We are having the Year of the Vine at our house. As I’ve mentioned before, plants consider me the Angel of Death, but Kurt loves gardening and is always eager to fill the raised beds with edible plants. I treat everything as an experiment, with little hope that anything will actually grow. Every year, something takes off, and every year, I’m stunned.
This year, it’s the pumpkin and cucumber vines. We’ve been drowning in cucumbers for the last month.
As soon as we brought our first dozen cukes into the house, I got out my favorite marinated cucumber salad recipe. It used three cucumbers and took us over a week to eat. Meanwhile, the pile continued to grow. It’s hard to keep up when you’re averaging 6 huge cukes a day. How many salads can two adults eat?
One of the reasons I’m not the best gardener is because I am lazy. When someone suggested making pickles, I wilted. I wanted a quick and easy storage idea, not something that required lots of equipment and standing over a hot stove in August.
For the Year of the Tomato, I froze everything. While I haven’t been all that happy with the results, I liked how fast it was to get them into storage. Unfortunately, freezing cucumbers sounded like a really bad idea.
In desperation, we went through my cookbooks. One in particular was a big help: The Kitchen Garden Book* by Stringfellow Barr and Stella Standard (and no, I am not making this up; that’s really their names).
We found a recipe for Cucumber Oil Pickles and I got excited. While this 1956 cookbook is all about making your garden’s output interesting to eat, it doesn’t include traditional canning methods in it. It does have a few pickle recipe that go in jars with the simple instruction to “seal” when done. Ancient winemakers used to store their wine in jars with open tops by putting a layer of olive oil on the top of the wine to keep the air out. They would draw the wine out of the jar from the bottom. So maybe full-on canning techniques wouldn’t be needed for pickles with oil in the marinade.
Afraid that this recipe would generate poisoned pickles and kill me, my family, and my friends, I looked online for similar recipes. I found one by James Beard. While it wasn’t exactly like the one I had, it was close enough to give me more confidence that this style of pickle could work.
We combined the two recipes, using Beard’s suggestion of including a grape leaf in place of alum to keep the pickles crisp, and heating up the vinegar so our sterilized jars would seal. And it worked. I wound up with a dozen quarts of homemade pickles. If the rest of the jars are like the first one, they are tasty and non-lethal.
The cucumbers keep coming. Every time I go out to pick them, I eye the ripening pumpkins on our monster pumpkin vine and wonder what the heck I’m doing to do when they are ready to eat.
How about you? Do you have any bumper crops this year? What do you do when you can’t keep up with your fresh produce?
*The Kitchen Garden Book, originally published in 1956 and published again in 1977 is long out of print. I found my copy at a Friends of the Library used book sale.