The Curious and Compelling Case of the Cat-Sized Cucumber!

Monday, July 20, 2009

How does a cucumber get this big?

Seriously? What is happening in our garden this year? We knew something was up several months ago when Venus harvested a baseball sized radish. Then, we followed that up by harvesting red potatoes the size of a red clay brick.

But now? A cucumber the size of Fuzzbutt the cat? That's 17.5 lbs. of cat I'll have you know. We grow them big on the Bird Farm, and that apparently applies to cats AND cucumbers.

This cat-sized cucumber plus a ton more cucumbers came straight out of the cucumber garden this weekend. I knew that we had several cucumbers to harvest, but I didn't discover the monster until I kicked it while stringing up 200 feet of electrical wiring for a seventh irrigation valve (another long story of failure I must share with you someday).

After finding the beast, I knew it was time. Venus knew it was time. So, we both dove into the cucumber beds and picked everything we could possibly find. The end result is pictured to your right, and that is only part of the harvest.

Yes, there was more.

What are two people going to do with enough cucumbers to feed an army? Why did we plant so many of them? How did they get so freaking big? We're still not sure why we're pulling super-sized vegetables out of the garden this year. This is a first for both of us. To be perfectly honest, we are trying some new gardening techniques and experiments this year. Perhaps that's the reason?

As for what to do with the haul? As a wise old man once told me, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And, in this case, when life gives you cucumbers, make pickles.

And that's exactly what the wife and I set out to do.

To be honest? Most of the cucumbers that we harvested were not pickling cukes, nor do they pickle well. They tend to get quite soft over time. Good pickling cucumbers are tough. That's why we specifically planted several varieties of pickling cucumbers this year, plus an Armenian slicer.

The Armenian cucumbers, pictured in this bath of ice water, are somewhat different and unique from the normal cucumber used in salads. The skin is far tougher than a normal cucumber. The flesh is far more crunchy. It's one of those "cross" cucumbers that goes well in a salad, or in a jar of pickles. And since we had plenty of them, well, it was time to get to work.

Fortunately, Venus and I both took steps last year and this year to ensure that most of the items needed for this pickling project would come straight from the backyard. We were using a standard Dill Pickle recipe that has been featured on this blog before (you can find it here). The dill, which Venus planted months ago, was in full flower. And the garlic would come from our garlic harvest that took place about three weeks ago.

Some of the other items were acquired more inventively. The red pepper flakes for example? Sure, we could have purchased a jar of those for three or four bucks at a nearby store, or we could have saved all those tiny packages of red pepper flakes that pizza joints hand out with abandon. If you have a drawer full of those packets, like we do, here's a chance to put them to work (if you guessed that I like pizza, that's a really good guess).

Other passed pickling efforts have included Thai Hot Peppers inside the jar with the pickles. It looks nice, but it also results in a batch of pickles that will burn your lips off. One needs to have a good supply of cold beer nearby just to handle the heat that comes off that pickle. Soon, you've consumed so much beer that you can no longer see the pickles. We had to avoid this.

The end result of our pickling efforts is located to your left. That's 21 jars of canned Dill Pickles, the most we have ever canned in any one sitting. Venus and I managed to can 36 jars of pickles last year, and after this little project, it seems we'll beat last year's count fairly quickly. Cucumber season is just beginning. In another two weeks, we'll probably have an even larger harvest.

More beer here!

Many people have asked, what are we going to do with all of those pickles and, secondly, are we madly insane? There might be an element of truth to that second question, but as for the first, there's nothing like a present of home-canned dill pickles at Christmas. Combine those pickles with jars of home-canned salsa, tomato sauce, pickled green beans and pickled baby corn -- and you have a gift that people will remember.

Ipods -- Schmypods. Who needs tech gadgets? I've got home-canned dill pickles.

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