On my trips down to the Northern Neck, I’ve started stopping at my favorite produce stand every time I pass with the intent to buy whatever’s in season that week. Generally, it’s a pretty straight forward engagement. See asparagus. Buy asparagus, cook said asparagus, and marvel at how tasty they are compared to their distant relatives at my local supermarket. Next week demolish a pint of fresh strawberries on the way home, hastily stash the container in the recycling bin before going inside lest anyone guilt me for not sharing, then flatly denying that there are berry stains around my mouth. Bumpy country roads and lipstick have their consequences.
On my trip last Friday I didn’t notice anything new, and was about to leave when the proprietor called out, “the cukes are in.” I took the bait. “The cucumbers?” “Yeah, pickling cukes, want two pecks?” I slowly nodded yes as I was calculating in my head-two cups make a pint, two pints make a quart, maybe two quarts make a peck as she dropped a 25-pound box on the counter. Sweet Saint Pickle, that’s a lotta cukes.
On the way back to Richmond I kept reminding myself I was complaining about not doing anything different lately, so I decided to give canning two different pickles a try. I loved my grandmother’s old school sweet pickles, and at the same time I wanted a snacking pickle that was sweet and spicy. The result? It was a fun way to spend some time over the weekend, they are so much better than what you buy in the store, and I have enough pickles to last me through the 2022 alien DNA pandemic. If you’ve ever thought about making pickles, here’s an abbreviated version of the process. If you’d like the recipes, PM me and I’ll pass them along.
Friday night: wash and slice the pickles. I used a mandolin for most of the cutting, then hand cut about a quarter of the pickles for spears. Place in a large container like a cooler, add about five gallons of water and a ½ cup of pickling lime. This makes the pickles crisp.
Saturday morning: drain and rinse the cucumber slices multiple times to leach out the excess lime.
Saturday afternoon, mix the pickle brine for the sweet pickles in a large pot. This is basically equal parts apple cider vinegar and sugar, spices and a little salt. Add half the sliced cukes (I split the amount to make half sweet and half spicy), turn off the heat and let them sit for at least five hours, preferably overnight.
Saturday evening: place the canning jars in the dishwasher and wash on the highest setting. Leave closed until you are ready to use the jars.
Sunday: slowly bring pickles back to a boil, the ladle in jars. Seal and place in boiling water for ten minutes. Meanwhile, I mixed up the sweet and spicy brine, and placed a clove of garlic and a slice of fresh jalapeno in half the jars. You then fill the jars with the remaining fresh cukes, and cover them with the hot brine, then seal and boil. Let everything sit for 24 hours, then you’re good to go. Delicious at that point, but they get better as the flavors mingle.
If you’ve ever had the interest, give it a try. As my grandmother used to say: “There’s nothing artificial in a good southern pickle, there are taste buds to tickle, and it’s good on pumpernickel.” At least I think that’s what she said, she tended to make her bourbon maple pickles at the same time, and I don’t think all the bourbon made it to the brine. Enjoy!