2012 Summer Garden Reflections and a Watermelon Jelly Recipe

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I’ll admit, I have a serious addiction to trying out seed varieties. It’s due in part to my belief in garden biodiversity, both as a means to manage potential disease and pest problems, and as a way to select for locally adapted seed varieties. I want the healthiest and most productive plants I can get, and finding out what works best for my unique garden site requires experimenting with seeds.

I’m also just a bona fide gardening nut, too. Right now, even though it is winter and only about half of my 40 x 60 foot garden is growing harvestable crops, I have 47 varieties in production. You don’t need a lot of space to grow a lot of vegetables – just have a look at the 54 varieties that I grew in July!

Each year, I choose a particular vegetable with which to experiment. One year, I tried out hot and sweet peppers… another, tomatoes and eggplants… next year, cowpeas. This past summer, I chose cucurbits, focusing on squash (naturally) and melons.

It’s not easy to experiment with vining plants in a small space, but I did it. Ten varieties of summer and winter squash went into one 5 x 40 foot bed. I was able to squeeze at least 2 replicates of 14 melon varieties into two others.

I love my squash, but the melons I grew this summer were all the rage among the people that stopped by the garden. My friend, Joyce, of Friends Drift Inn, couldn’t keep her hands off them when she visited my garden for her Kentucky Life segment. We tiptoed through the melon patch, giggling and sniffing melons for the camera.

Passing melons in the garden with Joyce.

Passing melons in the garden with Joyce and Kentucky Educational Television.

 

What varieties did I grow? The cantaloupe and muskmelon varieties included: Afghan Honeydew, Ananas, Bidwell Casaba, Tigger, Crane, Edens Gem, Emerald Gem, Iroquois, Old Time Tennessee, Rugosa Di Cosenza, Tam Dew, and ornamental Plum Grannies (the latter trellised on the garden fence). For watermelons, I stuck to an old favorite of ours, Crimson Sweet, and a new watermelon to us, Missouri Yellow Flesh.

A day's melon harvest in summer 2012.

A day’s melon harvest in summer 2012.

Old Time Tennessee Melon. I don't think I've seen melon flesh prettier than this!

Old Time Tennessee Melon. I don’t think I’ve seen melon flesh prettier than this!

One watermelon harvest of many throughout August and September: Crimson Sweet (striped) and Missouri Yellow Flesh (pale green).

One watermelon harvest of many throughout August and September: Crimson Sweet (stripes) and Missouri Yellow Flesh (pale green).

 

What did we do with all of these melons? A good many were shared with friends, but the majority were dehydrated or frozen for a taste of summer in the winter months. I’ll be discussing how to preserve melons in future posts, but in the meantime, I’m happy to share my favorite watermelon jelly recipe.

The watermelon jelly recipe I use includes two of my favorite ingredients: white balsamic vinegar and lemongrass. Since the juice from one watermelon is usually enough to make two batches, I make one clear batch and another that is bright pink with bits of lemongrass peppering the jelly; this is possible because the crushed watermelon flesh will settle into the bottom of the container on standing, leaving a clear juice above.

Watermelon juice after standing in a refrigerated and covered container for 8 hours.

Watermelon juice after standing in a refrigerated and covered container for 8 hours.

Beautiful pink and clear types of watermelon jelly, prepared in my outdoor canning kitchen.

Beautiful pink and clear types of watermelon jelly, prepared in my outdoor canning kitchen.

 

Watermelon jelly makes a beautiful and unique holiday gift for friends and family. But make sure you make plenty for yourself, too. I can’t get enough of it, especially since I discovered a fabulous gluten free English muffin recipe from Karina at Gluten Free Goddess – these are the closest to the real thing that I’ve come across!

Gluten free English muffins fresh from the oven. They bake amazingly high for a gluten free bread, but deflate a little once removed from the oven, leaving wonderful pockets within for butter and jelly.

Gluten free English muffins fresh from the oven. They bake amazingly high for a gluten free bread, but deflate a little once removed from the oven, leaving wonderful pockets within for butter and jelly.

 

Karina’s English muffins are baked rather than cooked on a griddle; although they aren’t as chewy as wheat-based muffins, they are still full of the “nooks and crannies” English muffins are famous for having. These are currently Miss Muffet’s favorite breakfast item, smothered with butter and honey from our beehives. I eat mine with plenty of watermelon jelly, frequently with bacon or warmed prosciutto for a wonderful salty-and-sweet combination to start my day.

Salty and sweet... what a treat!

Salty and sweet… what a treat!

 

 
Ingredients
  • 6 cups watermelon, rind removed
  • ½ cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 5 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 stem fresh lemongrass, chopped
  • 2 pouches (each 3 oz) liquid pectin

Instructions
  1. Add watermelon to a large stainless steel saucepan. Crush watermelon with a potato masher and heat gently (medium-low) for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and crush thoroughly.
  2. Transfer juice to a large bowl, filtering it first through a colander lined with several layers of dampened cheesecloth. Let stand for at least 2 hours.
  3. Transfer 2 cups of watermelon juice to a clean and deep stainless steel saucepan. Add lemongrass to a tea ball strainer (if preferred). Stir in vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, and lemongrass to juice, heating mixture over high heat and stirring constantly.
  4. When mixture reaches a full boil, stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  5. Skim off foam and quickly pour hot jelly into hot canning jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Process jelly for 10 minutes, cool, and store.

 

7 Comments

  1. Darlene Hubble Richardson

    December 22, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I love reading this!

    • Ma Hubbard

      December 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      Thank you!

  2. Danetta

    December 22, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Enjoyed the vid,thanks for sharing with all of us! Don’t know if it will be possible but want to get my soil in better shape by Spring so we can grow veggies like what you had last yr. Melons,corn or onions have never done well @ all, in fact zero except for a few kernels of corn. Better returns next year.
    With as little land as you are using, it amazes me the variety you can get to actually produce!

    • Ma Hubbard

      December 22, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      Thank you, Danetta! This is the perfect time of year to start getting your soil in shape. If you don’t have a cover crop, add chipped fall leaves or other organic matter; there are also many cover crops that can germinate this time of year, depending on your plant hardiness zone. If you haven’t already, contact your local cooperative extension office and find out how to submit a soil sample for analysis – it’s usually free, and they’ll be able to provide specific recommendations for your site.
      Good luck! It’s fun to dream about the summer garden, isn’t it?

  3. Brent

    July 9, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Really enjoy the blog and am always looking forward to future posts. I was wondering what was ment by “Process” the jelly in step 5 of the above recipe?

    • Ma Hubbard

      July 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      “Process” just refers to putting the jars in the boiling water bath for that period of time so that the food is heated to the proper temperature and the lids seal (so that it is safe for storing at room temperature). We usually don’t think of it in this way, but even our homemade canned goods are “processed” foods. Thank you for your question and feedback.

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