PHOTO BY CHERYL WIXSON

Certain cucumbers produce a crisp crunch



My garden is exploding with cucumbers!

In rich, well-drained soil, with just the right amount of heat and water, cucumber plants will thrive. The combination of well-composted rabbit manure, granite rocks and heavy morning dew here on Rabbit Hill has produced an abundance of bright-green pickling and long-fruited cucumber varieties.

Suyo Long, a traditional, burpless cucumber from China is the type we’ve enjoyed for years. The sweet-flavored fruit tops out at 15 inches or more, is bitter-free, and can grow for a long time before getting “too seedy.” Perfect for cold soups and gazpacho, suyo longs are delicious in salads like ripe tomato, red onion and feta.

Suyo Longs also make superb sliced pickles. I know, because the last year our specialty food company operated in Belfast, we produced 120 cases or 1,440 jars of bread and butter pickles.

Every family has their favorite recipe for bread and butter pickles. Tasty on a sandwich, zingy in a sauce, traditional Saturday night fare with baked beans, bread and butter pickles are a Maine staple.

This recipe was perfected summers ago when my friend Judy Williams and I had cucumber explosions in our garden. Our assortment of children produced and taste-tested three different variations of recipes. This recipe for bread and butter pickles was both tribes’ favorite.

One of the keys to a good bread and butter pickle is the size of the slice. Uniform slices of anything pickle or brine more evenly. I’ve found that food processors don’t work that well in slicing, they often mangle the fruit. We use a mandoline for the most perfect cuts.

Salting and icing the cucumber and onion prior to cooking them in the brine also helps to keep them crisp. It’s a fine line between a soggy pickle slice and a firm-crisp bite.

For the novice canner and preservation artist, this is a good recipe to try. The vegetable mix can be varied, strips of red pepper add a nice pop of color in the jar. An excellent resource is the University of Maine cooperative extension’s publication: https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4078e/.

Allow at least five weeks for your creation to pickle before sampling. And when the gales blow this winter, enjoy the rewards of a Maine summer.

 

Bread and Butter Pickles

Makes about 10 pint jars

 

7-8 lbs. cucumbers, (about 10 Suyo Long cukes), sliced into 3/16 inch rings

2-3 lbs. onions, peeled and thinly sliced

½ cup pickling salt or sea salt

Ice to cover the sliced cucumbers and onions

5 cups cider vinegar

3.75 cups sugar

3 Tbsps. yellow mustard seed

3 Tbsps. celery seed

1 Tbsp. ground turmeric

 

Wash the cucumbers, slice into rings about 3/16 inches thick. Combine with the onions in a large bowl or pail. Add the salt and cover the top with ice. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours or overnight.

In a very large pot, combine the vinegar, sugar, herbs and spices. Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

Drain the cucumbers and onions, and rinse. Add the vegetables to the brine mixture and reheat until the mixture boils again, stirring occasionally. Fill pint jars with the mixture, leaving ½ inch headspace, and fill to that level with the brine. Wipe jar rims. Add and tighten lids.

The pickles may be stored in the refrigerator. To store in the pantry, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes about 10 pint jars of pickles. For more info, go to https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4078e/.

Cheryl Wixson
"Maine Dish" columnist Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. Her passion for organic Maine products led to the creation of her business, Cheryl Wixson's Kitchen. She welcomes food-related questions and comments at [email protected] or www.cherylwixsonskitchen.com.

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