It’s amazing how things you have totally forgotten can come back instantly when someone puts the right words together. I immediately was transported straight to the 7th grade today when someone on a food website asked ‘Can you pickle watermelon?’ Yes, you can, and there is a wonderful poem by John Tobias that goes with it and you can’t do one without reading the other. I very much remember the first time I had watermelon pickle.
Miss Seidel was our 7th grade English teacher and she was from the South, Alabama I think, which was foreign enough to us. She was everything cool about the 80s. Our 7th grade class was her first year at our very strict private school. She was in her early twenties, she had an asymmetric haircut, she wore funky clothes and made jewelry. She was confident, educated and too hip for the burgh of Baltimore. She was everything my stodgy all girls school was not. Who hired her? The other teachers shopped from the LL Bean catalog and clearly only refreshed their wardrobes every decade. They looked like line backers in skirts. They had been there for 40 years and would be there for another 40. They lived and socialized in the same snobby, blue-blooded, wood paneled station wagon neighborhood that the school was and is located in.
Miss Seidel was like a beautiful bird in a burned out forest. She was friendly. She was one of those teachers. The ones that inspire you and make you want to work beyond what is required of you. We idolized her, even stalked her to her apartment one day for a surprise visit. She didn’t flinch; she buzzed us in and served us iced tea. Of course her apartment was cool, filled with awesome vintage finds that someone her age should not have had the time to collect just yet. She was like Molly Ringwald and Madonna, combined, only cooler and real.
One day Miss Seidel brought in a jar of watermelon pickle a family member had sent her. She said she had not had any in a while, maybe since she was a kid and was curious about it herself. None of us has ever seen a watermelon pickle before, let alone had any relatives that canned things. She explained its southern provenance, that It is the rind pickled, sour and sweet. She then read us John Tobias’ poem Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle from a Friend Called Felicity. I remember this clearly. Then she passed out chunks of the watermelon pickle on toothpicks. And instantly, John Tobias’ poem became my memory of watermelon pickle. Why hadn’t I had watermelon pickle for this beautiful memory? Well, I did now, and I was not going to let it go. To this day I’ll talk like I’ve been eating watermelon pickle my whole life.
Miss Seidel only lasted 1 year at our school. The bird had to fly. Every time I hear the words watermelon pickle I think of her. The poem she read us sums up how I feel about watermelon, summer and the childhood memories associated with both. Now, after all that, I have to admit, I do not have a watermelon pickle recipe to amaze you with, but, David Chang does. I can offer a you a watermelon salad recipe. But read the poem and pretend you’ve been eating watermelon pickle your whole life.
Watermelon Salad (serves 12 as a side dish)
1/2 small watermelon, cubed
1 Kirby cucumber, chopped
1/2 a jicama, cubed
2 jalapenos, minced
3/4 cup herbs (I use basil, mint, cilantro and chives)
Combine the first four ingredients, squeeze lime juice on top and toss with herbs abd salt. Serve cold.