Next time you buy a watermelon for its hopefully succulent flesh only, think twice, because there is more to a watermelon than just juicy flesh that quenches thirst and refreshes palates on hot summer days. What can be more to it? If you ask an Azerbaijani, he or she will tell you.
First, when you cut a circle off the top of a watermelon before slicing it and send the “hat” to a trash can, you may not know that you may be missing on a ripe opportunity to read your fortune a fun way. Intrigued? This is what you should do next time - cut the “hat” into quarters, make a wish and think up a combination of pieces that would correspond with your wish coming true. Would the pieces fall with their skin up or down? How many of each will be found in the combination? Then toss all four pieces in the air at once and watch them land at your feet. Based on how the pieces arrange themselves on the floor, the results are interpreted. Isn’t it fun?
“Tell me, watermelon? Will my …..?” – “Yes, …. published!”
Second, once you’ve read your fortune and hopefully are beaming after “finding out” your wish will come true, slice the watermelon and stop. Take a look at the rind, the white flesh between the red flesh and the green skin. Measure it with your eyes. Does it look unusually thick? If so, do not waste it. Because you can cook it, yes, cook it, into most delicious preserves. While cooking, watermelon rind transforms into a yellow, almost transparent candied fruit that has little to no resemblance to the rind’s initial texture. It is absolutely gorgeous and delicious! Tell me, tell me you will make preserves next time your watermelon bestows thick rind on you. You will love it. In Azerbaijan, watermelon preserves is enjoyed with a glass of strong tea and a generous doze of chat around a cosy table.
The watermelon flesh is gone, time to put the rind to good use.
Here’s the precious rind, peeled and ready to be cut.
A crinkle cutter is an amazing tool – it makes the rind look pretty.
The rind cooks for as long as 3 hours, turning from this..
Once cooled off, the rind and the cooking syrup is spooned into “murebbe gabi”, or preserves bowl, and served with tea.
Watermelon Rind Preserved (Garpiz Murebbesi)
Makes 6 pints (3 liters)
Note: Sometimes, to add a nice aroma to the preserves, a leaf of etirshah, rose geranium, is added to the preserves, and removed at the end of simmering. Instead of rose geranium, a cinnamon stick or clove can be used as well. Choose what your heart desires or leave out the fragrant embellishments altogether, if they are not available – the preserves will still be sinfully delicious.
2 pounds (1 kg) cleaned and cut watermelon rind (see the recipe)
3 tablespoons baking soda
3 pounds granulated sugar
15 cups water
1 leaf of unsprayed rose geranium, or a small cinnamon stick, or 3-4 cloves
Once the fruit of a sliced watermelon is cut off, using a sharp knife, peel off the green skin and the pink flesh from the watermelon rind. You should only use the white part of the rind. Using a crinkle cutter, press with a downward motion to cut the rind into rectangles or squares, about 1-inch long (use a regular knife if crinkle knife is not available).
Place the rind in a large bowl. Pour in enough cold water to cover the rind and sprinkle 3 tablespoon baking soda on top. Leave aside for 2 hours (presoaking the rind in soda-water will harden the rind and will help it retain its shape while cooking). Drain the rind, rinse thoroughly under running water and drain again.
Place the rind in a wide basin pan or a heavy-based wide saucepan. Pour in enough water to cover the rind. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil for 2 minutes, then drain the rind on a large colander. Return the rind to the same pan, pour in water again and boil for another 2 minutes. Drain again and return the rind to the pan.
Add the sugar and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Maintain a gentle simmer and cook the preserves, uncovered, for about 2 hours 45 minutes. Add the geranium leaf or a cinnamon stick or cloves and continue to simmer, for another 15 minutes, or until the rind is golden and transparent, and the syrup has reduced. Do not overcook, or the preserves will crystallize (if the sides of the pan become crystallized, you have cooked the preserves too much. To remedy this, add a cup of water to the pan, bring to a boil, then remove from the pan immediately). Remove the pan from the heat. Discard the geranium leaf or spices. Leave the preserves to cool in the pan.
Meanwhile, sterilize a canning jar in boiling water and dry thoroughly.
Spoon the watermelon rind with the syrup into a sterilized jar. Make sure the syrup covers the rind completely. Seal it tightly. Keep in a cool, dry place. Serve in a round preserve bowl, to share.