Friday, October 1, 2010

A Tangled Web

Let me say straight-off that is my first time planting cucumbers. Let me also add that any book about gardening will tell you, somewhere in the first few paragraphs, not to put plants too close or overcrowd. I read it and I know it, but I just chose to ignore it. But the story actually starts before the cucumbers. It begins with the tomatoes (see previous post). Do you think it would be advisable to put two cherry tomato plants per cage? It would not. Not unless your goal is to have your raised-beds resemble Vietnam or the Brazilian rain-forest. But after last year's pathetic and comic attempt at a vegetable garden (the fava beans never got more than 3 or 4 inches tall - I'll leave it at that) the galaxy of problems and disasters I was imagining did not include a picture of success run amok.

Enter the cucumbers - Parisian Pickling (a.k.a. gherkins or cornichons) and Japanese Climbing. Did I mention I'm not very good about reading user-manuals, instructions, etc. Oh, never mind - a quote from the Seed Savers Exchange catalogue should suffice:

Vigorous growth, strong grasping tendrils, the best variety we offer for trellises.

"Strong grasping tendrils" would be an understatement. I fully expect to see the cat, lifeless on the ground, with a cucumber vine lashed tightly around his throat. They wrap and strangle anything in a rather disturbing manner. And as for "vigorous growth", the things have obviously wound their way through the cherry tomatoes (who have returned in kind) and one particularly prodigal vine has traveled from one end of the bed to the other, leaped over the gravel path between the beds and into the yellow-pear tomatoes of the adjoining bed. I can't be certain where one thing begins or the other one ends. At this point they're locked in a futile wrestling contest, neither willing to give up or admit defeat, simply dragging each other to the ground in a giant, over-weight, over-wrought heap.

What's a gardener to do? Why, make pickles of course.

Nookie's Pickles

Adapted from Spice, by Ana Sortun

2 pounds of cucumbers
1/2 cup salt
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon brown mustard seed.
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1/2 cup whole garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (≈ 1 head)
1 large bunch of summer savory or fresh thyme, roughly chopped

If you have large cucumbers, slice them into thick sticks. Or better yet, use smaller cucumbers, and keep them whole.

In a large saucepan over high heat, combine 8 cups of water with the salt, vinegar, and all the herbs and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Cool the brine for 3 hours at room temperature before pouring over the pickles into sterilized jars and refrigerate for 1 week. At this point they are "half sours". You can replace half the brine with water and keep these "full sours" up to a month in the refrigerator.


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