I’ve entered my family recipe for pickled watermelon rind in the Minnesota State Fair ever since I learned that they had their own category (Watermelon Pickles, Sweet). It took me 8 years, but in 2016 I won a blue ribbon and that sweet, sweet prize money ($7)
In the way you might find a castle or signature ride at the center of other fairs, at the beating heart of the Minnesota State Fair is the Creative Activities building. Home to rows of canned goods, pies, traditional Scandinavian cookies (I don’t even know what those are), and crafts. Other things that I have seen on display there include: quilts with punny riffs on Shakespeare quotes, a knit ballgown made from sock monkeys, faithful diorama representations of people’s single-room cabins, antique collections of miniature circus toys.
Often, those things that are the most odd elicit the greatest emotional response – I only see the hours of effort and thought and creativity that go into making those dioramas, or the traditional kransekake, or the maple syrup. The small tangible products of someones passion.
In my family, my grandmother raised her children, including my father, during the Great Depression. She made watermelon pickles from the leftover rinds, as many people did. We have recipes for pickled peaches (how could I ever have so many peaches I couldn’t eat them fresh? I’d like to find out) and homemade soap. In my own childhood, we would make watermelon pickles every few years – bringing them out for Thanksgiving or special occasions.
When I moved to Minnesota and went to the State Fair for the first time, I saw them, staring back at me from behind the glass case, surrounded by other specimens of perfectly preserved rind. I still have never tasted another version of watermelon pickles. I only know one way to make them.
And, over the years, I am now the only person in my family who makes them. Every year, we discuss how I think this years batch is, how it will do in the state fair. My uncle will say something like “I think these are the best ones I’ve ever tasted”. I brought them to my father until he died in 2012, and now I bring them to my uncle, to my husband’s grandmother, to my family reunions.
So, when I entered the Creative Activities building this time, 10 years after I first entered it, I saw my own watermelon pickles in first place. It is the silliest accomplishment in my life, and I did a literal double take before crying in front of strangers before a tiny jar of my heart’s passion.