Posts Tagged cucumber pickles

Pickle power

CukesI spent many years experimenting with things in jars before I actually pickled cukes. True, I’ve played with bread and butter pickles for the last few years, halving the sugar and varying the herbs and spices from a super-simple New York Times recipe. But somehow until last year I never pickled cucumbers to keep. Big mistake

The recipe came a slim volume from Australian Woman’s Weekly, and makes cucumber spears with a good crunch and some serious attitude from the large quantities of pepper, mustard seeds (both brown and yellow) and chilli pepper. One batch of brine seems to do two batches of pickles, and it’s quick. The most time-consuming bit is cramming the pickle spears into sterilized jars. I eat them in a sandwich, or with a large block of cheddar cheese.

But either we squished too many cukes into the jars, or the brine levels sank overnight, and while there’s a good seal on the jars, the top layer of cucumbers is no longer covered in brine. From all my pickling reading, this is not a good thing, because the air will soften (or even rot) the pickles. We will store these jars in the fridge rather than in the cold room, and eat them fast. It may not be too difficult.

Pickled cucumbers

3-4 kg pickling cucumbers (ours were mostly about 5 inches long)
1/3 cup kosher salt
5 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
3 Thai chillies
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dill seeds
8 cloves

Wash the cucumbers and slice off both ends and discard the ends (I read somewhere that the enzymes in the blossom end is one reason pickles go soft, and life is too short to figure out which end is the blossom end as you chop your way through a few dozen cucumbers). Slice them in quarters lengthwise, put in a large container with the salt and let them sit overnight in the fridge.

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The next day sterilize your jars (we used the dishwasher) and rinse the cucumbers under cold water and let them drain. Put all the other ingredients in a large saucepan, bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes to bring out the flavour. Add a couple of pounds of the cucumbers and bring the liquid back to the boil.

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Now pack the cucumbers into the jars, squeezing in as many as you can, while still leaving at least half an inch of headroom. Add enough of the hot vinegar mix to cover the cucumbers completely, and seal the jars while they are still hot. Repeat, as needed, until the cucumbers are gone. Store the jars in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate them after you open them.

The recipe, like most of those from this particular book, makes no mention of waterbathing the pickles, and I suspect this much vinegar doesn’t leave much chance for bacteria to grow. But I’m also sure USDA recommends 10-15 minutes of waterbathing, depending on the size of the jars. It’s up to you.

 

 

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Yellow plums with fennel; coriander-cukes

Our backyard, as anyone who followed our home renovation blog will know, is far too small for us to live on the produce, but we are growing heirloom tomatoes on the third floor deck, as well as a riot of herbs and salad greens at ground level. We had many meals of  lettuce and mustard greens before they decided to go to seed, and the chard is ready for harvest.

But we also have two fennel plants that are trying hard to go to seed rather than to bulb, and Vietnamese coriander that has taken over a large chunk of precious real estate. If I cut back the coriander, can I use that instead of dill in my newest batch of modified bread and butter pickles? And what about fennel flavored jam, given that fennel is like aniseed, and aniseed works with fruit?

So yellow plum fennel jam and coriander cucumber pickles were the two experiments today.

I salted the cukes, a la New York Times recommendation, and then layered them in a jar with biting Vietnamese coriander and  mustard greens before pouring in a vinegar/sugar/peppercorn/coriander/allspice mix. (I’ve been cutting the sugar each time I make these pickles; I’m down to about half of the NY Times recipe by now.)

It will take a day or so to see how well that experiment worked.

Edit: Vietnamese coriander and cukes is perhaps not the most inspired combination. The cucumbers seem to have more burn and bite than actual taste, and I can’t even taste the (also biting) mustard greens I threw in at the last minute. But I have a lot of Vietnamese coriander. There must be some other recipes out there that work.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)
It’s getting better day by day

But let me say that the jam is good. It was bright yellow before I added the finely chopped fennel flowers/buds/baby seeds, and the last minute addition turned it into a delicate yellow-kiwi, with flecks and tiny strands of green, like the saffron strands in a really good risotto. It’s a subtle hint of aniseed in a tart, but very plum-like jam.

My inspiration was Culinaria Eugenius, who took blue zwetschgen plums  and added fennel seeds and slivovic in a jam venture that took 45 minutes to boil down. Mine was a smaller batch and a faster boil, with just 10 minutes rolling boil for a surprisingly firm set. A silly experiment that ended up well.

Yellow plum jam with fennel
3 cups yellow plums, pitted and quartered (I used a quart of fruit, so  just over 3 squished down cups)
2 cups sugar (well, maybe 2-1/4 cups)
juice of one lemon
about 2 tbsp of finely chopped fennel flowers (chopped from my two fennel plants in the hope they will  grow into nice fennel bulbs one day)

Mix fruit, sugar and lemon and let it sit around for an hour or so until the sugar starts to melt. Heat, slowly until the sugar is all dissolved, and then at a rapid boil until it sets. Add the chopped up fennel and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Bottle in sterilized jars. I didn’t bother to water bath. I got just 2-1/2 jars, and they will be just fine by themselves.

My final venture was an attempt to use up last final jalapeno after buying two for last week’s peach jalapeno jam and wimpily only using one of them. I carefully donned rubber gloves to chop the jalapeno, and used it in a rather-runny apricot jalapeno jam. I think the fruit was too ripe, and I made midweek and decided 10 minutes of boiling would be enough. I can’t give you the recipe as I can’t remember the proportions, and the bite seems a little tame. I’ve got to be less wimpy with jalapeno.

But it does look very pretty — a brilliant orange with little flecks of green. The plum fennel venture is on the left.

Aug 3 edit: The apricot jalapeno venture really is rather nice. The main taste is one of apricot, which always was one of my favorite jams, but there’s also a very, very gentle kick. Interestingly, I can’t taste the bitter almond flavor from the apricot kernels at all. Maybe that one takes more time to emerge.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)
It loses a point for being a little too runny to put on bread (which doesn’t matter when I slop it into plain Greek yogurt), but it wins on  taste and color and even for that gentle bite. Maybe I’ll live dangerously and try 1-1/2 jalapenos next time.

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