Pickles! Most people like them yet few seem to take the time to make them. But if you're like me and grow cucumbers, once they start producing, it sure doesn't take long to realize that there is only so many a body can consume. Sooner or later you're going to want to preserve them to enjoy at a later date. Since drying and freezing are not viable ways of preservation, pickling is about the only option. Now I know that there are a variety of vegetables that can be pickled and be called pickles, but I'm going to concentrate on cucumbers since they are the most popular vegetable used. and the one that is referred to as a pickle.
The unlikely country of origin for the cucumber is India, and it's been grown there for over 4,000 ears. From the subcontinent, the cucumber traveled the world before there was written history. Historians have estimated that the cucumber was introduced to China and also the Tigris Valley by 2000 B.C. It was in this valley that they were first preserved and eaten as pickles. By the start of the Christian Era, cucumbers were grown all around the Mediterranean, from Asia Minor to Italy, Greece, and across North Africa.
By 850 B.C., Aristotle was singing the praises of the healing power of cured cucumbers or pickles. And the Emperor Tiberius loved them so much, he is reported to have eaten cucumbers on a daily basis and even had his Romans develop artificial methods for growing them all year even when they were out of season. Both Julius Caesar and Napoleon believed that pickles improved health and fed them to their legions and/or armies.
It was Columbus who brought the cucumber to the New World and he is credited with first planting them in Haiti in 1494. He carried pickles on his voyages to prevent scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, just as the English carried limes on their ships. The pickle seller in Seville who supplied the ships before he too became an explorer, was none other than Amerigo Vespucci, the man for whom America is named.
Cucumbers flourished in the New World, and when De Soto arrived in what was to become Florida in 1539, he found that the natives were already growing them. He is quoted as saying, they were better than those growing in Spain. By 1584 the cucumber had spread to Virginia in the north by the Indians from the south. And starting in colonial times, homemakers were expected to "put down" cucumbers in stone crocks to ferment, and "put up" pickles in glass jars as part of preserving the harvest. In 1820 a Frenchman named Nicholas Appert was the first person to commercially pack pickles in jars and, as they say, the rest is history.
The traditional way to make a pickle is to first ferment cucumbers in a salt brine for a couple of weeks. The brine removes moisture from the cucumber which could dilute the pickling solution and thus lower the acidity. They are then drained, packed in glass containers, covered with a pickling solution, and processed. That is the traditional method, but there are other ways to produce a pickle that are not so time intensive. The one that is most recommended is to brine the cucumbers overnight, then pack in a vinegar mixture, and process in a hot water bath (180-190 degrees) for 10 minutes. Surprisingly this doesn't cook the cucumbers as it takes a lot of heat to penetrate into the jars. These pickles have a shelf life of a year. Or, you can omit the water bath and refrigerate the pickles for 6 months. And finally just pouring the pickling solution over the cucumbers produces an instant pickle that will only last for 4 to 5 days under refrigeration.
I fall into the category of people who love pickles and do take the time to make them. My refrigerator always has a few different kinds to put on sandwiches, to serve as a relish or accompaniment, as an appetizer, or to enjoy as a snack . Following are some pickle recipes that I use to preserve prodigious cucumber crops. And with these recipes, the old word cucumber combines with the new world chile to produce tasty, pungent pickles!
--Only use fresh, firm cucumbers. Never use commercial ones that have been waxed, as the salt and acid will not penetrate the skin.
--Use pickling salt, rather than table salt which contains additives that can discolor the pickles.
--Use vinegar with 5 to 6 percent acidity and do not boil the vinegar for a long period of time as that will reduce the acidity.
--Always sterilize the jars and lids before using.
--Store pickles in a cool, dark, dry place.
--NEVER, EVER taste a pickle that doesn't look right or is slippery or mushy, just discard!
These are the pickles that I "put up" with some of my cucumber bounty. I may vary the spices that I add but never change the proportions of the acid (vinegar) or salt in the recipe. If you have fresh grape leaves, do add a couple to the jar. These will help to keep your pickles crisp.
Cucumbers, blossom ends removed
Per quart jar:
12 black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dill seed
3 cloves garlic
4 dried red chiles, such piquin, cayenne, or chiltepins
5 cups water
3 1/2 cups 5 to 6% distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons pickling salt
Combine a gallon of water with 1/2 cup pickling salt and heat until the salt dissolves. Allow the brine to cool and pour over the cucumbers. Brine the cucumbers overnight, weighing them down with a plate to keep them submerged. Drain the cucumbers and dry.
Place the grape leaves in the bottom of sterilized jars and add the seasonings. Pack the pickles in the jars.
In a saucepan, bring the pickling solution to a boil. Pour over the cucumbers and run a knife along the sides to release any air bubbles. Seal the jars.
Process the pickles in a simmering water bath (180 degrees) for 10 minutes. Remove from the water and let sit for 24 hours. Test the lids to see if they are sealed and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
Let stand for 4 to 6 weeks before using.
Heat Scale: Medium
A pickling spice mixture can be used to flavor pickles, beets, or even hard cooked eggs. There are a number of commercial ones on the market, but you can design your own blend and be sure that is fresh when you need it. Take the following recipe and adjust for your tastes.
1 4-inch piece cinnamon stick, crushed
4 bay leaves, crushed
1 tablespoon crushed chile piquin
1 tablespoon dill seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons allspice berries
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons whole cloves
Combine all the ingredients and store in a airtight jar. Shake the mixture before using because some of the heavier ingredients will sink to the bottom.
Yield: Approximately 1/2 cup
Heat Scale: Medium to Hot
Curried East Indian Pickles
These sweet and hot curried pickles are a great accompaniment to grilled meats, chicken, or fish. Serve as you would a chutney with Indian curries or Caribbean dishes like jerk pork.
6 cups thinly sliced unpeeled cucumbers
1 pound thinly sliced onions
1/4 cup pickling salt
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon hot curry powder
1 teaspoon crushed chile piquin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine the cucumbers, onions and pickling salt and place in a colander. Allow the mixture to sit for 3 hours to remove the liquid. Drain the vegetables and rinse well with cold water.
Slowly bring the pickling solution to a boil, add the vegetables, and simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally .
Pack the vegetables in sterilized jars and seal. Process as above
Yield: 4 pints
Heat Scale: Medium
Spicy Asian Ginger Pickles
This is a very simple pickle recipe that can be prepared in just a matter of minutes. The sweetness of the ginger complements the cool taste of the cucumber. The chile heat keeps the pickles from becoming too sweet. Be sure to marinate the pickles for at least an hour to blend the flavors.
1 large cucumber, chopped
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chile oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
Garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro
Place the cucumber chunks in a non-reactive bowl. In another bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together until combined. Allow the pickles to marinate for an hour.
To serve, drain and garnish with the cilantro.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
Orange Jalapeno Pickles
This recipe helps in processing two prolific crops--cucumbers and jalapenos! The sweetness of the oranges complements the heat of the chiles in these hot, sweet, and sour pickles.
2 cups sliced, unpeeled cucumbers
1 small red pepper, stem and seeds removed, chopped
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 small oranges
1/2 cup finely chopped jalapeÃ±os
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
6 whole cloves
Combine the cucumbers and red pepper with the salt in a colander and let stand for 3 hours to remove the liquid. Drain.
Squeeze the oranges and save the juice for another recipe or drink. Place the orange peels in a blender or food processor and pulse to finely chop. Add the oranges and the jalapeÃ±os to the cucumber mixture.
In a saucepan, combine the pickling solution ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the cucumber mixture and simmer for 5 minutes.
Pack the pickle mix in sterilized jars and seal. Process as above.
Yield: 1 1/2 pints
Heat Scale: Medium
Hot and slightly sweet, these Sichuan pickles complement Oriental meals as well as grilled meats. They are so quick and easy to make and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
2 large cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch lengthwise strips
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon crushed red chile
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt the cucumber slices and let sit for 2 hours. Drain any excess water from the cucumber slices and place them in a nonmetallic bowl. Sprinkle the chile over the slices.
Heat the oil, vinegar, and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture over the slices and refrigerate for 4 hours. Drain before serving.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Hot