Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pickling Cucumbers: A Freezer Favorite

Pickling cucumbers are not just small versions of the large, dark green cucumbers used for salads, usually called slicing cucumbers. While you can certainly eat them in salads, and they often are crunchier than the more moisture-laden slicers, they have been specially developed to retain crispness through the brining process of pickling. They look different, too: they are shorter, blocky or cylindrical rather than elongated in shape, and lighter green in color. Fresh pickling cucumbers should have a dry, bumpy but non-wrinkly skin, and be completely firm under pressure; check the ends when you select them.
Pickling cucumbers have been available at the farm stands on and off for months, but they are inexpensive and plentiful now. They vary in diameter, some suitable for dills, others for bread and butter or other sliced pickles, for which a 1 ½” girth is about right. Over the years I have made lots of kinds of pickles, but I am devoted to one in particular that is the very, very best pickle I know of for freezing. I discovered this when I made them the first time. I wanted something simple to make with my son, then about 8 years old and adamant that he could use my huge chef’s knife. This pickle used small, not-too-wobbly cukes, suitable for little hands, and did not involve the stove. The recipe was from an old New England cookbook, and though selected for safety, it sounded weird. It was called “oil pickles,” and was made with olive oil—which surprised me. But safety won the day, and we forged ahead. This was back before my small-batch days, and we produced, as I recall, gallons of them. I stashed some in the freezer and forgot about them until I was cleaning out inventory the following year. When I tried them in a partially thawed state (they never freeze solid because of the oil), fully prepared to throw them out, they were cooly surprising: crisp, flavorful, like new.
I’ve since seen recipes for oil pickles or olive oil pickles in many old collections, suggesting these pickles were a favorite of some by-gone era that never made it to commercial production—or perhaps disappeared from it due to the cost of the oil. The recipes are all similar in that they call for salted or brined cukes, oil, and mustard seed, either yellow, black, or both; some, like the ones I make now, call for a little onion too. I recommend them.

Oil Pickles for the Freezer
I use part olive oil, part neutral vegetable oil, which makes a less sharp, and less expensive, pickle. You can use all mustard seed or, as I do, a variety. Like any other preserving recipe, proportions are approximate. Makes about 2 pints.
6 pickling cukes, about 1 ½” in diameter
8 small white boiling onions, about 1 ½” in diameter
½ cup coarse salt
1 T black or yellow mustard seed
½ T fennel seed
½ T caraway seed
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup neutral vegetable oil
1/8 tea cayenne
Cider vinegar (1 1/3 cups or more)
Slice the cukes and onions at least 1/8th inch thin. Mix in a bowl with the salt, then place in a colander in the sink to drain for about 8 hours, or overnight, tossing them around occasionally. Divide the cukes and onions between two pint jars. In a 2-cup glass measure, put the spices and the ½ cup of oil, then fill the measure to the 2-cup line with cider vinegar. This should be enough for both jars. If you need additional liquid to cover, add a little more vinegar to each. Screw on the lids and turn the jars over a few times to mix. Put one jar in the refrigerator—they will be ready in about a week—and freeze the other. If you plan to freeze, make sure you leave at least an inch of head space; if refrigerating, it doesn't matter. These wonderful pickles can be eaten almost directly from the freezer; they are excellent with the corn relish appetizer.

1 comment:

Ed Bruske said...

that's incredibly interesting