I know people who do not like cucumbers. Not many, but a few. Personally, I love cucumbers, especially when they are fresh and crunchy. Add them, sliced or chopped, to a sandwich or wrap already loaded with fresh summer goodies, and I am a happy camper. And then, there is a tasty treat that is a staple at my home: pickled cucumbers. My family absolutely loves anything pickled, but cucumbers are by far the favorite. Every summer, I pack my largest jars full of fresh cucumbers, herbs, hot peppers, spices and a healthy dose of our dried pepper flakes. After pouring a pickling solution over the ingredients, I store the jars in my basement refrigerator. When our children were young, they dubbed these “Kick Your Can Pickles” because they were so spicy. Often, I would bring a jar to the kitchen during the winter and they would disappear in one evening.
When I was a child, I remember a large crock that stood on Granny’s kitchen counter. Inside was a delicious pickle she made with her small white heirloom cucumbers which she called “Salt Water Pickles.” I loved these pickles best of all and, sadly, do not have her recipe. When she gave me her recycled notebook full of special recipes, many in her handwriting, it was not included. I am afraid the salt water pickles, her creamy “Soupy Potatoes” and her peppery cream gravy were dishes she just knew how to make, so the recipes were never recorded.
Although I do not have Granny’s special pickle recipe, I do have seeds from her cucumbers. A small jar of cucumber seeds was included in the treasure trove of seeds my parents gave me. I first grew Granny’s cucumbers three years ago, but it was not a good year for cucumbers at our farm. Excited to see Granny’s white cucumbers (and an equally delicious small green cucumber she grew) for the first time in over twenty-five years, we eagerly ate the first fruits. When production suddenly stopped and the vines died, I was saddened to think I missed an opportunity to save seeds for future planting. With only a few seeds left in the jar, last year I gave Granny’s cucumbers a special place in my garden, prayed over the tiny seeds and diligently cared for the vines. Fortunately, I saved seeds from several fruits, but I found that saving viable cucumber seeds is a difficult task. The fruit must be overly ripe, almost to the point of rotting, before seeds are harvested. I slice the cucumber in half, lengthwise, then scoop seeds and pulp with a large metal spoon into a glass jar, add water to cover and give it a good stir. The mixture must stand, uncovered and not refrigerated, for about three days and should be stirred each day. Seeds left too long in water will begin to germinate, so they must be removed before that happens. Next, I add fresh water and pour off the mixture that floats to the top. Viable seeds float to the bottom, so I try to get many of the floaters off before I place the remaining seeds in a large sieve. After a good washing, I spread the seeds onto parchment paper or newspaper and allow them to dry for several days. If seeds curl, they are not good. The first time I attempted to save Granny’s cucumber seeds, I left them in water too long and with my second try, there were few good seeds, so perhaps the fruit was not quite ready. Finally, I was able to store two small containers, one with white cucumber seeds and the other with green, in my freezer, but it was with trepidation I planted the seeds a few weeks ago. I just can’t let Granny’s cucumbers die in my hands; I am hopeful I can pass these special seeds to my children and they, in turn, to their children.
On May 15th, I planted Granny’s cucumbers, one hill with white seeds and another with green. On the 27th, I joyfully recorded in my garden notebook: Granny’s White Cukes Up! and I replanted green cucumber seeds that day. Rain has kept me from the farm for a couple of days, but I am hopeful we will enjoy Granny’s cucumbers this summer and I will successfully save seeds for next year.
If you have an abundant crop of fresh cucumbers and would like to make refrigerator pickles, try this recipe. I am excited that, for the first year, I also have a pot of Granny’s dill growing at my home. These heirloom seeds are incredible!
Refrigerator Pickles, aka “Kick Your Can Pickles”
In a large glass jar, preferably one with a wide mouth, place a few sprigs of fresh dill, a couple of garlic cloves and about 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns. Add a fresh jalapeno, sliced in half lengthwise, and about ½ teaspoon dried pepper flakes. Pack the jar tightly with cucumbers, whole or sliced. Pour the following brine over the cucumbers and wipe the mouth of the jar before tightly securing the lid. Store pickles in the refrigerator. After a few days, taste to check for “pickling” and enjoy whenever you are in the mood for a spicy pickle.
Brine (may be doubled, if needed)
2 cups white vinegar
1 ¾ cups water
4 tablespoons salt
In a large saucepan, heat vinegar, salt and water over medium heat, stirring mixture occasionally, until salt is dissolved. Allow to cool before adding to pickles.