I finally took one of my ‘Winter King and Queen’ watermelons out of its trash can full of brine and sliced it open. What a revelation! This pickled watermelon wasn’t slimy and tomato-like, like the brined watermelon I had in New York so many years ago. It wasn’t a translucent red like the ‘Golden Midget’ melons I brined in 2010. The flesh still looked more or less as it would have before brining, and it was mostly still crisp. It was lightly sweet, sour, and salty all at once. It was, in sum, delicious, and now I understand why many old-timey Germans from Russia prefer the ‘Winter King and Queen’ over other watermelons for brining.
Robert immediately found uses for the brined melon. He cut it into cubes and combined it in a salad with sliced celery and scallions and unrefined sunflower oil. This salad was so good that I had to duplicate it the following evening. He made a cocktail of homemade slivovitz (plum brandy) with cubed brined watermelon. He ate the flesh by spoonfuls right down to the green outer rind. And we both drank the refreshing brine that the cut melon released while sitting in the fridge.
We will eat the other melons soon, while they’re still crisp. And when they are gone we will miss them. Thank goodness we’re only two months away from watermelon-planting time.
Remember the long piece I wrote last year on the ‘Winter King and Queen’ watermelon? The winter-watermelon fun continues.
Last spring I gave my friend Betty several starts of ‘Winter King and Queen,’ and she grew out all of them. In early September, I brought home from Betty’s farm about eight round, nearly white melons. The two or three that Robert and I ate fresh over the next few weeks were sweet, crisp, aromatic, and delicious. They tasted even better than the single ‘Winter King and Queen’ we ate last year, since this year we found no coarse, pale flesh surrounding the seeds.
After about a month I set three of the melons to brining in a food-grade trash can in the basement (I’m sorry to call the container a trash can, but there seems to exist no other term for it except garbage can, which somehow strikes me as worse). I kept two remaining melons on a shelf in the basement, which, for a basement, is rather warm, because it houses a furnace and a water heater. In mid-December, one of the melons began to liquify, and I put it in the compost pile. The other melon, though, stayed solid until December 27. On that day, although I was dressed in three layers of wool and snow covered the garden, I decided it was time for a taste.
I shivered at the prospect. Watermelon is cooling even when it hasn’t just come out of the fridge. After eating one slice, however, I immediately cut myself another. This ‘Winter King and Queen,’ like the ones we’d eaten in September, was sweet, crisp, and aromatic. The flesh had softened around the seeds in some parts—you can see the darker areas in the picture–but I just scraped out these bits and kept eating.
So, it’s true—the ‘Winter King and Queen’ watermelon really can keep well until Christmas. I might have avoided the softening in one melon and the rotting of the other if I had kept them in a cooler place. (We have another garbage can—truly a garbage can, the old galvanized metal kind—sunk in the ground outside the back door. Maybe I have finally found a use for it.) For all the people who can bring themselves to eat watermelon in December, wouldn’t it be nice to revive the concept of the winter watermelon? Wouldn’t it be nice if farmers sold some of these melons as well as the bland, seedless types that soften so unappetizingly within a week?
Many Germans from Russia consider the ‘Winter King and Queen’ doubly virtuous: They say it is exceptionally good for brining as well as long-keeping. I will see if I agree in a few more weeks, when I lift the first fermented melon out of its brine in the plastic trash can in the basement.