The cantaloupe preserves began with Chris and Aeros having amazing cantaloupe at the market one Sunday, me bringing it home and eating some, and immediately calling Chris back begging for as much as he could bring me. This ended up being around 200#s which he brought the next day. I’d remembered a spiced cantaloupe we’d made a few years back from an old Amish recipe. It was really great, but the recipe was really sweet and acidic and cooked to the point where the cantaloupe became translucent, almost like candy, which limited its application. What we did instead was to take the same idea, but use a less sweet, less acidic brine, and cook it for less time, which resulted in something we now call “crackaloupe.” Right now it’s on the bluefish dish, which is glazed with the brine and topped with a relish of crackaloupe, jalapeno, and chervil.
The thing about preservation season is that there isn’t always the time to develop things, so a lot of what we preserve are actually experiments done on a huge scale. We got lucky this season. It’s a huge risk to order something like 200#s of cantaloupe to make pickles with, but we take these risks because we know we’re not going to have the opportunity to get cantaloupe like that for another year. When the results are not menu-worthy, that’s a whole lot of labor and food costs down the drain, (and a whole lot of mediocre staff meals). But to me, these risks are worth taking, because when these things come out good, it gives new energy to the menu for months to come. The bigger risk, to my mind, is to play it safe.
Bellow is one of the recipes. We also did a few batches with pickling spices. This one came out the best though.
Lemon Verbena Cantaloupe
5 cup champagne vinegar
3 tbs salt
36g fresh lemon verbena sprigs
1 tbs cardamomn
20# peeled, seeded, and sliced cantaloupe
- Bring all ingredients except cantaloupe to a boil. Let simmer 5 minutes. Set aside and let steep the verbena for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, measure 20# cut cantaloupe into a very clean 22quart container.
- Heat liquid back to almost the boil. Pour liquid through chinoise into a clean container to remove spices.
- Pour liquid over the cantaloupe. Weigh down with a few plates and let sit overnight. (The liquid may not cover the cantaloupe at first, but it will eventually as the brine draws water out of the cantaloupe pieces.)
- The cantaloupe is good at this point in the fridge for several weeks. For longer storage, continue through steps 6 and 7. (See Very Important note about storing below.)
- The next day: pour off the brine from the cantaloupe into a pot and bring to a boil.
- Fill washed and sanitized wide mouth quart jars with 1# 8oz cantaloupe. Top off with brine to ½”, making sure to stir to eliminate pockets of air. Process for 15 minutes.
Very Important: These pickles must stay refrigerated, as they are not acidic enough to be shelf stable.