Pickled watermelon rinds

23 June 2012

Growing up in a Chinese family in North America was a mixed blessing. I hated it when I was still living with them, but now that I am older and wiser, and with years of hindsight to guide me, in many ways, it was a boon. For example, Chinese people are way more sensible about foods than North American white people. As recently as 50 years ago, China went through a period of terrible famine. Many Chinese people who are alive today, my parents included, lived through it. As a result, they developed a very valuable food philosophy: if it’s chewable and won’t make you sick, you can eat it.

Chinese cuisine, and that of most countries in Asia, contain ways to cook anything imaginable: the fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves, and roots of any plant that grows there and isn’t poisonous; cows’ tripe, lambs’ intestines, pigs’ ears, chickens’ feet… dogs? It’s not generally considered very economical to raise carnivorous animals for slaughter (hence why Chinese people don’t really eat salmon), but if you were slowly starving to death and there happened to be a dog around, wouldn’t you eat it, too?

Eugh, gross, I’ve heard so many times from white kids at school when they saw what I was eating. Yeah, well, I think your oil-sopped pizza and can of caffeinated aspartame are gross, too, so I guess we’re even, except that I’m not rude enough to say it out loud without provocation. Oh, and also I will live longer, be healthier, and have nicer skin. I think I got the better deal.

Here is one example of something that made the other kids say “gross” : watermelon rinds. To most people, watermelons are just the pink part in the middle. You eat that and throw everything else away. But some hungry Chinese person looked at a watermelon one day and thought, “Hey, that white part’s chewable, though somewhat tough. It doesn’t make me sick, but it’s not very tasty… I wonder how it could be made more palatable?” And so the watermelon rind became a real food in Chinese culture.

Pickled watermelon rinds

a small watermelon, with the pink innards all eaten
2 cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
optional: 2 tsp chili flakes

To prepare the watermelon, the thin, dark green, tough outer skin should be removed and discarded. The paler, thick part of the rind should be cut into slices. The thinner the slices, the faster it will pickle.

Add the other ingredients into a bowl and leave alone for 4-8 hours. If the watermelon rinds are still tough to chew, it needs more pickling time.


11 Responses to “Pickled watermelon rinds”

  1. My classmates freaked out when I brought braised pig ears to school haha.

  2. sybaritica Says:

    Ummm … actually, melon rind pickles have been around in North America for a century or two at least.

    Also, not to be too critical of your central thesis, have you compared the diet of, say, a modern office worker in Shanghai with, say, a rural American in the 1920’s? I think you may be unfairly equating ethnicity with the relative diets of prosperity and an ‘industrial’ culture.

    • Lise Says:

      I’m sure they have existed, yes, but how many North Americans still eat melon rinds?

      Just about any modern person is going to have a less healthy diet than any 1920s person. My post only suggested that Chinese immigrant children in North America generally have better diets than other North American children. Or, at least, they did in the 1990s when I was a child.

  3. sybaritica Says:

    Why not try doing a search on ‘Water Melon Rind Pickle’ on Google? I think you will find many contemporary recipes. I’ve eaten them many times and I know lots of people who have as well. They are still extremely popular in the southern US,from what I can see…

    I suspect that you are probably correct in your assessment that immigrants probably have better diets in North America than those who were born here, but I am not actually so sure about their children. (I am an immigrant to Canada, by the way).

    I think, though, that your post went a little further than suggesting something about the relative healthiness of diets and made a few sweeping generalizations about ethnic tastes and customs. The tenor of your post was very much in the vein that traditional Chinese dietary habits were better because it included things that modern westerners find unpalatable… a westerner might note that many Asian cultures have traditionally despised healthy and nutritious dairy products like cheese that have sustained populations in the west for years…

    (On this point… you might like my post on The Secret Chinese Menu… http://sybaritica.me/2012/05/15/the-secret-chinese-menu/)

    I also note that you lumped ‘white kids’ into a single category which, to be fair, is like someone from, say, Africa, comparing the eating habits of Mongolians and the Hakka minority of southern China and then making definitive statements about ‘yellow people’.. Don’t you think it might be a bit unfair to lump a Lithuanian who eats nothing but McDonalds to a Basque fisherman who eats the same catch his people have eaten for centuries?

    I actually get the central points you are trying to make, and I agree with a lot you have to say (Indeed, I have been saying similar things for years) but some of the things you say are unfair generalizations…

    Anyway, my point is that the modern ‘bad’ diet is more a function of prosperity and industrialization than ethnic tradition and all human populations are in danger of going down that same path… I think it is up to those of us who recognize those dangers to instruct the younger generations be they Nepalese or Latvian…

    • Lise Says:

      Guilty as charged about the sweeping generalizations. To be fair, I don’t usually hold myself to a very high standard of journalism in the personal blog. You’re definitely right that, among what I group as “white kids,” there is still a large amount of variation in diet. Perhaps a better, more specific label would have been “urban middle class Canadian children whose parents also grew up in Canada.” Most of those are white, too, because of immigration trends. Although there are some that are more health conscious than others, for the most part, the ones that I encountered had diets that were horrifyingly processed, and were quick to call things “gross” if they didn’t like them.

      I can’t find anything in your stance that I disagree with. I actually think that all traditional diets are healthier than modern ones, primarily because of the lack of processing. I also think that part of the reason traditional diets are better is that they do not waste food. Aside from the obvious financial benefit, one traditional Chinese belief I do adhere to is that it’s more nutritious to eat the whole animal.

      Last time I visited Beijing, Pizza Hut had a line up around the block (and those Beijing city blocks ain’t small), so I suspect that, particularly among the younger generation, traditional food sensibilities are very much diminished. However, just going by the incredible number of fast food restaurants in English-speaking North America, and the obesity and heart disease rates, I think it’s safe to say that North America on the whole is a little bit further along in the dietary decline than the rest of the world. I tend to single out Chinese food because of familiarity. But I have spent a good deal of time in France as well, and the food sensibilities there also struck me as being slightly more, well, sensible.

      • sybaritica Says:

        I Love a good food chat, and I think we are of a like mind the important things.

        I wholeheartedly agree with you about North America leading the charge into nutritional disaster… the trouble is that the rest of the world is following along so willingly, like sheep to the slaughter.

  4. Little Sis Says:

    Looks delicious. My grandmother (in North Carolina) made watermelon rind pickles, but why were not like this. I am a big fan of using all the bits, but have been trying to avoid sugar (which her watermelon rind pickles used). I’m delighted to have something else to try. Thanks.

    • Lise Says:

      Thanks! How did your grandmother make them?

      I have found that almost everything will still taste good if you omit the sugar. These pickles would no doubt be fine without it (brown rice vinegar is naturally sweet, anyway). I admit it though, I do really like putting a little bit of sugar in most things I cook… I justify it by telling myself that it’s still only a small fraction of the amount of corn syrup I would be consuming if I ate commercially produced foods on a regular basis.

      • Little Sis Says:

        I agree, and when you prepare them yourself, you can adjust the amount you use. I just posted about corn syrup in commercially produced pickles. I don’t know why I was surprised to find it there, but I was. And the food colorings. Really disheartening. My grandmother”s recipe included sugar and some spices. I have to ask around the family to get it right – see who inherited that bit of info.

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