We watch for cherry and huckleberry seasons, but there’s another key one to mark: pickling cucumber season. Unlike the waxed burpless and long English cucumbers available year-round, pickling cucumbers are impossible to find outside their short harvest window. But this cucumber type, its many varieties all less watery, smaller and thinner-skinned than slicing cucumbers, is crucial for crunchy pickles.
We recently crossed into pickling cucumber season. The latest I’ve ever bought pickling cucumbers locally is September 22, so outside these few weeks, my pickling workshops use other vegetables and fruit. Local farms rarely grow pickling cucumbers; Two Bear Farm sometimes sells them at Kalispell Farmers Market. Super 1 and Apple Barrel both carry pickling cucumbers sourced from Kingsbury Colony, a Hutterite community near Valier, stocking five-pound and larger bags for fermenting and canning. My homegrown cucumbers, late this year like most everything in the garden, will produce until the first frost kills the plants.
Small or oddly shaped pickling cucumbers work best whole or sliced at an angle. Medium-sized ones can be sliced in rounds or jammed whole into quart jars for the fridge and canning or into larger jars or crocks for fermenting. Cut large ones in spears or long slices. Huge yellowish cucumbers are overripe; consider dicing these for a quick relish.
Once you get your hands on pickling cucumbers, use them straightaway for the crispiest pickles. Cutting off the blossom-end tip removes a softening enzyme, and a salt-and-ice bath draws out water. This fridge-stored recipe introduces these techniques without the commitment of large-scale canning or fermenting.
Cucumber-Dill Refrigerator Pickles
Makes 1 pint jar
3/4 pound medium (4- to 6-inch) pickling cucumbers
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
2-1/4 teaspoons Morton pickling salt, divided
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 sprig dill or 1/2 teaspoon dill seed
1/2 small fresh chili
6 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Gently brush or wash any dirt from the cucumbers and cut a thin slice off each blossom end; peel the onion. Use a mandoline or very sharp knife to slice 1/4-inch-thick cucumber rounds, cutting small ones at a slight angle, and the onions paper thin.
In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and onion slices with 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover with ice cubes and leave at room temperature while you prepare the brine: In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt with the water, vinegar and sugar and simmer so that the salt and sugar dissolve. Let cool to room temperature.
Shift the salted cucumbers and onions to a colander to drain; rinse in cold water and drain again. Pack these into a pint jar, tucking the dill sprig and chili along the jar side and layering in peppercorns and mustard seeds. Pour in the brine so that it fully covers the cucumbers but is still about 1/2 inch from the jar’s rim. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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