Our kitchen door opens out onto a covered patio where we eat most of our meals. The patio is surrounded on two sides by our small garden. With very limited space, we don't have room to grow all that much (relatively). For example, this year we planted two cucumber plants along with a couple dozen other fruits and veggies. We planted one classic green slicing cucumber and one lemon cucumber. The two plants have been producing for the last couple of months. At first we would eat cucumbers every other night or so tossed with our own heirloom tomatoes and a vinaigrette. After about a month, that grew a bit old and production began to increase faster than we could eat cucumbers.
In early August, I preserved my first batch of pickles for the season. I canned six quarts of pickles. Yesterday I finished our second batch of cucumbers and they are amazing! Now, for those of you who have never grown a garden, or perhaps for those of you who haven't developed that green thumb yet, you may be wondering how many pickles a person could make from two plants. I can't tell you exactly what you'd be able to do where you live, but our two plants have produced around 80 cucumbers so far this year. The majority of those cucumbers (around 65) came from that lemon cucumber plant. After subtracting what we've eaten in salads, smoothies, cucumber sauces, and what we've given to neighbors that has left us with 12 quarts of freezer pickles thus far this year (10.5 of which are still preserved...the remainder has already been consumed.)
Food preservation is rewarding, economical, and frankly a great deal of fun. With just a few dollars worth of old equipment you can do just about anything. For example, tonight I processed 6 pints of pear butter from pears I picked a few days ago. If you have never tried to preserve your own food, you don't know what you are missing. There is nothing like popping open a pint of strawberry jam in the middle of winter made from strawberries you grew and picked yourself. When you open the jar, summer comes rushing back along with that fresh strawberry taste.
Tomorrow, I'm going to share a few "tricks of the trade" when it comes to food preservation, but tonight let me just get you started with one quick recipe that requires nothing more than a large bowl, a spoon, and some containers to hold pickles (I used canning jars, but you could use anything you happen to have on hand). They are called freezer pickles. They are a sliced sweet pickle that you really can't mess up.
1. You need to come up with:
7 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 large onion thinly sliced
1 green pepper thinly sliced
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. celery seed
I have now doubled the above recipe on two occasions, meaning I have sliced up roughly 28 cups of cucumbers. I have a slicer attachment on a kitchen appliance, but I suspect you could arm your kids with sharp knives and get the job done pretty quick as well! Don't tell my wife I suggested that.
2. Slice up the cucumbers, peppers, and onions and throw them into a large bowl.
3. Bring the sugar, vinegar, salt, and celery seed to a boil in a sauce pan or small pot. It will boil over if you aren't watching and make a terrible mess so be careful.
4. Pour the vinegar mixture over your veggies and stir
5. Leave the mixture in your refrigerator for 24 hours
6. Transfer the mixture into pint-quart-sized containers and throw them in your freezer (don't forget to allow space for expansion!)
That's it! You have mastered your first food preservation exercise. If you are like me, you'll be hooked. Give it a try and let us know how it goes. Food preservation gets a little more complicated than what I just described, but not much. Stay tuned for "canning for dummies" tomorrow!
Vincent M. Smith - PhD