Saturday, July 18, 2015

Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix

Home made pickles


Sunday, July 19, 2015

July is prime cucumber season!  Cucumbers love heat.  If you have more than you can or want to eat fresh, there is always homemade pickles.  Homemade pickles are sooooooo easy!  My husband loves those “Stacker” type pickles, the big slices you lay across the bun for a juicy hamburger.

I enjoy making pickles.  I slice up my extra cucumbers to just the length and width my husband likes them for his burgers and use my homemade pickling herbs and spices with organic apple cider vinegar.  The trick is to make sure you do not put less salt or vinegar in them.  Salt and vinegar are preservatives.  They keep the dilly solution acidic enough so your pickles do not spoil.

You can make either picklers or slicers cucumbers into pickles.  Picklers have been bred to be smaller and have smaller seeds, but both have the same fresh cucumber taste.  Don’t let the cucumber get too big, this results in big seeds and slows down cucumber production.

I can a jar at a time.  You want your cucumbers fresh for preserving.  I harvest the cucumbers before they get too large.  This does two things, it keeps the size of the seeds in the cucumber down and it keeps the vine producing.  All vegetables are in the business of insuring survival so they give everything they have to producing their seed, the vegetables we harvest.  If you keep removing their seeds, they keep trying to make more!

I typically can 2-3 cucumbers at a time.  These will fit nicely into a quart canning jar.  Make sure the jar and lid have been sterilized.  I slice them lengthwise to the size that will fit on a bun; make sure you remove the ends of the cucumber as some ends are bitter.  I add 2-3 flowering dill heads, 4-5 sprigs of salad burnet or tarragon, 2 cloves, 4-5 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teas of caraway seeds, 1/4 teas of peppercorns, one cardamon seed pod, 3 tablespoons of salt, a bay leave, fill the rest of the jar with water (about 2 cups is all that is needed).  If you like 'em spicy, throw in a pepper or two with stem removed.  Slice the pepper in half to get the spicy from the seeds.  
Sliced cucumber with herbs from the garden for seasoning

You can get a good jar seal by heating the water and seasonings on the stove to a boil, let cool, add the vinegar, then pour over the sliced cucumbers in the jar, and put the lid on.  Or you can do it the old fashioned way and not heat the liquid, letting the pickles naturally ferment.  It is critical that you have at least the amount of salt and vinegar recommended or the pickles will go bad.  I shake the jar a couple of times a day until the salt is completely dissolved. You let them ferment at room temperature in a cool, dark place 1-4 weeks and they are ready to eat!

For more on fermentation for food preservation, a good book is "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Some swear that adding a grape leaf will keep the pickles crisp.  I don’t have a grapevine so have not been able to confirm this tip, but will certainly remember for when we do.

Unopened pickle jars will keep for a year or longer.  Once opened, keep refrigerated and eat within a couple of months.

Cucumber ready to harvest
To keep your cucumbers in peak production, harvest when the cukes are 6-7 inches in length.  I use scissors to cut the cuke from the vine.  If you are not going to use them immediately, store in a freezer bag in the crisper.  You can perk up the cuke by soaking in cool water.

Cucumbers love heat, organic matter and moisture.  They are easiest to harvest when given a trellis to climb.  Keep the fruits harvested for best production.  I use a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or bat guano and seaweed to add other needed nutrients.  Monthly side dressings of compost works well, too.  For minerals, I also use a “Growers Mineral Solution” to get the minerals plants need.  This also means the fruits you eat will be rich in minerals.  Your plants are what you feed them.  

Do not let the plant get dry.  This is what causes bitter fruits.  When I grow cucumbers in pots or in the ground, I use mulch to help retain moisture for the plant.  If growing in a pot, you may need to water daily during heat waves or use a self watering pot with a built in water reservoir.

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