Whoever coined the term ‘lazy days of summer’ must not have been a vegetable gardener. In fact, July through September are some of the busiest days. Not only are the bugs out reaping havoc, the food is coming in droves. Additionally, if you grow enough to store over the winter, long, hot days of canning, freezing, and dehydrating lie ahead. Vacationing becomes complicated when you are anticipating ripening crops. Recently returning from a three-day trip to New York, I was greeted by dozens of ripe cucumbers. Really, what does one do with such a bountiful harvest?
Slicing cucumbers (pictured above) are tasty for fresh eating, but they can also be canned. My favorite variety is Socrates. It is less susceptible to disease and produces plentiful fruit. Grown from seed in May, these cucumber vines were transplanted into the garden around June 1. Below are the cucumber vines just a month ago on June 16th. They are easily grown up a trellis or fence. This keeps the fruit from lying on moist soil and conserves space.
A personal goal of mine this year, is to try to make my harvest last all year-long. Ambitious? Maybe. It does involve spending lots of time in the kitchen figuring out how to effectively use the unrelenting bounty of summer. Determined to try more recipes and storage methods, I enlisted the help of one of my favorite canning cookbooks, Put ‘Em Up, by Sheri Brooks Vinton.
One recipe in particular, crock pickles, caught my eye. As a child, I use to love the fermented pickles found in big barrels in the deli section of the market. For this recipe, pickling cucumbers of the variety Little Leaf were used. This variety is good for pickling only; not fresh eating.
Crock pickles follow a simple recipe and involve no cooking. The glass crock above contains whole pickles, pickling spices, garlic, and oak leaves (to preserve crispness).
The pickles will float to the top if left alone, however, complete submersion is necessary for successful fermentation.
To do this, place a clean plate on top of the pickles so that they are covered by one inch of salty brine. Weigh the plate down with a small canning jar partly filled with water.
Finally, cover the entire crock with a tea towel to prevent any unwanted bugs or dust from entering the crock. All that’s left to do is wait and let fermentation take its course. You should check the brine every three to four days and clean off any bloom (scum) that occurs on the top of the surface. After about 10-21 days (depending on taste) your pickles will be ready for the refrigerator where they will remain good for around 4-6 months.
In the meantime, what to do with the remaining cucumbers? Slice them up for Dill Pickle Spears…
Or Bread and Butter Chips…
Or Asian Pickles…
Or Cucumber Agua Fresca…
Can them in a boiling water bath, and you have a pickle feast to last for 12 months!
Recipe for Classic Crock Pickles*
4 pounds pickling cucumbers
2 quarts water
6 T kosher salt
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 T dill seed
1 T mustard seed
2 t celery seed
1 handfull oak leaves (from your yard or park, washed thoroughly)
1. Slice off the blossom end of each cucumber. Combine the water with the salt, garlic, dill seed, mustard seed, and celery seed in the container, and stir to dissolve. Add the oak leaves and then the cucumbers.
2. Press the plate into the brine to submerge the cucumbers. If you need more liquid, mix up a solution of 1 T salt to one cup of water and add it to the picking liquid.
3. Check pickles every day. Skim off the bloom (or scum) that forms on top of the liquid as necessary.
4. When the bubbles stop rising, after a week or two, taste test one of the pickles. If it isn’t uniform in texture, let it sit for a day or two more to complete the ferment.
5. Refrigerate when the pickles reach the desired flavor. Remove any developing scum regularly. They will keep for 4-6 months.
*Recipe adapted from Put ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton. All other recipes can be found in this book.