Avid gardeners in the Midwest are familiar with this pickle of a problem.
Kitchen countertops are cluttered with cucumbers; family and neighbors have had their fill of cucumber salad; and the refrigerator cannot possibly hold any more garden-fresh produce. It’s a good problem to have, but a fleeting one. It’s time to pickle your leftover cucumbers.
Pickling your crop of cucumbers will preserve them. Anyone can go to the grocery store and buy a jar of dill pickles, so make yours different. Make them spicy.
The key is to add spice to the brine, which consists of water, vinegar, salt, and seasonings. For example, garlic, peppercorns, and dill can all spice up an otherwise plain salt water.
So can hot peppers. This is the perfect opportunity to use those Carolina reapers your friends and family don’t want to eat. Ghost peppers, scorpion peppers, habaneros, or even plain old jalapeños are solid options. The infusion of the peppers into the pickle brine can make them hotter than hell, depending on how much you use.
Don’t forget to wash your hands before touching your eyes—or worse. Your tongue isn’t the only body part that can feel the spicy heat. Some people wear gloves. Use soap and lots of water to wash hot peppers from your hands. Be warned. Even a thorough washing with suds and water may not wash away all the heat.
The cucumbers are best pickled when young. Slicing off the flower end prevents cucumbers from becoming rubbery. Overdeveloped cucumbers are often woody, wide, and turning golden yellow. They do not make ideal pickles. The seeds are hard and pithy. Ideal cucumbers are crisp, break with a snap, and do not have prevalent seeds.
A few quart-sized mason jars with canning lids are ideal for storing your pickles and are visually pleasing. They also make handy drinking glasses when your pickles are no more.
When your pickles are made, you can leave them in the refrigerator or can them. I prefer to can them so I can pull out a spicy batch on some unsuspecting guests who claim they can eat fire. Make sure there is plenty to drink because it will be needed.
Scale up according to batch size. Four cups of vinegar is usually suitable for 12 pint jars containing 3-4 cucumbers sliced length-wise with ends trimmed to fit the jar. Smaller cucumbers can be canned whole.
- ½ to 1 cup vinegar (depending on overall acidity)
- 1 cup water
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- Salt to taste (usually about 1 tablespoon)
- Grape or oak leaves (optional, for crispness)
- Canning jars and lids
- Sliced hot peppers
- Boil the water, vinegar, and salt to make a brine. The acidity is especially important when processing with a water-bath canner (which makes storage outside of the refrigerator possible).
- Steep peppercorns in brine.
- Sterilize canning jars and lids by submerging them in boiling water.
- Pack canning jars with a few leaves (if using), then carefully place cucumbers, garlic, and hot peppers into jars in a visually appealing way.
- Pour in hot brine.
- Finish processing by either canning or allowing to cool and storing in the refrigerator.
- The pickles are ready to eat within a few days, but they do improve with time.
This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of OmahaHome.