Whenever I need to distract myself from worrying about the problems in the tomato patch (which have progressed), I turn to the vining plants. This has been, without a doubt, the best year ever for everything that grows by vine.
We have not yet counted the butternut squash, but there are many and they all are huge, compared to last year. They’ve been marauding through all nearby territory like angry Huns, with no sign of squash vine borer. Our single zucchini has already produced more than I’ve been able to deal with (and folks, that ain’t much) and the melons and pumpkin, though late, also seem healthy.
But none have outdone the cucumbers. I’m confident I’ll look back on this as our banner cucumber year, the gold standard by which all other good years are measured. The cukes this year have more than made up for the many, many years I scrambled to get together enough for one batch of pickles or sheepishly given up and taken my cash to a farmer’s market.
My usual routine, in a normal year, is to hover anxiously over the patch until I’ve got enough to do one batch each of dills and Wisconsin sweet/salty pickles, and maybe a batch of limed bread and butters. If I can get that many cucumbers before the inevitable wilt, I’m happy.
But this year, when I got to that point, I still had plenty of cucumbers left and no sign of a slow down. So I went ahead and did a limed version of some sweet and spicy pickles by Emeril Lagasse, some tarragon dill chips from the New York Times, another batch of dills–spears this time, and a second batch of the sweet/salties.
But they were still producing! So I did something I haven’t done in years. I started picking baby cukes, only the size of my pinkie, and putting them up as the sour French cornichons. You really have a good year when you can pick cornichon sizes.
We now have two quart jars filled with cornichons. There’s no more room in the overflow refrigerator in the basement for any more pickle jars.
The vines are slowing down now. Some are drying up and I’m allowing the butternuts to overrun them at the edges. The problem is, we still have bags of full-sized cucumbers we need to use.
So this week I found another way to use them. Cucumber popsicles.
The particular cuke pop I did came from the LA Times and used cucumber juice, lime juice, sugar and dried ground chilis. Mike pronounced it “interesting” after trying an ice-cube sized sample. He promised to eat more later. Our daughter declared it the worst new flavor idea for a popsicle and has yet to try any.
Oh well, more for me. Because I like them. I really, really like them.
We still have more cukes to use. But the paleta gave me an idea. Why not use the juicer for cucumber cocktails? Let’s see…cukes, apple juice, ginger? Vodka? I’ll let you know how it turns out.
In the meantime, you can go here to see the paleta recipe. The cornichon recipe is based on one I found in Fancy Pantry, by Helen Witty (1986) It requires no canning.
Small cucumbers, less than 2 inches long
kosher or pickling salt
several sprigs of fresh tarragon, to taste
one or two fresh shallots, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole allspice
3 or 4 whole cloves
enough white wine vinegar to cover. This is more expensive, but please don’t substitute.
First, wash and lightly dry a bunch of tiny cucumbers, wiping off the prickly spines. Try to have at least two cups. Put them in a bowl and pour in about half as much salt as there are cucumbers. Toss, cover and let stand overnight.
The next day, drain off the liquid and rinse the cukes, then swirl them for a second in a bowl of cold water. Drain again.
Wash and rinse a wide-mouth quart jar. (I like to sterilize mine by boiling it in water to cover for 15 minutes.)
Put the cukes into the jar, layered with the tarragon and spices. Then pour in enough vinegar to cover. You can repeat the salting process and add to the jar as you pick more cucumbers. Each time you add them to the jar, cover with vinegar.
Keep the jar in the refrigerator for about a month to mellow before consuming.
Posted by: Roxie
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