Pickled cucumbers

by LocalTable 28 December, 2017 0 comment

This is LocalTable‘s first recipe for preserving food! I don’t know about you, but as a non-cook, the idea of preserving food seems a bit intimidating. I remember my mum bottling fruit and it seemed like such a massive undertaking. We had a prolific apricot tree and she also bought seemingly tonnes of stonefruit in summer that she preserved. We ate bottled fruit for dessert almost every night. Every. Night. All. Year. Pardon me if I don’t get excited about apricots. The cherries were my favourite, though. They were awesome.

But LocalTable‘s entire raison d’être is to eat what is available, whatever that may be. That means we must develop (or reconnect with) our culinary skills to ensure we are getting the best value out of the food we receive and avoid waste. Preserving also means that we can still have summer foods in winter, if we can resist that long, just in a different form.

Cucumbers are one of the big producers of summer, so they’re first cab off the rank for a preserving recipe. Play around with the spices used. It’s really up to you what you put in the jars. Include garlic, or don’t. Just add what you feel like… maybe chilli, for example. I didn’t, because children.

Being in Moruya, I get all my dry ingredients from Rustic Pantry Wholefoods, so I can buy only the amount I need. They were happy to measure out my teeny quantities of spices for me: a total sale of 80 cents and no packets of spices sitting in my pantry forever going stale.

Apparently, thin cucumbers are best, as they have a lower water content, but we are going to use whatever we get.

Pickled cucumbers

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Serves: 4 x 375ml jars Prep Time: Cooking Time:

Ingredients

  • 1kg (about 5 or 6) cucumbers
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 500ml white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar (but I think it would be interesting to try other sugars)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 250ml water
  • 1 red onion, quartered, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 8-12 peppercorns

Instructions

  1. Wash (don’t peel) and slice the cucumbers into thin rounds of about 2mm.
  2. Put into a bowl and sprinkle with the salt to leach out the excess liquid. Mix around a bit with your hands, then let sit for at least 2 hours. Overnight is good, especially for larger cucumbers.
  3. Tip the cucumbers into a colander and drain thoroughly.

While the cucumbers are sweating, sterilise the jars. Make sure you use jars with thick glass, not the el cheapos from discount stores. I use jars I’ve saved from eating Bliss Honey.

  1. Wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly in hot water, drain a bit, then put upside-down in a cold oven. Heat oven to 100ºC. When it reaches temperature, leave the jars in for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove. They need to be completely dry. Turn off the oven when you remove the jars.
  2. Wash the lids in hot soapy water, then boil them in a saucepan of water for 5 minutes. Drain and let dry. You can put them in the cooling oven for a bit to make sure they are completely dry.

While the jars and lids are drying, make the brine.

  1. Put the vinegar, sugar, cumin and water into a medium saucepan over low heat. Use a stainless steel or other non-reactive saucepan, as cast iron, copper or aluminium etc will stain. Increase the heat until it boils, then let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
  2. While the brine is simmering, tip the well drained cucumbers into a large bowl and add the onions, garlic and the mustard, fennel and dill seeds. Mix well using your hands.
  3. Take the brine off the heat and let cool a little.
  4. When the jars are cool-ish, pack the jars with the cucumber mix. Make sure your hands are clean. Add a couple of peppercorns as you fill the jar with cucumbers. Almost fill the jars and don’t pack them too much.
  5. Pour the brine into the jars while still quite warm. Remove air bubbles by sliding a chopstick (or anything that will do the job) down the sides and giving things a bit of a wiggle and a poke. Tap the jars gently on the bench to dislodge air bubbles. Add more brine if necessary in order to completely cover the cucumbers. There should be about a 1cm gap from the top of the brine to the top of the jar.
  6. Wipe the rims (with something clean and dry, like a fresh tea towel) and seal with a lid, semi-tightly.
  7. Grap your biggest saucepan (a stockpot is ideal). Place a clean, folded tea towel at the bottom of the pan, then place the jars on the tea towel. Keep the jars clear of the sides of the saucepan. This reduces the risk of a jar cracking while the water is boiling.
  8. Fill the pot with water at a temperature that is close to the still-warm jars, so they don’t crack. The jars should be fully covered, or at least 3/4 submerged. Put on the lid and bring to the boil over medium heat (ie. slowly). Once it reaches boiling point, leave for 10 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove the jars from the saucepan and leave aside to cool overnight. There are special tongs for doing this, but I managed by very quickly grabbing them with a thick washing up glove and immediately transferring it into a thick, folded tea towel in the other hand. Please don’t burn yourself and please don’t drop a jar!

The lids should be slightly bulging. As the jars cool, a vacuum will be created inside and the lids will be sucked down, making a small pop. This is the sign that they are properly sealed and can be stored for up to a year. If they don’t seal correctly (if the lid isn’t slightly concave after they’re completely cooled), just put them in the fridge and eat them within a couple of weeks.

Notes

Don't worry if a jar cracks/breaks/explodes in the saucepan while you're boiling them. Let the process finish and just clean the jars that survive. It will be messy, but OK.

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