Mark Twain was a great fan of the watermelon, as is clear from his famous words:
“It is the chief of this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.”
The Oxford English Dictionary’s words on watermelon are, as to be expected, rather more prosaic. It gives the definition of the watermelon as “A kind of gourd, Citrullus vulgaris (formerly Cucumis citrullus), and explains that they “are so called from the abundance of watery juice.”
The first reference in English is given by the OED as occurring in 1615, but I particularly like the description given in The History of the Caribby-islands by John Davies, published in 1666. He says:
There grows in these Countries another kind of Melons which are common in Italy, but must needs be incomparably better in Egypt and the Levant … they are called Water-Melons, because they are full of a sugar’d water, intermingled with their meat, which ordinarily is of a Vermilion colour, and red as blood about the heart, wherein are consained their feed, which is also of the same colour, and sometimes black: their rind continues always green, and without any scent, so that it is rather by the stalk then the fruit that their ripeness is to be discover'd: they are sometimes bigger then a man’s head, either round, or oval: they are eaten without Salt, and though a man feed liberally on them, yet do they not offend the stomack: but in those hot Countries they are very cooling, and cause appetite.
As I am sure Mark Twain would agree, without doubt the best way to eat watermelon is the simplest, messiest, way – in the form of freshly-cut, thick, juicy, smiley-shaped slices. But we are always tempted to fiddle even with perfection, are we not? And also, sometimes nature and gardeners provide a huge surplus for us, which we must use, must we not? And we cannot not waste the rind from those freshly-cut, thick, juicy, smiley-shaped slices, can we? So we must create recipes to cope with this abundance, and first and foremost and best-known and most popularly, we can make pickles with the rind.
Do not throw away the rind of melons. It can be preserved and will make a delicious relish. Remove the green rind of watermelon and the inside pink portion that is left on after eating it. Cut it into two-inch pieces and pour over it a weak brine made in proportion of one cup of salt to a gallon of hot water. Let this stand overnight, then drain and add clear water and one level tablespoon of alum. Boil in this water until the rind has a clear appearance. Drain and pour ice water over the rind and allow it to stand a short time. In a bag put one teaspoon each of cloves, allspice, cinnamon and ginger and place this in the preserve kettle with the vinegar and sugar. Allow one cup of sugar and one cup of vinegar (dilute this with water if too strong) to every pound of rind. Thin slices of lemon will give it a pleasant flavor--allow one lemon to about four pounds of rind. Bring this syrup to the boiling point and skim. Add the melon and cook until tender. It is done when it becomes perfectly transparent and can be easily pierced with a broom straw. A peach kernel in the cooking syrup will improve the flavor. Housewives who object to the use of alum can omit this and merely wash the rind after removing from brine to free it from all salt and then cook it slowly as per directions given above. The alum keeps the rind firm and retains its color. In this case the rind will require long and steady cooking, say three-quarters of an hour or longer. As soon as rinds are cooked they should be put into the containers and covered with the syrup.
The International Jewish Cook Book (New York, 1919)
by Florence Kreisler Greenbaum.
If not pickle, why not jam? Or a variation on a marmalade theme?
Take 41b. watermelon, 41b. white sugar, 4 large fresh lemons.
Mode: Peel and remove seeds from melon, cut into pieces about l in. diameter, place in preserving pan, and sprinkle with half the sugar. Let stand all night. In morning wipe lemons with damp cloth, but do not wash them. Put them in preserving pan or enamel saucepan. Just cover them with boiling water, and boil them slowly for two hours, changing the water three or four times during this process (in each case the clean water must be boiling). Cool the lemons slightly, then cut them into thin slices, removing all the pips and about half of the pulp.
If all the pulp is used the jam will be too sour. Start the melon boiling, and when about half done add the lemon and the remaining 2 lb.sugar. Let all boil up quickly, and boil altogether for two hours. The syrup should be jelly. Well worth, the trouble of making.
Sunday Times (Perth, WA.) 11 April 1920
6 cups ground watermelon rind
6 cups sugar
Remove green and pink portions from rind. Grind, drain off the liquid; measure, add sugar, and allow to stand 30 minutes. Slice entire oranges as thinly as possible, add to rind and sugar, and cook until think and clear about 45 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.
The Washington Post (1923-1954); Aug 18, 1934.
If you still prefer to keep it fresh and raw, salad is an excellent idea too:
Fill a bowl with pieces of ripe water melon, broken off with a fork. Pour over it a good salad dressing, and put in cool place for 20 minutes before serving. A good dressing is made with 1 dessertspoonful of sugar, ½ a teapoonful each of dry mustard and salt, 3 teaspoonfuls of vinegar, and 2 teaspoonfuls of thick cream or condensed milk. If using condensed milk, leave out the sugar.
Advocate (Burnie, Tasmania) 8 February 1930.
Fresh Pear, Watermelon and Ginger Salad.
Arrange thin slices of fresh pear in lettuce cups with balls of watermelon. Sprinkle finely chopped candied ginger over the top and serve with cream. French or honey fruit dressing. Enlarged, this salad is appropriate for a hot weather supper dish.
The Washington Post July 8, 1938.
Finally, I give you watermelon ice:
Water Melon Velvet
Three cupfuls pureed melon, pulp and juice; 1 cupful sugar; dash of salt, 2 tablespoonfuls lemon Juice; 1 ½ teaspoonfuls gelatine.
Add sugar, salt, lemon juice to melon puree. Add water to gelatine and place over boiling water and heat until gelatine is dissolved. Add to melon mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour into refrigerator tray, setting control at coldest point, and freeze until almost firm. Then turn into chilled bowl and beat quickly with rotary beater until thick and fluffy. Return immediately to freezing tray and continue freezing until firm.
If it is a hand freezer you have, place mixture in scalded, chilled freezer, freeze until firm, using one part salt to eight parts crushed ice. Remove dasher, pack down, cover with a mixture of one part salt to four parts ice and let ripen one hour or until serving time.
Yield: one and one-fourth quarts.
Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld.) Monday 30 December 1946.