I have so many fond memories of a restaurant called Patricia Murphy, a grand restaurant my grandmother used to take us to as children. We would be led to a table covered in a crisp white tablecloth, unfold our napkins, and before our meal would arrive they would put out celery sticks chilling on ice and these candy-like watermelon rind pickles that my brother and I would immediately devour. We looked forward to our Shirley Temples. We'd also sit up straight when the waitresses came around with baskets of hot popovers on their arm. You could eat all you wanted.
I tried the other day to resurect that memory and find out if Patricia Murphy restaurants were still around. Sadly, not, although it is a story worth telling.
First, the watermelon rind pickles. I worked with a couple of recipes, tweaked as I went along, and came up with a pickle that is totally satisfying. It can be enjoyed simply in one bite, or sliced thinly and added to other dishes.
I'm going to give you the recipe, but I want to tell you the story of Patricia Murphy first because it is so inspiring.
From arriving in the U.S. from Canada with just a little bit of pocket money and ending up opening a chain of very successful restaurants at a time when women were not known as restaurant entrepreneurs was an amazing feat in and of itself—especially considering it was accomplished in the depression era.
This is an excerpt from the blog Having a Nice Time, from a 1956 article in Charter newspaper:
"…she earned one meal a day playing during luncheon at a small cafeteria. On the same street was a tearoom where she often ate a "budget" meal……She heard the place was closing down because business was so poor, people were really hard hit for "eating out money".
She offered the cook a job, made a deal with the landlord…and retired to her room with a thick American cookbook. She decided on making "popovers" because they could be made quickly and required inexpensive ingredients. Her business started to grow….and soon her New York store was distribuitng 10,000 popovers a day, along with tiny loaves of bread…..In 1938, Patricia moved into a second restaurant in Manhattan."
I remember the Patricia Murphy restaurant my grandmother took us to as being in the country. It had gardens and we usually ate in a huge room that looked like a greenhouse at a round table big enough for the whole family. After dinner, we would buy these little glass vials filled with orchid and lilly of the valley perfume with the name Patricia Murphy on them. And the popovers! Fabulous. Do you have memories of Patricia Murphy? I would love to hear them! I am even looking for her autobiography.
I found this menu on the internet from a Patricia Murphy Restaurant and it's interesting to see how far American cuisine has come since the 60's. My grandmother always ordered the scallops in white wine with mushrooms. My dad always had the Creme de Menthe parfait for dessert.
Here is the recipe for watermelon rind pickles, in memory of Patricia Murphy, an amazing woman.
Watermelon Rind Pickles
- 3 pounds watermelon
- 7 cups water
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
- 20 whole cloves
- 4 star anise
- 14 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon pickling spice
- Slice the red part of the watermelon away from the white part , leaving a thin layer of red for eye appeal. Then slice off the skin from the rind and then slice the rind into 1 x 1 inch pieces.
- Heat the water in a large pot with 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a boil.
- Add the watermelon rind chunks and boil until they are fork tender, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, and drain the watermelon in a colander. When they are well drained, add them to a glass or ceramic bowl.
- In a large saucepan, add 2 1/4 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups white vinegar, 20 whole cloves, 4 star anise, 14 black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon pickling spice, and bring everything to a boil.
- Pour over the watermelon rinds in the bowl, cool to room temperature, put a plate on top to submerge the rinds, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, drain the liquid into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the rind in the bowl again, cool, put a plate on top, then plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight.
- Place the pickled watermelon rinds in a jar with a screw top, pour the liquid to the top and close. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use. The pickles will be good for at least 2 weeks.