Friday, July 1, 2011

In a Pickled Mess

I have no clue how I get myself into these messes.
I have many routes to choose from when I drive to work.  Last week I took one particular scenic route which takes me past a cucumber farm.  The other day, I noticed the owner outside, so I slammed on my brakes, pulled into the driveway, and asked for my standard - a 2 lb bag of "seconds".   I got a wink, a smile and the owner said in his thick accent, "For you, today, I make special!  Open your trunk, I give you a case!"

I traded cash for cukes and ended up with a 20 pound box of "seconds".

Behold, my lovelies, the venerable Lebanese cucumber:

I was introduced to these about 20 years ago.  At the time, I was driving by this same farm with a friend who had recently moved from Beirut to Montreal.  As we drove by the farm, he noticed the name on the mail box, and said "STOP!", so it's not the first time I've slammed on my brakes at the cucumber place.  (And for those of you concerned about my lack of driving skills, there's actually a stop sign in front of the farm.  Just sayin'.)

My Lebanese friend is an agronomist, and launched into a long conversation in Lebanese with the cucumber farmer.  Much arm-waving and shoulder-slapping ensued, and we were toured around the green houses. We left with sun-warmed cukes straight off the vine from their pesticide-free greenhouses.

Unless you've gardened, you have no clue just how remarkable a fresh, sun-ripened cuke tastes.  Add a sprinkle of salt, and you're transported to a new foodie dimension on a different stellar plane.  My Lebanese agronomist friend explained these weren't ordinary cucumbers - they were Lebanese cucumbers - sweet, nearly seedless, with a tender peel you wouldn't even consider peeling.  People who say cukes are hard to digest have never had a Lebanese cucumber.  I eyed my first cucumber with a note of suspicion and a raised eyebrow.  I know cucumbers.  But we raised our cucumbers to the sky, toasted them with a quick "sahtain" in Lebanese, and I took my first bite.  Ohhh, there was no turning back now.  I was forever ruined against the watery, anemic English cucumber, the now-dethroned Queen of the cucumber world.  I quickly understood what my friend was trying to explain to me.  These are the new gold standard.

That little reminiscence aside, I am now the proud owner of a 20 pound crate of cucumbers.  And this is something I need to remedy -  stat.  As retaliation for the infamous Seville Orange incident that marked February as my longest month this year, I tried to pawn half the crate off on my co-worker.  She took a few home, blaming the fact they were leaving on a long-weekend preventing her from taking more.   Hmmmph.  Remind me not to try this manoeuvre before a holiday, will you?

You know the saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going?  Well, along the same lines, when you have a 20 pound crate of cucumbers, it stands to reason you make bread and butter pickles:
Golden Bread and Butter pickles are the best!  I made six 500 mL canning jars with 4 pounds of you do the math.  It turns out I'm going to be emptying Canadian Tire's canning jar selection again this week.

I had recently purchased a Benriner mandoline. I am a horrible consumer (save for my Finnegan Years), which is why it took me nearly 5 years to spend a gift certificate at one of the largest kitchen-ware stores in Montreal.   Every time I walked in with the intention of buying something, I left the store dejected.  And every time I left the store, I was guaranteed that their gift certificates don't expire.  This just added to my procrastination.  Had I known there was an expiry date, it would have lit a fire under my ass.  I probably would have ended up with 10 pairs of oven-mitts if push came to shove.  Instead, I caved for a Benriner mandoline, since my last Rosti mandoline had been epoxied to outer-space and beyond.  It was time to retire the Rosti for something new.

(As it is, I don't really need anything for the kitchen - expect for the KitchenAid ice-cream churn that is still on my wish-list.  If Santa was a good boy, I'd own it already, but he's not.  I'll leave things at that, Santa.)

And if it's possible for a store to have too much selection, Ares Kitchen Supplies is guilty as charged.  The place is mind-numbing.  It should be a tourist destination, a Walt Disney for cooks and bakers alike.  Walking down the aisles is like riding Space Mountain, you need to hang on or lose control.  Screaming is not encouraged, but more than once I've heard someone shout, "I'VE FOUND IT"!  Ares is one of those places.

That Benriner mandoline did fast work of those cukes!  I'll apologize in advance to the poor recipient of the jar that contains the fingernail from my right index finger.  Sorry, I really did try to find it...  Next time, I might use the finger-guard and re-read the wonderful Japanese pictogram manual so I don't lose a digit.

Let's not waste any more time.  Here is the recipe:

Golden Bread and Butter Pickles

12 cups thinly sliced, unpeeled cucumbers (from about 4 pounds of pickles)
2 cups thinly sliced white onion
1 cup thinly sliced yellow pepper
1 cup thinly sliced red pepper
1/4 cup pickling salt

Combine above ingredients in a large bowl, and cover with 3" of ice cubes.  Let stand for 4 hours, rinse and drain, and rinse and drain again. 

In a large saucepan, combine the following ingredients:

3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
4 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp turmeric

Bring to a boil, and add drained cucumber mixture.  Return just to a boil, stirring often.

Fill into prepared 500 mL canning jars, leaving a 1 cm (1/2") head-space.

Process 10 minutes in boiling water canner.

Yield:  Approximately 6 - 500 mL jars.

My Notes:

I used about 4 pounds of pickles to make 12 cups sliced.

I didn't have yellow peppers and didn't want to leave the house, so I doubled up on red.  The mix of yellow and red makes it even prettier.  No one will notice, I promise, if you only have one or the other.  Blue ribbon bonus points awarded if you have both, though.

Along the same lines, I only had yellow onions, so in they went.  I'm a rebel like that.  No harm done.

Because my time management skillz come from a Cracker Jack box, I stuck the cukes in the fridge over night.  I rinsed doubly hard and said an extra prayer to the Canning Gods begging forgiveness.

I think they heard it.


Ron said...

Wow, those look great. I ate a cuke myself out in the patch this morning.

I was curious... if the cukes are in a greenhouse, how do they get pollinated? do they open it up when the plants are flowering?

Shim Farm said...

You know what Ron, that is a good question and I'll have to ask that next time I'm there! If memory serves, the ends of the greenhouses are open in summer, but that doesn't start to explain what happens in winter! Inquiring minds want to know! This farm has become a pretty big commercial grower, with 14 large greenhouses in the interim. These cukes have become big business in these parts.

Robin said...

I was over at my nieces tonight having dinner and she had some cukes that looked like those. They tasted so good. But then again she had just bought them at the farmers market the day before and it's been a year since my last taste of garden ripe cucumbers. I could almost taste the sun on them. Oh they were good.

If I get any cucumbers (translation: I don't eat them all fresh) this year from my garden I want to make some fermented pickles. I've never done it before so it should be a nice experiment.

Shim Farm said...

Yummm...brined pickles. That should be an experiment worth trying! I remember we made some as kids, can't remember the outcome, though!

If I find a nice trug of pickles later this summer, I might give it a go, too. Didn't plant any cukes this year - normally I do. I've got it in my head that I want to make sauerkraut this year as well. Don't know if it's worth the bother, though, with a jar of Bick's sauerkraut costing 2$? But then again, I do have that Benriner mandoline...

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