Happy (almost) October, and happy fall, y’all! Thanks for putting up with my absence for the past three weeks – I’d use the busy excuse, but I’ve also allowed myself to get lax on updating weekly or at least biweekly, which is not cool on my part. So I’m back today and, as promised, I’ll have an actual recipe with my updates. Yay!
The past few weeks have been full of markets and changing menus from peaches and blackberries to apples and pumpkins. I also did a bit of traveling this past weekend to the middle of the state to visit my family and friends of mine that I hadn’t seen since at least last Thanksgiving, and at most my wedding three years ago (yikes!). And, as usual, life is full of Baby Homesteader, who is exactly six months old (!) today, in case you were keeping track.
Fall is a busy time on the homestead, and tends to be a mixture of chores that occur in other seasons. Here’s what we’re up to:
- We’re still harvesting summer crops, as well as our winter squash, since we’ve likely got a few weeks until the first frost, and cooking, storing, and preserving what we reap.
- We’re pulling up old, dying plants and weeds that got out of control throughout the summer to make room for winter crops, as well as give the veggie beds a rest.
- We’re pruning and replanting blackberry canes. Blackberries (and really any perennial fruiting plants) only grow on the previous year’s wood, so we have to trim the old-old wood to make room for this year’s growth, as well as move some new canes to a second row. We’re hoping to get close to twice as many berries next year with these chores, and continue to spread them through our backyard plot.
- We’re planting more fruit trees. That fig was, in fact, a fig, and I want more of them! (Also, I want more shade in the front yard eventually.)
- We’re sheet mulching a few new beds, as well as sheet mulching, cover cropping, and amending the soil in the back veggie plot to prep it for next summer, where it will hopefully do much better.
- Cleanup: tools, reorganization of our storage space, mucking out the chicken coop for the season, keeping our house clean with a baby, etc.
Whew! And in the midst of all of that, I have a pickle recipe for you today.
You may be asking yourself, isn’t it a little late for cucumber pickles? And perhaps in your area, it is, but for most of you in this state and/or area of the country, you’ve still got a good few weeks to a month before a frost kills off any cucumbers hanging around outside. Plus, ’tis the season for gathering up a pretty hefty number of straggling veggies, including cucumbers, and if you’ve got a plethora of this summer bounty, pickling is a great way to use them and eat pickles throughout the cold winter months.
You can use this recipe for other cruciferous vegetables, such as green beans, cauliflower, and the like, although I’ve only used it for cucumbers so far (mostly because I don’t grow green beans or cauliflower. Yet). You can also raise or tame the spice level by adding or subtracting hot peppers and the like, and create either a mellower or cleaner flavor depending on the type of vinegar used.
For the pickling spice, I highly recommend making your own with fresh, whole spices, rather than relying on store-bought pickling mixtures, since it can be hard to judge freshness until it’s too late. Also, you can adjust your own mixture to your liking (although I wouldn’t tweak it too much – it’s more of a tea than something that sticks to your veggies).
Use the freshest veggies possible, and make sure you’re not using anything with squishy spots, visible mold, or other signs of decay. For cucumbers, make sure you’re also cutting off the blossom ends by about 1/4 inch – if not, you risk getting soggy pickles due to an enzyme that lives there. I just cut off both ends anyway, since it can be hard to tell which end is which.
Lastly, there is an optional ingredient that I use for pickling: calcium chloride. You can buy this branded as Pickle Crisp, but you can also get it in larger, cheaper quantities at your fine local brewers supply. I have made pickles with and without calcium chloride, and the difference is worth the pinch: soft, sometimes slimy pickles versus pickles that retain just the right amount of crispness, even after a stint in the boiling water canner. Again, not necessary for safe and tasty pickles, but highly recommended.
For a refresher on hot water bath canning, see my Pickled Okra post.
Okay, that’s it. On to cucumber pickles!
You can slice the cucumbers into chips, slice lengthwise for sandwich slices, or cut into spears. A mandoline set at ¼ inch works beautifully for slices.
you will need:
- 12-13 c sliced and trimmed fresh cucumbers
- 4 c white or apple cider vinegar
- 4 c water
- ¾ c white sugar
- ½ pickling or kosher salt
- 3 tbsp pickling spice (recipe follows, or use your own)
- bay leaves, peeled garlic, and fresh dill heads enough to put one in each pickling jar
- 2 ½-3 tsp yellow mustard seeds
- hot peppers, such as jalapenos, habaneros, or ghost peppers, cut in half (optional)
- calcium chloride (optional, but highly recommended)
- If canning, prepare canning equipment.
- Place pickling spice in a tea bag, square of cheesecloth, or other steeping bag, and tie or seal.
- In a medium stainless steel saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spice bag. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the spice bag to steep for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Working with one jar at a time, place 1 bay leaf, 1 garlic clove, 1 dill head (or ½ tsp dill seeds), ½ tsp mustard seeds, ½ hot pepper (if using), and ⅛ tsp calcium chloride (if using) in each jar. Pack sliced cucumbers tightly into each jar, leaving ½ inch headspace of the top of the jar. Ladle the hot pickling liquid into the jar to cover the cucumbers, removing any air bubbles, and adding or removing liquid to maintain ½ inch headspace. Wipe rim, place lids on jars, and screw on bands.
- If pickling, process in hot-water canner for 15 minutes, and allow to sit in canner with the lid removed for 5 minutes before removing jars. Allow to cool completely before testing lids and storing.
Homemade Pickling Spice
Use fresh, whole spices unless otherwise indicated - do not sub ground spices. Use within a year for best results.
you will need:
- 2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp whole allspice
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp dill seeds
- 2 tbsp cardamom seeds (or 3 tbsp whole green cardamom pods)
- 2 tsp hot pepper flakes (adjust according to your liking)
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 5 bay leaves, crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick (about 4-5 inches), broken into small pieces
- Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and stir well. Store in small airtight glass jars or one large airtight glass jar or container at room temperature.