Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Pickle Project: Cutting the Cucumbers

Washing cucumbers before slicing them for 14 Day Pickles, June 27, 2010.
Now that we had the cucumbers and the crock, the hard work of making pickles could begin.  This was our official "Day 0" of pickle making.  The most confusing part of this process is trying to understand the fact that you start on Day 0 and don't get to Day 1 until 24 hours have passed.  This is very unclear in the recipe, which I will post tomorrow.  I don't know why it works this way, but both of my parents seemed baffled by my lack of understanding so I figured I should just go with it.

My mother and I carefully washed all the beautiful cucumbers we'd bought from Mr. Vue and picked off all the bits of stem that clung to the ends.  Once the cucumbers were clean, we cut them into perfect 3/4 inch slices.  
The perfect size for a pickle is 3/4 of an inch.  
My mother told me I should always start cutting the cucumber at the small stem end, not the large bottom side.  That way, if you end up with uneven slices and have to throw away part of the cucumber, you're throwing away the larger, less desirable end of the cucumber.  

After helping my mom slice 19 pounds of cucumbers, I realized two things.  

1.  My mother has an amazing capacity to slice cucumbers into evenly sized pieces, while wasting very little of the cucumber.

2.  It only takes about 10 pounds of cucumbers to make the 2 gallons of sliced cucumbers we needed.  Not the 19 pounds we bought.

So we recalculated the amounts and decided we would make a batch and a half.  We're going to have a lot of pickles this year.

Pouring cucumber pieces into the crock.
Once you put all the cucumber pieces in the crock, you have to cover them with salted water.  I hadn't looked at the recipe up until this point, so I haven't listed it here, but I'll post the complete 14 day pickle recipe tomorrow.  For today, all you need to know is that you have to dissolve 2 cups of non-iodized salt in 1 gallon of water for each gallon of cucumber slices in your crock.

We dutifully boiled 3 cups of non-iodized salt in 1 1/2 gallons of water and poured it over our cucumber slices in the bottom of the crock.  After that, just top the mixture with a plate and put the crock in a cool, out of the way place.  My crock of pickles is under my kitchen table, covered by a large, fluffy bathroom towel to keep the kids and the cat out of it!

The Pickle Project: Buying Cucumbers

"Japanese Shorts" at Vue's Farm Fresh, June 27, 2010.
Once I'd gotten the crock, the next step in the Pickle Project was to find the right cucumbers.  I'd seen pickling cucumbers at the Tuesday farmer's market in Pasadena, but I wanted my mom to help me pick them out and she wasn't due to arrive from Virginia until later that day.  So I waited.

On Thursday, we went to the South Pasadena farmer's market, but nobody had pickling cucumbers.

On Friday, we went to the Eagle Rock farmer's market, but nobody had pickling cucumbers.  I was beginning to despair.  After all, Daniel had only agreed to lend me the crock for 14 days and I was now three days over my time limit.  I dodged Daniel's calls for several days.

On Sunday morning, we went to the Alhambra farmer's market and as my daughter would say, "BINGO!", we found the perfect cucumbers.

Mom and I took a full loop around the farmer's market to check out all the cucumbers we could find before returning to the first stand we'd visited.

The owner of the stand, Mr. Vue, was very knowledgeable and seemed pleased when we told him we'd looked at all the cucumbers at the farmer's market and decided that his were the best.  Mr. Vue nodded and  proudly showed us the palms of his hands, which were rough and had obviously done their share of hard work.  He told us that his hands were the hands of a farmer and that he'd picked these cucumbers himself just that morning.  My mother, in turn, showed him her equally rough hands and said she too had the hands of a farmer.  Mr Vue and my mother had reached an understanding.  Although Mr. Vue's cucumbers were normally priced at $1.50 a pound, I asked him what the price would be if we bought all the cucumbers in the bin.  Mr. Vue did some quick accounting in his head and came up with a very good price... 75 cents a pound.  Sold.

Just as we were getting ready to help bag the cucumbers from the bin on the table in front of us, Mr. Vue waved us off and pulled out an even fresher batch of cucumbers from his truck.  In the end, we bought 19 pounds of "Japanese Shorts" from Mr. Vue.  We excitedly took our cucumbers to the car and went back to get the rest of our fruits and vegetables for the week.  As we looked over the peaches from the stand around the corner from Vue's stand, we realized that Mr. Vue was coming towards us holding a giant bag of Chinese broccoli.  He told us he wanted us to try it and refused any payment.  I guess Mr. Vue knows the look of a potential dedicated customer when he sees one.  The Chinese broccoli was delicious.  Thanks, Mr. Vue!