Just In Time For Christmas: Modern Cinnamon Pickles And Lemon Candy Pickles!

My grandmother used to make cinnamon pickles out of watermelon rind. It was a dessert she proudly put on our plates. They were delicious and in memory of her, I now make them yearly for my extended family and my kids. Last year I also tried a vanilla pickle which was pretty gross. I’m not making those again. 

There is an updated recipe for watermelon rind pickles out there, but it doesn’t have the ingredients I want to use. I’m going to use the updated cinnamon pickle recipe syrup ratios with the flavoring I remember. These canning recipes make great gifts too.

Jars with lemon and cinnamon pickles with pickle crisp in them, ready to seal.

Not many people these days have had cinnamon pickles and they aren’t sure what they would taste like. My best way to describe them is: Christmas in a jar. Sugar, cinnamon, red hot candies, vinegar and watermelon rind. It may sound weird but you’ll be hooked the first time you make these, plus your home will smell delicious during the process.

Yellow watermelon I grew. With some of the rind removed.

My grandmother was famous for her sweet cinnamon pickles and we were always eager to open a jar when we came to visit. Trust me, you’ll be famous for them, too!

While one of my grandmothers made sweet cinnamon pickles my other grandmother made dill pickles and bread and butter pickles. I like to make quick refrigerator pickles. Then years later I had a best friend from India and she introduced me to Indian pickle. There are a lot of things out there that are called “pickle” that taste nothing like what you can pick up in an American grocery store. These two recipes are of their own unique category and you really need to taste them to see why cinnamon pickles were such a big deal in the Midwest, where my grandparents were from.

This recipe is so unique and is so much a part of my memory of my grandmother, that I still have a couple of jars she made in the 1990s. I wouldn’t eat out of those old jars today, but she cut, cooked and canned these jars, out of love. So, I will keep them until they can’t be kept any longer.

A jar my grandmother pickled from 1998.

When my brother and I would visit my dad’s parents: we’d get up with the sun and listen to the farm report, eat our breakfast while Grandma and Grandpa drank their coffee. Then we’d either go sit on the wheel wells inside the cab of my grandpa’s tractor while he disced the fields (my little brother would fall asleep and crack his head on the glass as we went. I never could figure out how he slept through that!) or go to town for a grape or strawberry soda. On special occasions grandpa would take us to “make us mad” which was code to buy us ice-cream at the local diner.

Out “helping” grandpa in the fields.

We would play outside with the dog, toads etc or the feral barn cats, or settle down and look at the ant lions that you could find in the shade. We’d flick dirt into their funnels and watch them kick the dirt back out, or we’d find small insects to drop into their dust traps. We’d climb up into the grain trucks at harvest time and get horrible hay fever. Chew wheat grains until they became gum. Walked through the corn fields “helping” grandpa judge ripeness, fished in stocked cattle ponds or drove around to see how the neighbors were doing in their fields. We would help grandma in her garden.

Then after all day playing in the Kansas heat we’d sit down to supper and grandma would get out a jar of her sweet cinnamon pickles. We’d eat them along with meat from their cattle and vegetables from their garden. Later we’d drive the fence line to make sure none of it was down and check on the cattle (of which grandma always had one or two as pets, and they were off limits for harvest.) We’d wait for grandpa to scoop out some silage, with the front end loader and feed the hungry cattle. Then we’d head back home as the sun was setting. My brother and I would chase fireflies and eavesdrop.  While the adults smoked their cigarettes (this was back when most people smoked) and drank cold beer, sitting out in their lawn chairs chatting, spinning yarns and telling stories from the past that had everyone in tears because we were laughing so hard. Then we settled down for the evening and mom or dad would tuck us in. We’d drift off to sleep, dreaming of what we’d do the next day. Summers lasted forever, when I was a kid. It was the most ideal part of my childhood and I dearly miss it.

Me with my brother after “fishing” for crawdads using hotdogs as bait. I have a bucket of them and a toad on my hand.

So, after my walk down memory lane: you can see why some things from the past are worth the hard work of recreating and remembering.

This is an updated watermelon pickle recipe, so: it’s not a multi-day thing like it used to be. If you look at most recipes for cinnamon pickles online you will see the outdated use of pickling lime and alum. Neither are used in today’s pickling recipes because the lime raises the pH and it can affect the safety of the pickle by neutralizing the acid in the vinegar (if it all isn’t completely rinsed off). Alum was used as a crisper but it is actually made of aluminum. It can be toxic (if not completely rinsed off.) Find more information here on alum and lime. Basically neither of these ingredients are necessary for crispness, as a sprinkle of Ball’s pickle crisp works just as well (if not better) because the cooking time is reduced. Pickle crisp is made of calcium chloride. It does not need to be rinsed off. Using pickle crisp will save you days of soaking, heating and rinsing… plus it’s not toxic.

The sugar, lemon juice and the vinegar make these safe for water bath canning (although if you are at altitude: you need to always can in a pressure canner.) As far as trying to be extra careful with high acid foods by trying to pressure can everything: high acid foods, like pickles and jam, don’t have pressure canning recipe references because the extra heat and pressure creates a soggy, yucky product. There’s a good article on that here: canning methods The difference between canning in a pressure canner when you are supposed to waterbath can, will be that the fruit will soften and start to disintegrate, the longer and hotter you cook the jars. It may also affect the flavor negatively. If you are new to canning read up on the differences in the two canning methods so that you understand what the differences are. You will become comfortable with each method. (It really is safe to waterbath can high acid foods, at acceptable altitudes, if you use reliable recipes.)

And before you go there: No, you can’t cold pack these, they must be stewed and hot packed. And no, you can’t make these with a sugar substitute. That would create a different environment and would not be safe. You can use fruit other than watermelon rind, like overripe cucumbers, or green apples etc but watermelon rind is really the best for this. Watermelon rind has a firmer texture than most fruits, once stewed.  

The main part of this recipe is the pickling syrup. Keep the sugar and vinegar ratios the same and you can change the flavors. You can get a huge bowl full of watermelon rind if you grow your own full size watermelons. Don’t bother with icebox melons. The rind is too thin. Unfortunately, watermelons have been recently bred to reduce the rind, I had to buy 3 full sized watermelons to get enough to make the 2 pickle recipes versus when I grow heirlooms and only need 2 full sized watermelon. Use the leftover watermelon meat in smoothies or drink mixes. I canned mine into watermelon lemonade concentrate. BTW my grandma made a ton of these over her lifetime and swore that refrigerating the rind ruined the texture.

Vinegar, sugar, Ceylon cinnamon and red hots. Remove the cinnamon sticks before canning. The sticks are not safe for long term canning.

Crazy Green Thumb’s dessert pickles: Modern Cinnamon Pickles and Lemon Pickles:

Cinnamon Pickles used to take forever. They included the watermelon rind sitting in pickling lime and then rinsing repeatedly. Also they had alum in them. Then you drained the syrup, boiled it and added the syrup back to the rinds several times, over several days. I have never been able to tell the difference between a one day stewing of the rind, versus multiple days. Although, I have grown some incredible respect for my grandmother by reading the old recipes.

This is still a big project, but definitely not as big as it used to be. Look on the side of the bottle of pickle crisp. It was developed to replace the pickling lime and the alum (aluminum). Perfect for our needs in the updated version of this recipe. The way you get to the end of this canning recipe is not as important as the ratio of vinegar and sugar in your syrup. Skip all of the old soaking and days of messing with this! I brine my watermelon rind overnight, but that too is a texture issue, not about the long term stability of the canning recipe.

Yellow full sized watermelon.

So to start: you need at least two full sized watermelons. These are best home grown because the watermelons at the store tend to have a thinner rind (but they will still work.) Have two large containers, a large cutting board, a large knife (I use butcher knives for large vegetables and fruit.) You can use more melons if you like (you will definitely have enough syrup), but I’ll warn you now that this is a good recipe to have help with. “Many hands make light work.” I cut up two full sized melons and I was completely over messing with watermelon rind by the end! I cut the round sections of the watermelon off first, then I removed the green skin of the melon. Make sure your knife is sharp. This is tedious.

While you are messing with the rinds run your canning jars through a sanitizing cycle in your dishwasher or boil a pot of water and sterilize them that way. Do not heat the lids. Ball canning says not to now.

The updated version of watermelon pickles that I found had no red dye or red hot candies but the original recipe that my grandmother used had red hots and cinnamon sticks. Also, the recipe I found added other spices plus, it included adding maraschino cherries. (You can’t go wrong with maraschino cherries so I kept that part.) My grandmother used to make a clove pickle too and nobody liked it. So, in my opinion: simple is better. Cinnamon flavors only, for the cinnamon pickle recipe.

I did the second option. Toss the rind (sliced or whole) into the other container. Once you have cut up your two watermelons you can take the sweet meaty part and juice it or blend it and follow the this recipe with the juice: watermelon lemonade concentrate. I ended up with several gallons of juice, so I will need to carefully measure the juice and add a ton of lemon juice and sugar. The concentrate only calls for 6 cups of juice. Time to get out my calculator!

Preparing to pressure juice the watermelon.

Once you have removed the rind from a round of watermelon, cut the colored “meat” areas off of the white rind. Throw the watermelon meat in one bowl. At this point you can decide if you want to cut the rind into strips which will end up as spears or if you want to just cut everything else up and go back and cut the rind once you are finished with the whole melon.

Rind with a hint of the yellow from the inside of the watermelon. You don’t have to be perfect but remove most of it.
This is the insert for my instapot. You can see I ended up with a ton of juice. Since my watermelons were yellow ones, I ended up with yellow juice.

Once you are done slicing all of the rind into spears, combine a gallon of water and a cup of salt and stir until incorporated, then add the rind. Place a large plate over the rind and weight the plate down to submerge the rind, cover with plastic wrap. Allow the rind to soak in the brine 12-18 hours.

This is a giant bowl I picked up recently from Burlington. I wish I had bought more. Super sized cooking equipment is necessary if you have a large garden and you need to process in bulk.

Rinse repeatedly to remove the salt. (The salt draws the water out of the rind. It makes for a more firm end product.)

Pickle crisp in the jars before sealing. Use an 1/8 of a tsp in each pint, 1/4 tsp in each quart.

Syrup for cinnamon pickles: In a large pot put 4 cups of white vinegar and 6 cups of granulated sugar. Add four boxes of red hots and several cinnamon sticks. Heat until dissolved.

Syrup for lemon pickles: In a large pot add 4 cups of lemon juice 6 cups of sugar and two boxes of Lemon Head candy. I suggest going with gummier candies. Hard candy takes forever to dissolve. (You can swap lemon juice for vinegar in a recipe but not the other way around. Lemon juice is more acidic. You can read up on this here: Pick Your Own BTW this is a great site, in general, for canning and harvesting fruit or finding your local “pick your own” farms.)

In a separate pot, add all of the watermelon rind and enough water to cover (you may need two large pots, if you have too many rinds to fit in one pot.) boil the rind until fork tender. 45-50 minutes.

Drain and split the contents of the pot of rinds between the two syrups. (Each of these recipes make enough syrup for all of the rinds. I saved and canned the lemon syrup to use as a lemonade concentrate later for my kids. I tossed the rest of the cinnamon syrup, because I was really tired at this point and didn’t care. (I ended up with two quarts and a pint of extra syrup from each flavor.) Heat each of the pots of rinds in syrup, until the rinds are transparent. About 10-15 more minutes.

Packed cinnamon pickle with maraschino cherries.

Get your sanitized jars ready to fill, get your canning equipment out (funnel, jar grabber, magnetic lid grabber and your head space measuring/bubble removing tool. These are sold as a kit.) I also used rubber tipped tongs to grab the rinds and slide them into each can. I held the jars sideways to add the rinds. Fill the rinds in the jar and fill with syrup with a half inch headspace. Wipe the jars with wet paper towels to make sure that the lip of the jar and the ring of the jar are completely clean. Add lids. Tighten rings until it just starts to resist fingertip tightening.

Add to waterbath canner, fill water in canner to an inch above the jars. Once the water is boiling, start timer to process for 10 minutes. Lay a towel out on the counter. Carefully remove jars after timer goes off, do not tip while moving them. Set the jars on the towel and don’t touch them for 24 hours. Check for proper seals by pushing on the lid. If it pops it’s not sealed.

If you have lids buckle (puff up in the waterbath) you probably have off brand, cheap, thin lids (although there can be other reasons for this like tightening too much). Even if they pop back the creases on top of the lid will mean that even if they seal as they cool: it is not a safe reliable seal. Reprocess with Ball, Kerr or Tattler lids or put them in the refrigerator and eat them as if they were not canned. My batch had three lids buckle and two rings that wouldn’t tighten. I’ve never had this happen before, after canning hundreds of Ball and Kerr jars. I bought HEB (Texas grocer) store brand jars. I will never buy off brand jars again. Unfortunately, I bought a bunch of them over a long period of time before I tried to use them. All I have to do is buy new lids and rings, as the jars themselves were fine. But, I shouldn’t have to do this with brand new equipment. Live and learn.

Garbage off brand lids that buckled. You can reprocess these with new lids, but you need to do it within 24 hours and with better quality lids.

I had the kids and my husband try out the syrup. Everyone likes the lemon one best, but the cinnamon one was a close second. If you keep your syrup recipe ratios the same you can make these any candy flavor you like, especially jelly bean flavors, which would dissolve easily. Just realize that with a ton of lemon juice: your pickles will taste like sour candy, so plan your flavors accordingly. I think nobody ever thought to do this in my grandmother’s day because of the amount of lemon juice that you need, and that fresh lemon juice is not reliable as far as acidity. Always use bottled lemon juice in canning. If you want to test your syrup for pH: 4.6 or lower is safe in a waterbath canner. You can buy pH test strips online. They don’t cost much. I tested both of the syrups after about two weeks after I canned them and both of the syrups were in the safe pH zone with the lemon juice based syrup coming in with a lower pH than the vinegar one, which was expected.

Plus, sour candy is a newer fad, even though lemon drops have always been sour. A long history with lemon heads was why I thought to sub them in the watermelon rind recipe.

Let me know what you think of the two pickles! I’d be interested if you think of other new flavors and how they turn out.

One thought on “Just In Time For Christmas: Modern Cinnamon Pickles And Lemon Candy Pickles!

  1. Oh, I remember these also, but they were different. Of course, recipes are naturally variable. My grandmother made them here, because her mother made them in Oklahoma. However, watermelon does not grow as well here. She grew only a few, and they were not big. Also, because they were modern cultivars for the time (in the 1970s), the rind was not very thick.

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