Sunday, June 30, 2013

Instant Pickles

Last year, when the cucumbers seemed as long and round and more numerous than the days, we got accustomed to taking them with us for lunch.  Instead of sandwiches and apples, we had sandwiches and cucumbers. (Why would anyone want to base their lunch on something other than a peanut butter sandwich?)  Anyway, we started thinking of ways to take cucumbers for lunch without having to scarf down a whole raw one while our coworkers looked on in disbelief.  Plus, some of the cukes were big enough to give two days' worth of lunch fruit.  So we started slicing them up like pickles and eating them fresh.  We carried them in pint-size canning jars.

Then we started seasoning them with a little salt and pepper.  The salt and pepper turned out to be gateway seasonings, and before long, we had a full-fledged spice party in our cuke jars, with a splash of vinegar, dill, garlic powder, basil, and others to flavorful to mention.  It was getting out of hand.  Well, not really.  It was actually pretty good, but we couldn't pretend we were just taking cucumber slices for lunch anymore.  We had to admit that what we really had was some kind of cucumber-pickle hybrid monster thing.  It tasted mostly pickled, but still had some fresh cucumber flavor, and definitely a fresh cucumber texture.  But we needed a better name than 'cucumber-pickle hybrid monster thing,' so we started calling them 'instant pickles.'

Even though we don't have any cukes in our garden this year (since we're moving soon), it just so happens that Katie came home from the local market this week with a small bag of cucumbers.  Looks like it's instant pickle season again!

We've got four cukes and four canning jars.  It's going to turn out that we need more canning jars.
We started by trimming the ends of the cukes and cutting them into eighths, like so.  The pieces should be shorter than the inside of the jar.  Evidently, pieces of cucumber in this shape are called 'spears.'  It's hard to imagine impaling anything with them, though.
If you anticipated that putting the cukes in the jars would be the next step, give yourself a pat on the back.  They should be loosely packed in the jars so there's plenty of space for vinegar and spices to slosh around and flavor the cukes.
Spice party!  To each jar, we added about a tablespoon of vinegar, a quarter teaspoon salt, and a few sprinkles to a half teaspoon of whatever else we thought might go well together.  Some of them even have some cayenne pepper, just to keep Katie guessing.  Actually, to keep both of us guessing, since we didn't keep track of which jar was which.  We want to point out that this method uses less vinegar than regular canned pickles or refrigerator pickles.  In fact, the volume of vinegar and seasonings is about right for brave souls to shoot like whiskey and head off any afternoon lulls.  Then there's also no leftover pickle juice to worry about.  Hooray for zero waste!
This gives an idea of the approximate amounts we added.  For most of the spices, it was probably between a quarter and half a teaspoon, but some of the really strong ones were less.  We estimate the amount per jar after the pictures below.
Once the vinegar and all the spices are in the jars, we sealed 'em up and shook 'em like they were cucumber-flavored maracas that didn't rattle very much.  That wasn't a very good analogy.  Anyway, the vinegar should splash all around the jar and disperse the seasonings around the cucumbers (and probably some on the sides of the jar).  If we remember, we'll probably shake them again once or twice before we eat them.  Normally we'd make these in the morning and eat them for lunch, but it works to leave them longer, too.  The cukes slowly turn more and more pickly (is that a word?), but are still good after at least a few days.  Ours have never escaped ingestion longer than that.

Recommended amounts of certain spices per jar:

a pinch: cayenne pepper, cloves, allspice

quarter teaspoon: salt, onion powder, green onion powder, dry mustard, dill weed, celery seed, caraway seed, bay leaves

half teaspoon: black pepper, garlic powder, basil, thyme, oregano

one tablespoon: vinegar

Mix and match to find a combination you like!  One of our favorites is salt, black pepper, dill weed, and garlic powder.  Just about any combination of pickling spices works well.

How do you make use of surplus cucumbers?  Do you have a favorite (instant) pickle recipe?  Let us know in the comments section below!

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