Confessions of a Cucumber Convert

IMG_0781I am in love with the garden, right now – shamelessly in love. Every time I visit, there’s something new to discover, and – lately – something new to EAT! We are continuing to have a steady harvest of the Silvery Fir tomatoes. Each harvest gets bigger and bigger. We’ve been able to sample a few of the Speckled Roman tomatoes, too, but they’re still taking their time in growing and ripening.

Most recently, though, I was faced with two or three large cucumber harvests. Here’s where I have to make a confession: I don’t really like cucumbers. Gasp! I know you’re wondering, now, “Then why on earth did you grow them?!” I grew them for many reasons: 1) I think they’re fascinating little things; 2) I hoped I would learn to like them; and 3) I knew that James likes homemade pickles and I wanted to enjoy the experience of making them.

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As it happens, James bought me a present while he was away at conference. He bought me the follow-up book to one of my favorite cookbooks (Simply In Season): Saving the Seasons. It was a very sweet and thoughtful gift and could not have been better timed, incidentally. On top of the pages and pages of useful information on preserving, freezing, or drying almost anything you can think of, the book has some very simple but interesting recipes for pickles! That really got my wheels to turning!

I decided that we should make three of the pickle recipes from the new book:

    *Bread & Butter Pickles
    *Dill Pickles
    *Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Here’s where I should make a second confession: I don’t really like pickles. Gasp! I’m a swirling mass of contradictions, aren’t I? IMG_0788Bear with me. I guess you could say that I’ve never really LOVED pickles; I don’t really hate them. When they’re on my sandwich, I take them off because I feel as though I can’t taste the sandwich for the pickles. When they’re on the plate beside my sandwich, I usually offer them up to someone as a freebie. On average, I’d say that I typically eat about 12 pickle chips per year… conservatively.

Happily, in a one-week period, I have already met my annual quota for pickle eating and I plan to increase it since I’m in love with these pickles – all of them!

Just slicing up and measuring out the ingredients for the Bread & Butter Pickles was a sensory overload for me. The sharp flavors, colors, smells, and spices were all over the place! How could you not like food that practically chases you across the room? The recipe made a very complex-tasting pickle that I can’t wait to have on a sandwich or even chopped up in tuna or chicken salad. They are worlds apart from any “sweet pickles” I’ve ever had from the supermarket.

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While slicing the cucumbers for the Dill Pickles, I sneaked a bite of a raw cucumber slice. It was remarkably unlike the cucumbers that I remembered in the past. While I didn’t find myself wanting to eat an entire cucumber right then and there, I did note that the flavors were different than I remembered experiencing as a child – back when I couldn’t keep a cucumber slice in my mouth let alone chew it and swallow it. At that time, they tasted so bitter to me… I still shudder a bit when I think about it! These cucumbers, though, being the literal fruits of my labors, seemed sweeter to me, more worthy, somehow. Could it be that this particular variety of cucumbers is so different? Or could my heart be melting for cucumbers?

When I brought in a harvest of cucumbers that was a little too small to bother with getting out the canner and heating up the kitchen, I decided to give Refrigerator Dill Pickles a try. I altered the recipe a bit, adding a bit of garlic, mustard seeds, and mixed peppercorns for pizzazz. WOW! My neighbor is ready to raid my fridge for more jars!

Refrigerator Dill Pickles
adapted from Saving the Seasons
makes 4 pints

    8-10 small pickling cucumbers
    1 medium onion, sliced thinly
    8 small sprigs fresh dill
    4 large garlic cloves, sliced thinly
    2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
    1 teaspoon whole black & white peppercorns
    4 cups water
    3 cups distilled white vinegar
    1/2 cup sea salt

    Wash the cucumbers and slice into spears or into chips. Divide the cucumber spears or slices, onion slices, dill sprigs, sliced garlic, mustard seeds, and peppercorns evenly into four pint jars (I like to add the ingredients in alternating layers, but I’m not sure if this has any bearing on the final product).

    Bring the water and vinegar to a boil. Add the sea salt and stir just until dissolved (don’t boil the vinegar for a long time). Ladle the vinegar solution into the jars, filling to within 1/4-inch from the top. Seal the jars with a lid; allow to cool, keep in the refrigerator. After 7 days, the pickles are fully-flavored and ready to eat! Store in the refrigerator and use within 3-4 months.

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Refrigerator pickles present an interesting compromise in the homemade pickle realm. They’re easier to put together since you don’t have to give the jars a hot water bath and you don’t even necessarily have to put them in canning jars. And – since they don’t get that long soak in the canner – the pickles are infinitely crunchier. BUT… without being processed in the canner, they’re not shelf stable and will only last 3-4 months in the fridge. So, the world remains an imperfect place, I suppose!

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~ by Jason on July 20, 2010.

12 Responses to “Confessions of a Cucumber Convert”

  1. Yummy! I’m a huge cuke fan myself. Have I mentioned that I love pickles too?! Have I mentioned that we are good friends, and I don’t have a garden? I’m just sayin’… 🙂

  2. That’s funny, I’m not a big cuke fan, either. But I do love pickles. I am growing mini white cucumbers and Japanese climbing cucumbers. I’ve harvested about 10 mini whites and only 1 Japanese. The Japanese is the BEST cuke I have had in my entire life. The mini whites are delicious too. I ate 3 of them for dinner last night. I think that the things you get in grocery stores are just a different vegetable altogether. I can’t wait until my harvest is big enough to make a batch of dill pickles… Mmmmm….

    • Neat! I’ve never heard of the varieties you’re growing. I’ll definitely look into them. Plant varieties fascinate me, for some reason. I think the best thing about the refrigerator pickles recipe is that you can make pickles no matter how many cucumbers you’ve harvested… you just have to keep the vinegar/water/salt ratio the same.

    • Carrie-the japanese climbing cukes and the mini whites, where do you get seed for these…? Would LOVE to find a few seed for the next year.Thanks for any info you could share.
      Happy gardening!!!
      Valerie

  3. Jason, you make me want to dig up a space in my backyard right now to plant cucumbers! (I write this, however, while I’m on a trip in Colorado–far from Elgin)

    I love your writing, your photos, and your great recipes! Thanks!

  4. Dear Jason,

    James forwarded your cucumber blog and the one about the locavore picnic. I’ve just read them. How beautifully you write, with meaningful ideas and stories.

    And I spent a few days in Lelanau in 1990, one of the pleasant memories of my not so good first marriage, even though I came down with pneumonia and had to go to the county hospital to see a doctor. It was wonderful looking out my window and seeing nuthatches and chickadees and, when I felt better, going to the lakeshore. Makes me want to return and stay at Snowbird Inn and find some Bel Lago Vineyard reisling (our favorite variety).

    I enjoyed seeing James recently and experiencing his excellent leadership in my class.

    Peace to you and James,

    Ruth

    • Thanks, Ruth! I can’t imagine coming down with pneumonia on vacation! That must’ve been awful! Nuthatches and chickadees are some of my favorite birds. Peace to you, as well.

  5. […] for a small harvest, eh? You’ve already read about the cucumber harvests which led to lots of homemade pickles. The cucumbers have definitely slowed production now that the hottest days of summer are upon us, […]

  6. I couldn’t agree more. Homemade pickles are the best!!! Even easier is homemade relish. It is an amazing condiment, with no store-bought comparison. Here is my favourite recipe that comes from a vintage cookbook:

    Million Dollar Relish

    6lb unpeeled cukes (about 16c. when chopped)
    2 green peppers
    2 red peppers
    2 onions

    Remove seeds from peppers and chop or food process veggies. Make a brine of:

    1c. pickling salt
    8c. hot water

    Pour over vegetables and let stand overnight. Drain well. Mix:

    1 tbsp. turmeric
    2 tbsp. mustard seed
    2 tbsp. celery seed
    6 c. white sugar
    4 c. vinegar, scant (can use cider vinegar, or white, or blend of both)

    Boil altogether and thicken with 3 tbsp. cornstarch.
    Fill and seal jars.
    Process in boiling water canner for 10-15 minutes.

    Makes approx. 10 pint jars

    Enjoy!! 🙂

    • Thanks for the recipe, Brenda. This looks like it would be similar to a sweet pickle relish we like to put on hot dogs and add to tuna salad. There are tons of relish recipes out there – it’s a shame the art of “relishing” your food is disappearing these days in favor of the store-bought stuff. Sometimes I see relish recipes that are so “out there” I almost want to make them just so I can then figure out what food they go best with.

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