Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cucurbit Love

This month's Can Jam (selected by across-the-pond homesteader Gloria, of the imminently inspiring Laundry, etc.) celebrates all things cucurbit. Encompassing that much loved network of extended, yet similar, kin, cucurbits include melons, squashes (all of them-zucchini, winter, summer, pumpkins, etc.), cucumbers, and luffas. Although most cucurbits are inclined towards vining, some appear as shrubs or trees.

I've yet to meet a curcubit I don't love. From my recent prego-induced watermelon ravaging benders (and yes, it is entirely possible to have too much of a good thing) to pumpkin butter, zucchini bread and beyond, I'll gladly consume any cucurbit you put in my path with gusto. I even like saying the word. Cucurbit. Reminds me robust croaks emanating from the tiny throats of frogs and toads. But I digress...

If pressed to choose a favorite, if backed into a corner and threatened with permanent obstruction lest I select a preferred cucurbit, I'd have to go with cucumbers. During hot summers (this one certainly being no exception), I've been known to form a meal from sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, sprinkled over heavily with sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. The preferred method for cucumber consumption chez English, however, is pickles. Hands down. We eat pickles all year long, especially dill pickles. Nothing fancy. Nothing exotic. Just simple, straight-up, heavy on the fresh dill, dill seeds, garlic cloves, and black pepper, dill pickles. Crunchy and sour in all the right ways, in my house, dill pickles can cure whatever ails you.

From my book, I offer you classic dill pickles. They might just become your new favorite thing.


For many, a sandwich just isn’t a sandwich unless accompanied by a dill pickle. In my opinion, their pungent saltiness is the perfect lunchtime companion. Aside from an overnight soak, this canning classic is ready in no time. Yield: 8 pints.

You will need:

- 6 pounds pickling cucumbers

- ½ c. + ¼ c. pickling salt (divided)

- 4 c. white vinegar

- 3-½ c. water

- 8 garlic cloves, peeled

- 4 tsp. dill seed

- 8 fresh dill heads (if unavailable, use 4 tsp. dried dill)

- 3 tsp. black peppercorns

To make:

-Rinse cucumbers in cold water. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush to loosen any hidden soil. Remove a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber (if you can’t tell which end is the blossom end, just take a thin slice off of each end). Place cucumbers in a non-reactive bowl, add ½ c. pickling salt, cover with water, place a plate or towel over the top, and set in a cool place or the refrigerator overnight or for 8 hours.

-Drain off the brining solution. Rinse cucumbers thoroughly to remove salt residue. Set aside.

-Sterilize 8 mason jars, lids, and screw rings.

-In a medium-sized stainless-steel pan, combine vinegar, water, and ¼ c. pickling salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

-Into each sterilized jar, place 1 garlic clove, ½ tsp. dill seeds, 1 dill head or ½ tsp. dried dill, and 8 black peppercorns.

-Pack cucumbers into each jar and cover with vinegar solution. Leave ½-inch headspace. Use a non-metallic spatula to remove any trapped air bubbles and wipe rims clean with a damp cloth. Place on lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.

-Process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude.


Paula said...

It's cucurbit, not curcubit. I had trouble remembering until I figured cuc, like cuke. Then I could remember it correctly.

Any plant of the family Cucurbitaceae.

ashley english said...

paula-i ALWAYS do that! seems i want to mash my r's up. thank you! duly noted and adjusted.

Jen said...

What's your feeling on using salad cukes for these pickles? My kirbies aren't coming in well, but my mom is deluged with regular guys...

EcoGrrl said...

yum... our summer is so late compared to yours though! canning not for another month! my cukes are just budding on the vine! nothing like canning in august, bleah!

Sarah said...

I'll have to try this recipe... but what size jars? Pints?

Gini said...

This may seem like a silly question, but as someone who has never make pickles long before you can eat these?

ashley english said...

jen-i say use what you've got on hand. i've got a variety of cukes in my garden and i just use what's available. that said, for the longer, thicker guys, you'll end up needing to halve/quarter and trim them, so as to fit them inside the jar.

sarah-this recipe will yield approximately 8 pint jars.

gini-the flavor really improves over time, so, generally speaking with pickles, i encourage folks to wait at least one week before consuming them, two weeks being preferable.

Dulcimer said...

Thanks for posting this -- it reminds me that I've been wanting to contact you about one of the pickle recipes in your book. My husband and I recently tried Chris' French Pickles (with tarragon) and were disappointed to find that they were WAY, WAY too vinegary. I used the correct amount of white wine vinegar and water (5 cups and 1 cup, respectively), and the vinegar had a 6% acidity level, so I'm wondering what we did wrong! Have you heard this from anyone else? Any suggestions? They're so vinegary, they're almost inedible . . . but we love tarragon and want to try again someday!

ashley english said...

dulcimer-thanks for writing! i wrote chris, who provided the recipe. here's his feedback:

"Been studying cornichon recipes. Some, including most original French recipes, use no water at all, some are proportioned with twice as much vinegar as water (4c/2c for this recipe), and some are 50/50 water & vinegar.

I intended for them to be tart. The first year I made a 50/50 blend I thought came out bland compared to real cornichons. I wanted them VERY tart but was afraid to go 100% vinegar. So I went 5/1 and used it 2 years.

Some sites do mention or warn this style of pickle, most common in Germany and France, are much more tart than many Americans have experienced. And other people comment they are not fond of the tartness.

Here’s what I recommend. First, I'm sorry that we didn’t describe the Ò-la-la eye-popping pucker factor, and we should have suggested alternate formulas. Second, tell readers that every time they open a jar, drain out half the liquid and add water. (And to SAVE the vinegar for dressings and seasoning.) I estimate in a few days the pickles will mellow."

I hope this helps! Sorry for any twisty-faced, -puckery-tongued assault this may have incurred!

Dulcimer said...

Chris and Ashley,

Thanks so much for your response! We had a great time making these pickles, and we'll try your tip about draining (and saving) half the pickling liquid and replacing it with water.

No worries about the puckery-tongued assaults! We're always game for trying new things, so sometimes our culinary experiments surprise our taste buds, to say the least.

Thanks again.

homesprout said...

I have a random question. Mom mom said that when she used to make pickles, they always lost their "crunch," and went soft... Do you find that this recipe keeps them crisp?

Thanks! - Allison

ashley english said...

hi allison! for the most part, these cukes retain their crunch. admittedly, they're not always as crunchy as cukes that have pickling lime added to them (which you can easily pick up at most grocery stores), but i'm not really a fan of additives. generally speaking, if you start with young cucumbers, that haven't been allowed to over-ripen on the vine, the more likely you are to end up with crunchy pickles.

homesprout said...

Thanks so much for answering Ashley! I've been picking them tiny, so they should do well. Thanks!


Shaheen {The Purple Foodie} said...

I'm waiting to find kirby-like cucumbers in my market so that I can make dill pickle!