. I omitted the oil’s and used real cinnamon stick and cloves and added sliced oranges and lemons to my syrup. When canning the pickles I layed a sliced orange on the bottom of the jar and one cinnamon stick in each jar. The taste is fresh and that’s what I was aiming for.

    • Thx!! This was what I was looking for! Wanted to use the cinnamon stick and cloves, I’m going for it! The orange sounds good, as well. Let you know!!!!

  23. I thought it was our families secret recipe. (very close to the same) As far as what to call it – we have always considered it a candy/desert an as much as we love it in the summer it always comes out at Christmas as a special treat at family get togethers. The only problem is it tends to go rather quickly compared to the amount of time it takes to make. It’s nice to see others also enjoy this interesting treat!

  24. My grandmother made excellent watermelon pickles and every time I went to her house she let me have some.

    Do you leave this sitting on the counter for four days or in the fridge? Should it be covered while sitting?

  25. I made these candied rinds this week and they are delicious. I had root-beer candy flavoring and used it for the candied rind that I dried . Now I am trying other flavors. Thanks for the recipe. I put your web address on my blog about Candied Watermelon Rind .

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  27. I just had to come back and comment on this recipe. I was thrilled to see this three years ago because I have been making them every summer since. I made a batch today thinking it was too late in the season. Watermelons are getting scarce.
    My Grandmother used to make these when I was small and she called them Christmas pickles and she made them with oversized cucumbers. They taste like I remember and everyone likes them.

    Thanks for bringing fond memories back.

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