It’s that time of year. The weather has been hot and the garden is producing vegetables faster than we can consume them. The squash, zucchini and cucumbers are coming in fast and furious. A batch of ratatouille has already been processed and this past weekend it was time to put up some pickles.
There are several varieties of cucumbers in our garden including the smaller pickling cukes, the long English cucumbers (it doesn’t seem proper to call them ‘cukes’), and a fun variety known as the lemon cucumber. All of the cucumbers are grown on trellises which enables us to grown vining plants in a smaller space. By going up instead of out, air circulation around the plants is increased, the fruit can grow straighter, and it is easier to harvest.
The lemon cucumber variety has been around since 1894 and a package of the seeds were offered in the 1901 James Vick & Sons catalog for 10¢. The description was as follows: “The flesh is exceedingly tender and crisp, with a sweet flavor surpassing all other cucumbers. They have none of the bitter or acid taste so generally found in cucumbers”. I confess that when I was first attracted to it a few years ago I planted it as more of a novelty than anything else. I was surprised to find that it is a vigorous plant that sends out yards of growth. It is andromonoecious, with male and female elements in the same blossom, results in more natural self-pollination than that of monoecious cucumbers which have the sexes in separate flowers on the same plant or gynoecious which has only female flowers. Seed companies will generally include 10% of a monoecious variety to ensure pollination for gynoecious varieties. Why choose a gynoecious or andromonoecious variety? They will generally out-produce monoecious varieties since all of their flowers are capable of becoming fruit. How can you tell a male flower from a female flower? The female flower (the image on the left) will have an immature fruit at the base of the blossom while a male flower (the image on the right) will only have a petiole connecting it to the stem.
The fruit of the lemon cucumber is as its name suggests, the size, shape, and color of a large lemon and when cut is has the appearance of a lemon wedge.
I enjoy pickling them as much for their taste as for the beautiful and unique way that they look in a jar. The following text and images are a quick overview of the boiling water canning bath process but full details can be found at the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. After the cucumbers have been washed and the ends trimmed I then cut them into wedges. They are placed in a large bowl, sprinkled with coarse salt and covered with crushed ice. After 2-4 hours of refrigeration they are ready to be drained and rinsed. While the cukes are in their ice bath I prepare the pickling syrup of sugar, vinegar and pickling spices. I also add powdered turmeric to add flavor and a tint of yellow to the finished product.
The hot cucumber wedges and the pickling syrup are ladled into sterilized glass canning jars, sealed and put into a hot water bath. Due to the high acidic content of most pickled food they do not need to be pressure canned and can be processed by being submerged in boiling water for the USDA recommended amount of time.
Once cooled, the jars can be stored in a clean, cool, dark, dry place ready to be enjoyed all winter long.