pickles in the rainforest

There are a few things in this world that I just can’t cope with; tops on the list being bugs. I’m not proud of this and I try to be brave when faced with one needing “relocation” but really… Blech! Glack! Eeek! (with a shiver thrown in for good measure.) However I’ve come to realize that for me location totally factors into my bravery quotient. When I discover a GIANT spider among the cucumber plants, only after I’m elbow deep attempting to harvest what’s ripe, I’m totally calm, cool and collected. Yet if the same spider should happen to show up in the house (or god forbid in my car), I come completely unglued. Sad, yet true. But here’s my theory: The universe places obstacles in your path as an opportunity for growth. It’s then up to you to deal with and overcome the obstacle or to allow it dictate the journey. And since I’m the kinda girl who prefers to be the captain of her own ship, I’ll be damned if I let a spider or two determine my path. (Not to mention what if one day the opportunity for an all-expenses paid trip to the Amazon rainforest should come along. I need to be prepared to laugh in the face of creepy, crawly things!)

Okay so back to cucumbers. (What, you didn’t know that’s where all this was headed?) This year my garden produced an abundance of cucumbers like never before. I would harvest an armful in the evening and find a bunch more ready for picking the next morning. In the past when I’ve had more cucumbers than we could eat I attempted to make pickles. The results can only be categorized as a total epic fail. Nothing but a heartbreakingly salty, vinegary, mushy mess in a jar. I swore I would never waste my beautiful homegrown cucumbers to pickling again, but that wicked and wily universe I spoke of earlier had other ideas. Flash forward to this Summer’s bumper cucumber crop. My daughter (and fellow cucumber lover) and I have eaten cucumbers as a snack on a near daily basis, I’ve exhausted every salad and sandwich recipe I have in my repertoire, I’ve sent them to work with my husband and given dozens away… yet I’m still faced with more on the vine. “Pickles Mom. Just make pickles.” my daughter says matter-of-factly. I considered the idea. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was letting past failures dictate my journey. Maybe it was time to get over it and get on with it.

And so that’s just what I did.

Simple Refrigerator Dill Pickles
These were delicious and the perfect way to use all your homegrown lovelies.

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3 cups distilled white vinegar
5 tbsp. kosher salt
6 tbsp. sugar
5 cups cold water
3 1/2 lbs Kirby cucumbers
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
handful fresh dill sprigs
2 – 1 quart jars with lids

  1. Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar in a large sauce pot and whisk over medium heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cold water. Refrigerate the brine while you prep the cucumbers.
  2. Cut the cucumbers into equally sized spears and set aside. Divide the coriander seeds, garlic cloves, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and dill sprigs between each of the jars. Tightly pack the cucumbers spears in the jars and top with the chilled brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, giving a little shake now and then. The longer the cucumbers are allowed to sit in the brine the less “new pickle” they will be and the more “traditional” dill pickle they will become.

*adapted from once upon a chef

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cucumber à la julia child

Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.

My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.

Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia!

Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.

cucumber soup3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish

  1. In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
  4. Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.