I cannot believe it’s already a week into August. In a few weeks Our Man Cub will be back to school again, tickets for Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival will be on sale, and blessed cooler weather will be back to calm my shit down. And in the meanwhile, I’m pickling. With the air conditioning running.

It starts with the garden patch on the side of the house, where it’s cozy and pleasant. There’s a little wall that separates our property from the apartment complex, and it feels private, even if it really isn’t. I love that garden patch. But it gets iffy sun, and the woman who lived here before us planted day lilies and hosta to accommodate that. Every spring we put in vegetables, and I’ve been experimenting with what will grow there well.

Tomatoes grow, but generally don’t ripen on the vine. Some varieties of melons grow well, sprawling all over and bearing fruit that takes a long time to ripen. Rosemary and oregano love it. Strawberries loooooove it. And the squirrels love the strawberries – we rarely get to eat any, because squirrels get up earlier than we do, as a rule. Pepper plants come up and thrive, but the fruit is small. Zucchini gets us a big plant, and two or three actual zucchinis. Broccoli is a wash – it gets leggy and blooms. Cauliflower seems to be coming up ok, if leggy and smallish.

But cucumbers? Holy carp, cucumbers love the side garden patch. And so every year we put in a few more plants. We plant pickling cukes, because they just taste better to us – Man Cub and I have discovered that we can eat something like our own weight in salted pickling cucumbers. Lately he’s taken to forgoing the salt part and just biting into them in the middle. Last year, in spite of our intentions, we ate all the cucumbers – not a one made it into the pickle jar. So! Good! -urp-

So this year we made a conscious decision to plant enough cucumbers for pickling and eating. We put twenty-odd plants in the ground and let ’em go.

And I don’t know if it’s the wet weather or the mulch Dearest Will put down, but they’re producing at a startling rate – I’ve already pulled at least a bushel and a half out, and there is, easily, another bushel coming in. It’s thrilling! I don’t even know how to express to you how satisfying it is to pull them out of the ground. Man Cub and I go out with a colander in the morning when it’s still cool, and he holds the colander and points while I get in among the runners and pick. The vines have spread wide from their original point, and have twined with the wild roses and orange trumpets. The fuzzy-spiny leaves rustle around my ankles while I play a modified game of Twister, where you avoid stepping on the growth. We giggle together and marvel over the big ones. When we have all the cucumbers we can find, we check the cauliflower and peppers; we hunt for any strawberries that the squirrels have left over and eat any ripe blackberries we can find. It’s good. It’s really really good.

This year I’ve already pickled 10 jars. The first batch was mostly dill, a recipe taken off the internet from a video of a guy who used a turkey fryer set-up in the yard to heat his water bath – Man Cub and I fell for the lovable outdoorsman who referred to his cucumbers as “fruit.” And his recipe was really quite good! The pickles turned out a little soft, but that’s been my bane for a while, so I wasn’t bummed out or anything – we’re eating them happily. The second recipe that I used, tho’ – ohmyeverlovingmama, they’re AMAZING. Bread & Butter pickles with a touch of heat, snappy and delightful. Last night Dearest Will, Aisha, Man Cub and I sat on the couch and devoured them right out of the jar while groaning over how good they came out.

I have another crisper drawer full of cucumbers just waiting to be set up, and the plan is to use this recipe on the whole bunch of ’em. Here’s the recipe for you. Enjoy!

Bread & Butter Picklesmakes 6 quarts, give or take

Notes: Dude! These came out better than any pickles that I’ve made to date, and I blame it on the salt bath, which I had never done before: three hours before you’re canning, you wash & slice the pickles and onion, and add them to a (gigantic) bowl, a few handfuls at a time, generously sprinkling pickling salt in layers as you add more. Then toss in a few trays of ice cubes, mix it all up with your hands so the ice is evenly distributed, and stick the whole thing in the fridge. When I did them, they only really got an hour, and did indeed come out snappy, so I don’t think 3 hours is absolute, but I’m going to try the full three hours this weekend, and see if it makes them crunchier.

Arright – the recipe!

veg:
5# pickling cukes, cut into 1/4″-ish rounds
1 large red onion, cut into thin crescent moons

brine:
5c apple cider vinegar
5c white sugar
1tsp black mustard seeds*
1tsp celery seed
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1. Ice and salt bath the cukes and onions as outlined above, and set up your water bath for canning. Once it’s rolling, sterilize all the jar parts.** Keep the sterilized jars in the oven at 250 degrees, and the lids and rings in hot water on the stove until you’re ready for them. After their 3 hours in salt and ice in the fridge, rinse the cucumbers and onions thoroughly of salt.
2. Bring brine ingredients to a simmer over medium high heat while whisking gently to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, you can take the brine off the burner.
3. Pack the jars as tightly as you can with the cucumber rounds and onions, then pour in brine, leaving 1/4″ headspace, and get any air bubbles out with a chopstick or a butter knife. Put the lids on the jars, and process for 10 minutes in the boiling water bath. Wait for the ping, and allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. Move to a dark, cool cupboard to mature.
4. Give the pickles a week-10 days before opening.

*The original recipe called for yellow, but I only had black on hand. I’m giving you what I’ve taste-tested.
** For me, the water bath has to start on the stove an hour and a half before to get to a boil. The pot is just so big!

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