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Of humble pickles and Pterosaur wings

July 23, 2010

I was fascinated to read Gloria’s selection for the July canjam — cucurbits – the plant family that includes cucumbers, melons, zucchini….  When I thought about it, it made perfect sense that the watermelon and the cucumber would be close relatives, I just had never thought about it before.  So before starting a recipe hunt, I spent some time dwelling on the amazing power of evolution to take a common fruity ancestor and create two such divergent, delicious, crops.  I know next to nothing about melon propagation but I can imagine how the advantage of having brightly colored, sweet flesh might lead to more fruit being eaten by birds, more seeds being spread through bird digestion.  As for the cucumbers: who can deny the survival benefit being the vegetable of choice for crustless tea sandwiches.  Anyway, I will stop myself before I wax lyrical about the relationship between the Pterosaur wing and the human pinky finger (though its amazing… seriously… check it out).

Back to the task at hand… canning some of those fine cucurbitaceae for the canjam…  For my first act, the humble pickled cucumber.  I’ve actually been pickling cucumbers since long before I started canning.  As a kid I developed the habit of making a huge jar full  of pickles which would sit in the fridge till eaten.  The first two weeks they’d taste mostly like plain old cucumbers, then for a couple of months they’d be great crunchy pickles, until finally they got all soggy and sad.  Now that I know more about canning, and botulism, I have to say don’t try that at home, the no hot water bath method is not considered safe for food preservation.  But off the record, that method yields really great pickles compared to the pickles I made and canned, which became soggy pretty much right away as a result of all the heat.  Finally, after a few disappointing years, this year brought much more success.  I went with whole pickling cucumbers rather than the sliced large cucs, which appears to protect the flesh from getting waterlogged.  And I got some hints, along with a good recipe, from Mary Anne Dragan in her lovely Well Preserved.  She explains that soggy pickles can result from the use of too little salt and vinegar, as well as the use of the wrong kind of salt (pickling salt being the necessary choice, with table salt or sea salt having minerals, iodine and anticaking agents that sully the finished product).

So there it is, the humble pickle revisited.  They make a stellar accompaniment to a picnic cheeseboard and go great with hotdogs (especially if you have some home canned five fruit ketchup, which I do!)

I also have both watermelon flesh and rind soaking in the fridge for jamming and pickling tomorrow and I hope to have success to share with you on those counts at a later date.

–By Talia

Simply Good Dill Pickles from Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan

Yield: 4 1-quart jars

  • 4lbs pickling cucumbers
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 cups vinegar
  • 12 heads fresh dill, plus some leaves
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 4 tsp pickling spice

Scrub the cucumbers and cut a 1/4″ slice off the ends.

Combine the water, vinegar and spices in the preserving pot and bring to a boil, then keep them simmering until ready to use.

Into each prepared, sterilized jar place 3 dill heads, 2 cloves garlic, 1Tbs salt.  Fill the jars with cucumbers, cramming them in tight.  Pour in the hot pickling liquid, releasing the air and filling to leave a 1/4″ head space.  Seal and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2010 2:52 am

    I have also been bottling all the surplus. Will try this recipe as well. Thanks. Diane

  2. July 24, 2010 6:01 am

    I love pickles… make an old Town & Country Magazine bread and butter pickle recipe that I sometimes snack on at the fridge door…they are sooo good. A friend and avid gardener always calls the family of plants cucurbits which I have always found charming… and it sounds cute the way he says it.. but they are great for pickling and it sounds like you mastered the technique… wonderful photos too… the lowly pickle never looked so dramatic before!!!

  3. July 25, 2010 3:07 am

    Thank goodness I found you. Your recipes are gorgeous and the are photos beautiful too.

  4. July 26, 2010 7:07 am

    Hotdogs with ketchup AND pickles! What will they think of next? ; ) Can’t wait to hear about the watermelon…

  5. sarah permalink
    July 26, 2010 2:42 pm

    glad to hear your tips! I made some pickles last week and they came out terribly soggy … but i had sliced them and used table salt. will try again with the recipe you listed.

  6. August 4, 2010 10:55 am

    I had the great pleasure of sampling those said pickles.
    a little soft texture but flavor was delicious and tangy! After devouring the little salty pickles, I had a jar of leftover pickling juice so I threw in an handful of quartered radishes and sliced carrots into the brine. 2 days later the juices turned a glorious pink hue and my radishes were even more delicious than before!

  7. August 10, 2010 12:04 pm

    Here’s a secret that’s slowly been revealed to me the last couple of pickling seasons. Brining. As I’ve been reading old pickling recipes before the mid 50s the prevailing methods involved covering cukes with either boiling water or cold water, plus salt (1/2-1/3 cup per gallon of liquid), and letting them sit for anywhere from 1 to 5 days—or longer. Sounds counter intuitive, but this has been working for me. The brining must harden the cells or something. Let’s put that theory to Alton Brown.

    For most recipes I cover whole, unwashed cukes with room temp brine (1/3 cup salt per gallon water) for 2 days (sometimes longer if I’m not ready to pickle). According to the recipe, I sometimes add garlic and/or fresh hot peppers to the brine. (Will smell amazing!) Then I drain and clean the cukes (dirt rinses right off), trim off blossom ends, cut up or leave whole according to size, and proceed with recipe.

    They’ll feel pliant but crisp at this point, and they pack tightly into jars with little or no shrinkage after processing. I also eliminate the salt in recipes, adding salt directly to each jar—a heaping 1/4 tsp if cukes are thick and less brine got to the center; a scant 1/4 tsp if cukes were small and more brine inundated the flesh.

  8. August 10, 2010 12:17 pm

    One more thing (as if that wasn’t enough!). You need to let new pickles cure for at least 2–4 weeks so the pickling liquid totally infuses the cucumber flesh. It’s not uncommon for shriveling to take place during canning. Don’t despair. In most cases the cukes will plump back up and most times much of that leathery sogginess goes away too. Also, always serve them ice cold for the most crunch!

    • August 10, 2010 1:42 pm

      Wow, thank you so much for all those great tips. It makes sense that the brine would draw out the water from the cucumbers though I would never have thought to leave them for so long in so much brine! I am definitely going to try your method for my next batch!!

      • August 16, 2010 11:36 am

        Hey guys,

        Another food blogger friend of ours, Mark Owen with UrbanFoodGuy.com, tried out my recipe for French Cornichons from Lark’s Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving! What an honor. Thought you’d be interested. It’s a classic 3-day brine method.

        http://urbanfoodguy.blogspot.com/2010/08/french-pickles.html

        You guys ought to connect, BTW. He’s a sweetie.

      • August 16, 2010 11:41 am

        wow, thats your recipe, nice! i would love to make those classic cornichons… i’ve been up to my eyeballs in peaches and tomatoes lately but maybe this weekend is time to do cucumbers for a change! thanks for the link to Mark’s site, it looks great, and he’s definitely on the same page as us with respect to eating philosophies!!

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