Cucumber Love

Many years ago I had a cucumber addiction and would visit a roadside vegetable stand almost daily, just to buy a few for eating whole. I mostly chalked it up as some cruel Freudian craving because I was very pregnant and Gordon was temporarily living a thousand miles away from me. However I apparently just truly love good cucumbers. 

I’ve never grown cucumbers before, but with all of the pickling experiments I’d been doing, I wanted to try and grow a pretty heavy yield. However, as was typical for this season’s start, I had germination problems. I planned for 30 plants and ended up with maybe 16-18 (I forget) of two varieties: Parade Pickles (heirloom seeds I picked up on Etsy) and Picklebush (Burpee).

I didn’t even realize that some cucumbers were climbers and some were bush variety until my dad told me that he always grows climbers for space reasons. Then I studied really hard to figure out what I had and how and where to plant them. Perhaps the name PickleBUSH would have sent a signal to a more confident gardener, but not me. I had to obsess for a few days, never sure that I had it right until the plants themselves showed me that all was ok.

Parade Pickles

I love the way my parades look. They are beautiful plants growing so prettily up their fencing trellis. The cukes themselves are dark green and almost perfect cylinders, becoming striped as they thicken.

Parade Pickle
Parade Pickle

The Parades have an almost floral flavor to them. Picked when small, the skin has very little bitterness. 

Picklebush

The Picklebush plants are wanderers, but not crazily. They are supposed to be compact for smaller garden spaces. 

Picklebush Pickle

Their color is bright green and I find that they are narrower at the blossom end, but that it seems to even out somewhat as they grow. The picklebush flavor is mild and delicious. They are a very refreshing summer snack and although I still prefer the smaller ones, the cukes that have been left on the vine for a couple of extra days are still great with almost no bitterness. 

Cucumbers, cucumbers, cucumbers! Oh how I will miss them when they are gone! Tuesday I picked enough to try a small batch of pickles. I found a recipe that I thought Gordon would enjoy — good old vinegar-based, shelf stable Bread and Butter.  (Food.com)

They turned out great! I was worried that I’d overcooked them, but I did not. They have a lovely crispness about them, even after cooking the pickles and the 10 minute water bath to seal ’em up good. Next time I will cut the sugar by maybe a third and make the pickle slices a bit thicker. Also maybe more onion would be good. I added a few cloves this time around. 

Today I assembled some tried and true lacto-fermented kosher dills (but tossed in a handful of green beans and a few jalapenos). Also found a cool idea online to pickle squash with basil instead of dill, so I’m trying that with garlic (and a few baby carrots for fun), also lacto-fermented. The dill I had stored in the freezer in a gallon bag because it was all ready when the pickle plants were newborns. The large leaf basil was freshly picked today.

I love the fermented kind of pickles for not only their healthy probiotic properties, but because they’re so easy to do! So far I’ve found that everything works well with a 3.5% salt water brine poured over whatever ingredients you like. Then they can sit (in a tray of some kind) on the kitchen counter for 2-3 weeks depending on what it is and how big the pieces are. (I did a chopped onion and it took forever!) The fermented pickles should get bubbly and then cloudy and usually they have some minor pressure explosions (hence the tray). And you can just keep tasting until they’re done. But tasting messes up the dynamics inside the jar, so it’s an adventure. 

I’m excited to try weird basil squash pickles. I’ll let you know what happens!

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Swiss Chard Harvest

It’s challenging to keep up with processing the succesful harvest extras from the spring garden while trying to get the summer garden going. But that’s what I wanted: Lots of food that can be stored and used later.  Like Homesteading Lite…. turning seeds into groceries all while having a full time job and a family. 

(Am I insane?)

My beautiful chard had been getting neglected. Mature stalks, speading out and lying on the ground until I’d rip them off and toss them to the ladies in the chicken coop. Until today. Today I planned to blanch and freeze my kale, make chard stem pickles, and use the chard leaves for dinner along with the few turnips that surprised me this morning. 

(Yeah, I’m insane. )

So the kale is still in the garden, getting blissfully soaked by a quick downpour. But I did manage to do up the chard. Made pickles and chopped, blanched, and came up with a single flat gallon bag to freeze. 

Dinner is Hamburger Helper and store bought corn on the cob that had been hanging out in the fridge for a week. Also Gordon is cooking while I sit blogging and watching the boys play a video game with hopelessly chard-stained fingernails and uncleaned toilets calling my name. 

I’m hoping the pickles turn out good. There was no water in the brine, only vinegar. And the vinegar seems a little overwhelming at this point. Maybe it’s just that I’m used to the fermented vinegar-less kind. This is the recipe I decided to try:

http://heartbeetkitchen.com/2013/canningpreserving/pickled-swiss-chard-stems/

Next day update: 

Pickles are already great! Not too much vinegar. Subtly sweet and sriracha-

Pickles Experiment 2

Poblanos, Onions, Cabbage, Cukes

Our first batch of pickles are ancient history. We are all out of fermented food so it is time to restock. Here is what I put together and how:

Pickled cucumbers: Pretty much the same as last time, but using a digital scale made it much easier to get a 3.5% salinity for the brine. Used a whole produce pack of dill spread among 3 jars, kept my garlic cloves whole (maybe 3-5 per jar) but crushed them, and used a bunch of peppercorns in each jar. So that’s it: dill, garlic, peppercorns, tightly packed super clean cukes, and brine. Oh and I didn’t cut off any pickle butts this time. 

Sauerkraut: This was actually really fun because of the transformation that happened in my hands. Green cabbage with the core removed, sliced into short thin ribbons. Sprinkled 1.5 tablespoons of salt over the cabbage in a very large bowl. Massaged the cabbage and salt together until cabbage became very limp and watery (several minutes). Pushed into a half gallon jar using a canning funnel. Poured the derived liquid into the jar. Covered with a couple of clean outer leaves to keep shredded stuff submerged. I will keep pressing periodically for first 24 hours to encourage more liquid. Using a large pestle to press with. This will probably need to be moved into the basement because it already smells like the kitchen is farting.

Onion: Just for fun I sliced up a couple of onions and used the same 3.5% pickle brine, with a teaspoon of turmeric added. I love pickled onions!

Poblano peppers: These bad boys ruined my evening because of my own dumbassery. I know, poblanos are famously not really hot. But they were hot enough to set my hands aflame for hours. There was a 1.5 lb pack on sale for 99 cents so I (sliced them all up without gloves) bought them and realized that using whatever sale veg comes my way is such a brilliant and thrify way to have a million different jars of probiotic awesomeness! So anyhoo… They got the leftover tumeric onion brine diluted with more plain brine and then a half cup of raw organic Florida (shout out to my place of origin) cane sugar.

I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

Pickles Experiment 1

Attempting Lacto Fermented Pickles Without Special Equipment

Sunday 12/11:

Brine made from 6 c bottled water to 1/4 c fine sea salt (was going for 3.5%, but it looks more like 4%)

Put in bottom of jars:

  • Fine sprigs from a good sized dill stem each
  • 7 peppercorns
  • Chopped clove of garlic
  • One jar also got a chopped cayenne

Cut off pickle ends and put them in jars whole, wedging a couple across tops to prevent floating. Poured in brine, leaving a bit of headspace. Saved leftover brine and put into fridge.

Closed into regular mason jars, will have to burp them when fermentation starts, hope they don’t explode. May switch to coffee filter with rubber band.

Tuesday 12/13:

Brine a bit cloudy. No pressure on lids yet. Scooped a few stray floating spices off the top.

Kitchen 64 degrees.

Friday 12/16:

Brine very cloudy. Pressure on the lids. Burped them without issue. Tried to poke down floating spices some. Brine tastes wonderful. Some bubbles appeared to be coming up through a pickle. Pickles no longer bright green.

Sunday 12/18

Very cloudy. Very fizzy. Upon opening, got a lot of activity but otherwise regular rings and lids are working well. Losing the floating battle though.  Pickles are staying put pretty well, but seasonings are not. Next time would leave pieces large. The color looks like what I’ve seen other bloggers call half-sours to me. Another week should do it. I may taste them sooner, but if I do then my pickle wedge system will be ruined. 

Monday 12/19

The bubbles stopped completely. I looked online for fermentation stages and whatnot, but since I just got home from work and it was dinnertime, I wasn’t patient enough to really find any good information. So what the hell? Let’s slice and try one of each.

Gordon said: Pretty bland. Definitely more cucumber than pickle ; Eddie said: The spicy ones aren’t very spicy.  

Ah well. So I filled up the empty space with a brine-filled ziploc sandwich bag (using my leftover brine) to weigh everything down and hopefully prevent mold. Should leave them alone for another week.

Wednesday 12/28

Fantastic! Magnifique!

I cracked the hot ones open today. The jar was full of broken down sediment. 


Crunchy, salty, full of yummy flavor. Put the remaining hots in the fridge and left the other ones out on the counter because Gordon thought they could go a little longer and I’m curious about the next phase anyway. 

These don’t stand a chance