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Using Their Melons

December 2017
Using Their Melons

Take a look at a sweet collaboration as High Wire Distilling Co. and The Grocery create two products made from the same produce

Each August, High Wire brings in more than three tons of local watermelons to distill into their seasonal brandy. After the melons are carved, The Grocery’s Kevin Johnson pickles the discarded rinds for mostarda.

Back in the sultry days of August, when brandy was absent from most drink menus, High Wire Distilling Company owners Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall and their crew unloaded 7,000 pounds of watermelons into their production area on King Street. The fruit was carved and juiced via a hand-pressed metal grate, then finally distilled into liquor. After four months of “rest,” the annual limited-edition brandy—which has a refreshing, full-bodied taste reminiscent of fresh watermelon juice (believe us, it’s far superior to other Jolly Rancher-like booze)—was released and is on sale till the end of December.

Before High Wire’s winter liquor can be made each year, however, there’s a whopping task: all the discarded fruit rinds, some 500 pounds of them, must be cleared out of the facility. “It’s a ton,” Blackwell laughs. “But lots of local food and bev folks in town pitch in to help us get the melons processed quickly.” One key player since 2015 has been Kevin Johnson, chef-owner of The Grocery. “When I first heard Scott was bringing in so many watermelons, I wanted to help out,” says Johnson, who is passionate about using local, seasonal produce on his menus and helms an impressive canning program at his restaurant. “Then it hit us: we could pickle the rinds.”

PHOTO: High Wire brings in more than three tons of local watermelons to distill into their seasonal brandy.

The first year, the chef collected about 50 pounds of the rinds. In 2016, he brought double that back to the restaurant; this summer, he nabbed more than 250 pounds. Johnson begins his canning process by shaving off the hard green shell, then chopping the white parts of the fruit into thin, stamp-size slices. The rinds are then simmered with vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, and other ingredients before being jarred and stored.

The final product is watermelon mostarda, a compote-like condiment that adds brightness to winter dishes. “The sweet and sour flavors pair well with meats and charcuterie,” Johnson notes. “We also use it as a glaze over a duck-liver tart.”

For his part, Blackwell is thrilled that the melons have become a “zero-waste product,” meaning the entire fruit is used. “The Grocery plays a big part in making that happen,” he says. “It’s one of our favorite restaurants, and we appreciate that Kevin makes the effort each year to come in and pick up his share.” Other area chefs also collect the rinds for their own canning projects, Blackwell notes, and whatever’s leftover is donated to Legare Farms for animal feed. “It’s a true community effort,” he says.