By Stephanie Cameron
This past summer, several vines volunteered themselves in my backyard, most likely from the compost of previous years. I waited patiently to see what fruit they might bear. As the small round and striped fruits started to mature, I was convinced they must be some kind of watermelon. In late August I sliced a small one open, about the size of a softball, to see what was inside. To my surprise it looked nothing like your standard watermelon. The flesh was white and there were many small white seeds. I cast it aside and said, “Smells like a melon, but I guess it’s not ready yet.”
We waited patiently until word of the first frost in late October and went out and harvested seven melons; small, medium, and large. They then sat on my counter for a month, partly because I hadn’t had time to think about them and partly because I was afraid I’d be disappointed when I looked inside again. The day came when I decide it was time to take another peek. I was shocked when I cut open one of the larger melons and found blood-red seeds embedded in the whitish-yellow flesh. I ran to the computer and googled “red-seeded melon” and found that I had grown several heirloom citron melons.
This variety of melon was used in the 19th century for making preserves, candied citron, pies, and more. The firm white flesh is not good for fresh eating but has many holiday uses in the kitchen such as preserves and candy. These are rock hard and keep for months which explains why they didn’t rot sitting on my counter for over a month. Citron type melons are the ancestors to domestic watermelons and still grow wild in Africa. These are very easy to grow as they resist almost everything and they didn’t attract the infamous squash bugs. They have huge vines and the fruit can be up to ten pounds. The inside flesh holds bright red seeds which are apparently edible, but I’m saving mine for next years garden and some gardener friends.
For this recipe you’ll need a melon about 6 inches in diameter or else a piece of a larger melon. Cut the melon in half, and cut each half into narrow wedges. Poke out all of the seeds. Peel each wedge with a knife or sharp vegetable peeler and then cut the wedge into pieces ½ to ¾ inch wide.
3 pounds prepared citron melon pieces
Juice of 1 lemon
1½ pounds sugar
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled, sliced thin, and slivered
Put the melon pieces into a preserving pan. Halve the clementines, squeeze out their juice, and add the clementine juice and the lemon juice to the pan. Scrape out any membranes and stringy white bits from the clementine peels, slice the peels into thin strips, and add them to the pan. Add the sugar and the ginger pieces. Stir gently, cover the pan, and let the mixture rest overnight.
Set the pan over medium heat, and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the mixture, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. When the preserves are ready, there will appear to be more fruit than liquid in the pan. The fruit will be partially translucent, and the syrup will form a thread when dropped into a glass of cold water.
Ladle the preserves into sterilized half-pint mason jars, leaving ¼ inch head-space. Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 5 minutes.
Note that the syrup will probably jell, but slowly, over a period of days.
Serve with toast or as a substitute for maple syrup on pancakes and waffles.