Cuisine à L’Ancienne

I love making dishes that have gone out of fashion, either because they’re too much work, require hard-to-find ingredients, or both.  Here, in Confiture de Pastèque, or watermelon jam, we have both.

We tasted a mysterious treat last summer while staying at a chambre d’hôte in Provence.  Spread on toast and with a flavor that was evocative but indefinable, our hostess said it was made from pastèque, watermelon, that it was very old-fashioned, and that only her mother-in-law still made it.  But the jam was a greeny-gold color, not what I normally associate with watermelon.  Returning home, I asked a local vegetable guy if I could use watermelon to make jam.  He said “Oh no, Madame, not pastèque, you need a citre.”  “What’s a citre?”  “A type of pastèque, only for jam, not for eating.  Wait until September.” 

And so I did.  While waiting I tried to figure out whether citre had a name in English.  It’s citrullus lanatus in Latin, and it’s called gigerine in Provencale, but that’s as far as I got.  If anyone knows, please do tell!

The moment I saw this weird melon down at the bottom of the fruit display, I knew it had to be a citre.  When I asked the vegetable guy whether it were red inside, he hesitated quite a long time before saying “Well, I don’t think so, I think it’s more white, but honestly, I haven’t seen the inside of one since my grandfather used to cut them open.”   So, full of excitement and anticipation, I lugged it home, where  Beppo thought it warranted a good looking-over as well.

The citre was much harder to cut open than one would imagine.  It had a hard rind like a winter squash, was full of pebble-hard seeds, and was juicy and sticky.  I kept having to rinse the knife and my hands, and honestly, it took me about 40 minutes to get the thing diced and seeded.  And as you see, it’s sort of white, sort of green.  Not much like a watermelon, a long-lost cousin at best.

The recipe for confiture de pastèque, which also mentioned that a citre could be used, calls for adding either orange or lemon.  Since I had a citre, and lemon is citron in French, I decided that my jam had to be citre-citron, if only for the delicious alliteration.  My recipe called for mixing the diced fruit with sugar and leaving that to macerate over night, then cooking it “for a very long time, at least an hour and a half.”  In the end it cooked almost twice that long before achieving the syrupy greeny-goldness I remembered from that summer toast.

And yes, it has that same haunting flavor.  Reminiscent of cucumber, honeydew melon, and watermelon, but in the end none of the above.  It’s the taste of mystery, but I find an almost greater enjoyment in the fact that it’s something of a lost fruit, that making jam of it is something of a lost art, and that nonetheless, we’ll be having it for breakfast.

* if you’d like the recipe, it’s below in the Comments section

**comme vous êtes nombreux a y venir chercher la recette, elle se trouve en dessous, parmi les commentaires.

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14 Comments on “Cuisine à L’Ancienne”

  1. Ray Says:

    thank you for almost literally, digging up and re-introducing this forgotten fruit. Is the fruit still a bit al dente in it’s finished product? Does it have a nice sweet and acidic balance like good orange marmelades?

  2. Eden Says:

    I would be fascinated to know how it compared against the same recipe with a “normal” watermelon, not that I’m suggesting you devote another morning to jam making, just idle speculation…

    It’s always so cool to see a variety of fruit I haven’t come across before.
    The firmness you describe and how long it takes to cook is particularly interesting.

  3. Rebecca263 Says:

    This is one of the best posts ever. Thanks for sharing your moments with us, Abra.

  4. Citrullus lanatus var. citroides is also know in French as Citrouille D’Espagne a Confiture (giving you a hint of from where that melon was introduced to France and that it was indeed used for candying/jam and not to eat fresh), also as Pasteque a Confiture. (excuse the lack of accent, I am typing on a US keyboard). In the US, it’s known as Citron Watermelon. Raw, they taste rather like an insipid cucumber and are hard rock – as you are able to attest. So, in the West, they are often cooked with lemon rind or ginger to bring flavor to the jam.

    They are native from South Central Africa, where they are used for people (cooked as a vegetable) and as animal fodder. They keep for along time in a pantry, so in colonial times, they were grown to make pies and puddings in winter. It can also be used like a cucumber in salad or like a Chinese cucumber in stir-fry. They are rare today – at least in the Mid-Atlantic area. They have been used for breeding watermelon programs, though, as they are so prolific and disease resistant.

    Did I answer your curiosity? Now, won’t you post the recipe? pretty please?


  5. Abra Bennett Says:

    Wow, thanks Sylvie! I’ve never heard of or seen “citrus watermelon.” Did you find it in a book, or have you actually seen it in the US?

    To make your own,

    2 kg peeled, seeded, and diced citre (from a 4 kg fruit)
    1500 gm sugar
    1 finely sliced lemon or orange, including peel

    Let it all macerate overnight, then cook for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Personally I cooked it to 105°C and wish I’d gone to 106.

  6. Abra Bennett Says:

    Oops, I see that you said citron watermelon. Too bad there’s no way to edit comments!

  7. rachel d Says:

    Did you make citrus watermelon pickles or preserves with the rind? I can’t imagine that you COULD cut that thing into pieces—hacking it open is enough.

    says rachel, who spent six hours yesterday peeling and cutting up ONE bushel of sand-pears. But the house is wonderfully redolent of the sweet Autumn tang, and eight fat jars sit on the counter. Second batch will be canned out in about half an hour.

    Isn’t this just the BEST season?

  8. all book knowledge. Have not actually seen one, although I hear you can find them in the South here in the US where they can reproduce like crazy becuase there is no cold to kill them – I take it it’s milder South than the Piedmont where I am, probably Louisiana and Florida. I am very interested in growing forgotten or rare or exotic vegetables – and cooking with them, so am researching possible things to grow and how to cook them. I can’t yet grow everything I find (locating seeds can be hard), but it made for endless fascinating reading and dreaming.

    In this case my sources were two books in my garden library: William Woys Weaver’s Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, and Amy Goldman’s Melon for the Passionate Grower.

    I had been wondering about making watermelon rind pickle, and came across the info about the citron watermelon several weeks ago. Your post was synchronicity…

    I also like Vilmorin’s The Vegetable Garden written in the late 19th cenury which is choke full of info on many old vegetable and fruit varieties and cultivation practices (Either the French or the English version). I am trying to get my hand on a copy of Le Potager d’un Curieux by Mr. Paillieux (published at about the same time) . Maybe next time I am in France…

  9. and thank you for the recipe 🙂

    Definitively needs to locate some seeds!

  10. […] is a brousse de brebis, a fresh and fluffy, sweet and mild sheep cheese, served here with the confiture citre-citron that I made awhile […]

  11. Bonjour,

    I have been given a pastèque and have been looking for a recipe would please forward me your recipe for Confiture de Pastèque

    Chez Providence Chambre et Table d’Hote

  12. Abra Bennett Says:

    Christina – it was just above, in the comments. Here it is again – citre is another name for pastèque, by the way.

    2 kg peeled, seeded, and diced citre (from a 4 kg fruit)
    1500 gm sugar
    1 finely sliced lemon or orange, including peel

    Let it all macerate overnight, then cook for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Personally I cooked it to 105°C and wish I’d gone to 106.

  13. I am glad to see your recipe for citre jam. I was given some seeds in a French B&B we stayed in during the month of June. I planted them in my garden and was rewarded with four lovely citre/ pasteque. Yesterday I made a marmalade with lemon and orange and today I am going to make your jam. And yes I am saving the seeds because my B&B lady said you can no longer buy them. But I have more than I need.
    Also found a nice recipe for a pasteque jam with ginger at the Chocolate and Zucchini author’s website
    Happy to post pics if you tell me how.

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