Of humble pickles and Pterosaur wings
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.
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.