Blog, Recipes, Snacks & Sides

Easy Pickles for “Real” Gardeners

Where are you, cucumbers???

Where are you, cucumbers??

In the kitchen, and in the garden, there’s the fantasy, and then there’s real life… I love the idea that I’m going to go to the farmer’s market in the summer, bring home loads of yummy local produce, cook lots of delicious stuff for our family to work on through the week, and repeat the following Saturday.  The reality, or course, is that the restaurant is too busy in the summer for me to go to the farmer’s market and buy anything beyond a few peaches to snack on because I’m not going to be cooking anything at home.  I also love the idea of having a big, beautiful garden, with tons of my all-time favorite food, fresh heirloom tomatoes.  With these tomatoes I will feast on salads with feta or mozzarella cheese and the copious amounts of basil that I plant alongside them all summer long…  The reality is that I’m a terrible gardener.  I haven’t got the time or the patience to baby plants, pulling off all of the suckers, tying them up diligently as they grow, feeding them and watering them sufficiently.  It’s taken me years to accept this reality.  But this year I finally accepted the situation; I flattened the entire garden and bought a few Earthboxes to house just a few plants.  So far, so good.  The Earthboxes are nice and easy to maintain.  The tomatoes have grown enormously big:  I may end up with more than I did with 8 times the amount of plants before!  The cucumbers remain challenging — they’re growing fantastically well but they are STILL so hard to see!  In the small, contained space of the Earthbox, the little, pickling cucumbers that I always like to plant, are growing like the Little Shop of Horrors, and are bound to produce a ton of cucumbers, which is great for a challenged gardener like me.  In the ideal world, they would each be picked at the same size, so all of my pickles would be uniform.  The reality is, every day I go out to check if anyone’s ready to come to work with me and get pickled, and no matter how hard I look, the next day when I come back there are ENORMOUS cucumbers instead of dainty little cornichons, and I end up having to slice them to get them in the jar.

 

But the pickles…oh my gosh, they are so EASY!  They are so good and even I can manage to make them with this terrific method, via my mother-in-law in France.  We usually end up with a couple of half-gallon jars of these pickles by the end of the summer, despite my gardening challenges and my inability to see what’s in front of my eyes.

My pickle jar now, at the beginning of the season…

The best thing about these pickles is that you do them as you harvest throughout the season and you season them however you want.  I assume that everyone’s fantasy is like mine:  to raise a bunch of cucumber plants with attention and love, bring in a huge harvest of cucumbers all together, and spend a hot and steamy afternoon pickling them and lining the shelves with the glimmering, green jars.  And in fact that’s not reality — some days I have 2 cucumbers ready, some days I have 10 (and don’t forget that they’re all of varying sizes!) — this method allows you to just work with what you have on a given day, and keep adding to a jar in your fridge until it’s full.  At that point, you shove the full jar to the back of the fridge and forget about it for a month or so while everything finishes pickling as much as it’s going to.  We usually enjoy these in the winter with Raclette cheese, our favorite winter-night-off-with-friends meal.  We hope that you enjoy them, too!

 

Easy Pickles for “Real” Gardeners

The Materials:

1 very clean glass jar with a lid (more as needed throughout the summer)

1 large bottle of distilled white vinegar

garlic, shallots, sweet onion

peppercorns, bay leaf, mustard seeds, sprigs of dill, anything else you fancy

kosher salt

freshly-picked cucumbers

The Method:

Bring in your cucumbers and give them a good wash.  If they’re different sizes, cut them into vaguely the same size pieces (if they’re fairly small, you can leave them whole).  Place the cucumbers in a non-reactive bowl and cover with kosher salt (a few tablespoons).  Leave on the counter while you go about your day.  The amount of time that they stay in the salt determines how strongly salted the pickles will be at the end.  I usually leave them for 3-4 hours.  After that, I find that they are too salty for my taste.  If you’re not sure, rinse one after a few hours and slice off a bit.  Make sure it tastes nicely salted.  Rinse the cucumbers with cold water, drain and then place in the jar.  At this point you add whatever seasoning you like.  I usually add a couple of garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half, a couple of shallots or a small sweet onion, sliced, about 1 T peppercorns, 1-2 t mustard seeds and 1 bay leaf.  Hot pepper flakes are wonderful if you want them to be spicy.  Cover everything with some vinegar, close the jar, and pop it in the fridge.  The next day, or whenever you’ve collected a few more cukes, repeat the process, and just carry on until the jar is full.  If the cucumber to seasoning proportion seems to be off, you can throw in a few more garlic cloves, etc. as you go; just make sure everything is covered with the vinegar. Since some of the cucumbers have been in the jar for a few more days/weeks than the others, I just leave the jar alone in the fridge for a month or two once it’s full, so everything finishes preserving itself to more or less the same degree, and then we can enjoy them for months afterwards.  Pickles done this way keep in the fridge all winter long.