So. Many. Cucumbers.
My garden – more correctly, my husband’s garden – was overflowing with cucumbers. Lots of tomatoes and peppers, too, along with lesser amounts of carrots, eggplant, Egyptian spinach, zucchini and the list goes on.
We tried everything to use up the cucumbers: Cucumber and avocado salad, cucumbers with couscous, cucumbers in adult beverages, and we made gallons and gallons of cucumber water. We gave some away to friends. Even then, so … many … cucumbers. We knew what we should do with them but were just too afraid to try: Make pickles.
There are easy ways to make pickles. Our friend Daniel Neman has a video on how to make Quickles (quick pickles). But those last in the refrigerator just a few weeks. We had a bigger cucumber problem on our hands. We needed to venture into the world of canning. None of my family or close friends can. Left to my own devices, I started with the internet. As is often the case there, I found conflicting reports on how to can. But after reading enough stories from reputable sources, I finally felt confident that I knew how to do it.
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Kaitie Adams, a full-time farmer and educator at Earthdance Organic Farm School, says pickling is nothing to be afraid of. “It is a lot easier than people think it is. And it allows you to eat really good food you made, to connect to your food system. … It’s the best way to enjoy seasonable produce year-round. Canning basically is to stop food from decomposing, so you create this environment devoid of oxygen and harmful bacteria, locking in the nutrition.”
She says most people start with cucumbers and tomatoes because they can be found in abundance this time of year. But those can be like a super-healthful gateway drug. “Once you get the basics in, you can pickle just about anything; there’s a funny ‘Portlandia' skit about it.”
Oh, I’ve seen it. And while I’m not there yet, I do have a dozen or so jars of pickles in my cupboard, several more in my refrigerator and even more pickles in my belly. Bread and butter, spears, whole, chips, spicy, mustardy. If you are afraid, as I was, here’s a simple how-to on canning pickles, with advice from Adams and me.
1. Buy the right equipment
A few things are absolutes: You must have jars and lids (you may reuse the jars and rings, but you'll need to replace the actual lid each time so it seals properly). Almost as important are the canning tongs. Not just any tongs will do. I bought some in a kit with a bunch of other gadgets for $9.99 from Farm & Home Supply in Cottleville. They are a canner’s dream. The kit also came with a spatula-like tool for getting the air out, a lid tightener (good if you aren’t very strong), and a jar lifter and a funnel that I have never used. I’d also recommend springing for the pickling and canning salt ($2.99 for 3 pounds) and pickling vinegar ($2.99 for 5 quarts). I’ve found apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar also work well. Lastly, you need a big pot to cook them in. I just use my stock pot, which fits four quart-size jars, but they make bigger pots that fit many more. A canning rack is also a great investment, as your jars need to be off the bottom of the pot. But you can make one yourself by tying canning rings together with cooking twine.
2. Sanitize the jars
Start by placing your jars (no lids) in a stock pot. Fill the pot (and jars) with water, to about an inch over the jars. Boil for about 10 minutes. Use your tongs to remove the jars to a wood cutting board or to a work surface covered by towels. I’ve read differing reports on what to do with the lids. The easiest and most reasonable seems to be to rinse them under hot tap water for a bit.
3. Make the brine
A general rule seems to be 2/3 vinegar to 1/3 water plus salt. I use 2 cups of vinegar, 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons salt, brought to a boil. Canning salt is best, and kosher salt is good, but never use iodized salt. If I’m making bread and butter or sweet pickles, I'll add as much as 2 cups of sugar (see recipe).
4. Get creative with the jars
Now comes the fun part. My 11-year-old son likes to help here. We line up a bunch of ingredients and let his imagination run wild. Add any (but probably not all!) of these ingredients to the empty jars: dill, thyme, oregano, rosemary, turmeric, mustard seeds, jalapeno, onion, black peppercorn, garlic, coriander seeds, fresh ginger (peeled and sliced) or red pepper flakes. Then fill the jars as much as you can with cucumber, either whole, sliced into chips or quartered into spears. Next, pour the brine to within about a half-inch of the rim. Use a spatula or one of those special tools to get the air bubbles out, running it along the sides of the jar. Adams also says a chopstick will do the job. Now, put the lids back on. Seal them tight, but there’s no need to He-Man that thing.
5. Cook them, store them
Put the sealed jars back in the stock pot of water, turn it on so it comes to a low boil and cook, about 10 minutes for pint-size jars and 15 for quart-size jars. But if your recipe says different, follow that. Use those special tongs to remove the jars to a safe surface (I use a wood cutting board). Let them sit for 24 hours. Then test the seal to make sure they are secure. Press the middle of the lid with your finger, and if the lid springs up when you release your finger, the lid is unsealed. I also like to remove the ring and gently see if I can pry the lid off. If I cannot, it is sealed, and into the cupboard it goes, where jars can be stored for a year. No worries if the seal is broken, just put it in the fridge and use within three weeks.
Note that water bath canning is perfect for high-acid foods and jams and jellies, but a pressure canner should be used for lower-acid foods such as beans, beets, meats and other naturally low-acid foods.
Not a pickle fan? Here are some other cucumber ideas.
Whipped Feta with Cucumbers
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Recipe from Food & Wine.
1 pound feta cheese, cut into 2 pieces, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cucumbers (1 1/2 pounds), halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Salt and pepper
Toasted pita or baguette slices, for serving
In a large bowl, cover the feta with water and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to temper the saltiness. Drain and coarsely crumble the feta. Transfer to a food processor and puree.
Add the cream cheese, heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and process until smooth and airy. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the cucumbers with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Add the oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
Serve the whipped feta lightly chilled or at room temperature with the cucumber and toasts.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12, no bread): 196 calories; 10 g fat; 3.5 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 3 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 0.5 g fiber; 65 g sodium; 40 mg calcium
Yield: 6 servings
Recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.
6 cucumbers, about 8 inches long
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon dill or basil
3 to 4 tablespoons minced green onion
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Peel the cucumbers. Cut in half lengthwise; scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut into lengthwise strips about 3 / 8 inch wide. Cut the strips into 2-inch pieces.
Toss the cucumbers in a bowl with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours. Drain. Pat dry with a towel.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Toss the cucumbers in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with the butter, herbs, onion and pepper. Set uncovered in middle level of preheated oven for about 1 hour, tossing 2 or 3 times, until cucumbers are tender but still have a suggestion of crispness and texture.
Nutrition | Per serving: 75 calories; 6 g fat; 3.5 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 1 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 100 g sodium; 30 mg calcium
Yield: 6 servings
Created by Adam Frank, adapted by the New York Times.
6 limes, rinsed, divided
1 cup packed mint leaves, no stems, plus 6 sprigs for garnish
3 cucumbers, divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups gin or vodka
Thinly slice 3 limes and place in a pitcher. Juice the rest and add juice to the pitcher. Add mint leaves. Peel and slice 2 of the cucumbers and add; add sugar. Muddle ingredients (a potato masher works well). Add gin or vodka. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer for flavors to blend.
Cut remaining cucumber lengthwise into 6 spears. Fill six highball glasses with ice. Strain mixture from pitcher into each. Top with sparkling water. Garnish each glass with a sprig of mint and a cucumber spear, and serve.
Yield: 8 servings
Recipe adapted from OMGFood.
1 cucumber about 12 inches long, peeled
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt, see note
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried dill or 1/2 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Note: For best results, use full-fat (whole milk) Greek yogurt. Two percent fat is acceptable, but do not use nonfat yogurt.
Grate the cucumber into a mesh strainer. Sprinkle with salt and let sit in the sink or in a bowl to sweat out the moisture for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much of the remaining moisture as you can with paper towels.
In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, dill, olive oil and vinegar. Add the strained cucumber and stir until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Store in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours to allow the flavors to combine.
Nutrition | Per serving: 34 calories; 2 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 4 mg cholesterol; 3 g protein; 2 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; no fiber; 130 mg sodium; 37 mg calcium
Corn Gazpacho With Garlic Croutons
Yield: 4 servings
For the soup
4 cups fresh corn kernels
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped peeled English cucumber plus 1 cup diced peeled English cucumber
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably grapeseed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup halved or quartered cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced serrano chile with the seeds
Shredded fresh basil for garnish
For the croutons
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably grapeseed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces (about 3 slices) firm white bread, crusts removed and cut into 1 / 2-inch dice (you should have about 2 cups)
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, add the corn and boil for 1 minute. Drain the corn into a colander and run cold water over it to cool it down. Set aside 1 cup of the kernels and in a blender combine the remaining corn kernels, the coarsely chopped cucumber, garlic, lime juice, oil and salt and puree until very smooth.
Transfer the puree to a bowl and stir in the remaining corn kernels, diced cucumber, tomatoes, red bell pepper and chile. Taste and adjust seasoning and chill for at least 2 hours and up to two days ahead before serving.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a bowl combine the oil, garlic, chile powder and salt, add the bread cubes and toss well. Spread the croutons out on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan and bake them on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bread squares are crisp and beginning to brown. Let cool.
To serve: Divide the soup among 4 bowls and top each portion with the croutons and some shredded basil.
Nutrition | Per serving: 359 calories; 16 g fat; no cholesterol; 409 mg sodium; 55 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 11 g sugar; 8 g protein
Yield: 2 servings
Recipe adapted from Sanjay Thumma, via Vahrevah.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds, see note
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, see note
10 curry leaves, optional, see note
1 large tomato, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon, or to taste, Indian red chile powder or cayenne pepper, see note
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, cubed
Cilantro, for garnish
Notes: Black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves are available at Indian markets and some international food stores. If you don’t have cumin seeds, use 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin. If you can’t find the curry leaves, leave them out; do not try to substitute curry powder – it’s not the same thing. Do not substitute Mexican chili powder for Indian red chile powder; use cayenne pepper (sometimes called “ground red pepper”) instead. The 1/4 teaspoon of red chile powder will make quite a hot curry; use less if you prefer a less spicy meal or more if you like it blazing.
Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat; add mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, add cumin seeds and curry leaves, if using. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
dd the diced tomato simultaneously with the garam masala, coriander, turmeric, chile powder and salt. Mix well. Add water and stir. Boil until slightly thickened.
Add cucumber. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Top with chopped cilantro. Serve with rice or roti.
Nutrition | Per serving: 100 calories; 8 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 7 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 885 g sodium; 40 mg calcium
Yield: 3 servings
1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, rinsed
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into half-moons
1 avocado, cubed
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
About 4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon mild red or yellow miso paste
3 cups cooked rice (white, brown, sushi or a combo)
1 (0.7-ounce) package crisp seaweed
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Slice tofu into 1/2-inch thick slabs. Set slabs on a baking sheet lined with a clean kitchen towel. Cover with a second towel. Weight with another baking sheet. Let drain 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss together cucumber, avocado, carrot and scallion. Season with salt, vinegar, sesame oil and 1 tablespoon soy sauce.
Whisk together 2 tablespoons soy sauce and the miso. Cube drained tofu and toss with soy/miso sauce. Spread out on an oiled baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, for 20 minutes.
Serve: Add rice, roasted tofu and seaweed to the vegetables. Toss. Add a little more soy, if you like. Serve at room temperature.
Nutrition | Per serving: 469 calories; 17 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 22 g protein; 61 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 2,361 mg sodium; 291 mg calcium
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 sweet bell pepper, red or green, julienned
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar and sugar until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely. Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and add the vinegar mixture. The salad is best if marinated for at least 2 hours. It will keep in the refrigerator for one week.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 4): 110 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 24 g carbohydrate; 18 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 28 mg sodium; 39 mg calcium