Spicy Cucumber Dill Pickles

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canned spicy dill pickles

canned spicy dill pickles

Summer is generous.  She unfurls her leaves and offers up a variety of fruits, herbs, and vegetables.  Yes, eating is easy and it is fresh.  But with a wary glance to the sky, I note that it won’t always be summer.  You see… for as generous as she is…. she is quick to depart.  One killing freeze and those tender plants are done producing.

Cucumbers are a staple of the garden and farmer’s market.  These plants are prolific and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.  But for canning purposes, go with a variety that are best suited for pickling.  Some varieties include, but are not limited to the following:

Pickling Cucumber Varieties

  • Adam, F-1
  • A & C Pickling
  • Boston Pickling
  • Bushy
  • Chicago Pickling
  • Corporal Shmatko
  • Dar
  • De Bourbonne
  • Delikatesse
  • Double Yield
  • Longfellow
  • Monika
  • Muncher
  • National Pickling
  • Parade
  • Russian Pickling
  • Zimmerman

So my friends, it is time to dig out your canner and gather up cucumbers.  If you buy yours from a CSA, farmer’s market, or local grocery store, and are uncertain which cucumbers to buy, ask.  The farmer or grocer will help you make the best choice for your pickling needs.

Spicy Cucumber Dill Pickles

  •  9 – 12 pickling cucumbers, approximately 3″- 4″ long
  • 2 C. white vinegar (apple cider works well in a pinch)
  • 2 C. water
  • 2 tbsp. pickling salt (please DON’T use table salt)
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 3 heads of fresh dill
  • 6 large cloves of garlic
  • 3 small dried chili peppers, such as cayenne

Items Needed for Canning

  • 3 pint jars
  • water bath canner
  • rims & lids for the jars
  • timer
  • jar lifter
  • cloth towel

    slicing ends off cucumber

    slicing ends off cucumber

Wash the cucumbers well as there may be bits of dirt clinging to the skin.  After they are washed, slice off both the stem end and the blossom end.  Quarter each cucumber lengthwise and set aside in a clean bowl.

sliced cucumber spears

sliced cucumber spears

Add water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a pan that you place on the stove.  Use a non-reactive pan, such as enamel, Pyrex, or stainless steel.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Once the mixture reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid.

In clean, sterilized, and warm jars, place a head of dill, two cloves of garlic, and a dried chili.

sterilized jar with dill head

sterilized jar with dill head

Place the cucumbers lengthwise into the jar (so the cucumbers are standing on end).  The cucumbers should fit snugly into the jars.

Pour the hot liquid from the pan into each jar, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Place the jars in a water bath canner  that has already been brought to a boil.  Process the pint jars for 10 minutes if your elevations is less than 1,000 feet.  If you elevation is higher, adjust based on the following:

Canning Elevation Time*

  • 1,000 – 3,000 feet: add 5 minutes
  • 3,000 – 6,000 feet: add 10 minutes
  • 6,000 – 8,000 feet; add 15 minutes
  • 8,000 – 10,000: add 20 minutes

* Elevation time via the Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard.

After you have processed the jars for the appropriate length of time based on your elevation, carefully remove the hot jars using the jar lifter and place them on a cloth towel spread on a flat surface away from any breeze.  Allow the jars to cool completely before handling.  As the jars begin to cool, you may hear the “ping” sound as the lid seals to the jar.  (Sometimes the jars ping as soon as they are removed from the canner and sometimes the ping occurs after several minutes).

For best results, we like to wait for at least six weeks prior to opening a jar to enjoy the pickles.  So go ahead and give this a try.  You can turn cucumbers into a spicy dill pickle.

Shishito Peppers: The Asian Heirloom

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ripe shishito pepperThere are times the culinary world impacts my horticulture world.  Such was the case years ago while dining at an up and coming sushi restaurant in Chicago.  For an appetizer, Shishito peppers were listed.  I had never heard of them before.  Sure, I was familiar with many varieties of bell peppers as well as  the common chili peppers of the American southwest.  But this?  Hmmm…  Being curious as well as adventurous, I decided to try them.  The moment they hit my taste buds, I knew that I would be adding them to my garden.

This pepper is a Japanese heirloom.  As such, they may be hard to find at local nurseries in the United States.  Online is a different story.  Many heirloom seed companies that have an online presence now carry this wonderful little pepper.  Have fun and search for it based on one of its common names,  Wrinkled Old Man pepper.   While I have searched nurseries for that moniker to no avail, I have been able to find them locally as Shishito.  You can also look up this pepper by its Latin name, Capsicum annuum var. annuum ‘Shishito’.  However, this pepper has been gaining in popularity over the last few years and as a result, are being offered by more nurseries and garden centers across the States.

Like any other pepper, it is considered a warm season crop.  Wait until after your area’s average frost-free date for planting.  Any sooner than that and you may find yourself replanting due to a hard frost.  Place them in a full sun location with well-drained soil for best results.  As you plant, keep in mind that Shishitos grow to approximately 20″h by 12″w.   Given their size, they also perform quite well in containers.

Shishito pepper plant

Shishito pepper plant

They are prolific producers.  At a minimum (in my experience) expect at least a dozen peppers per plant.  But if you harvest from the plants regularly, expect those numbers to rise.  These peppers are ready to pick when they are 3″ – 4″ in length.  They will have a wrinkled appearance, glossy skin, and are a bright green color.

harvested shishito peppers

harvested Shishito peppers

According to many seed catalogs as well as online sources, Shishito is listed as a sweet, mild pepper.  Now while this is true the majority of time, I find Shishitos to be similar to Padrón peppers in that approximately one out of every 20 is hot… a reminder of its firey past.  (And in some seasons, I may find that number to change to one out of every 10).    Think of eating them as a culinary Russian Roulette.  In fact, Pepper Scale lists, “Shishito Pepper: Mild… until it isn’t”.   Based on personal experience, I fully agree with that statement.  But don’t worry about biting into one and expecting the scorching heat of a Habanero.  They are along the lines of a mild Jalapeño.  Pepper Scale also lists them as a chili, not a sweet bell.

In the world of peppers, Shishitos have a very nice flavor.  I think of it as herbal, but sweet.  And even before introducing them to a hot pan, they exhibit a slightly smokey flavor as well.  A few ways to enjoy this flavor is by stir frying (my favorite) or a quick trip on the grill.   To maximize flavor, simply coat them with peanut oil and apply heat… but keep an eye on them as they cook quickly given their thin flesh.   The skin will begin to blister after about a minute in a hot pan.   After removing from heat, sprinkle with sea salt and a dash of sesame oil.  Simple.  Sublime.  You can also eat them fresh, sliced in a salad, or pickled.  But don’t cover them in heavy sauces or thick dressings… their flavor may get lost.

So gardeners, go ahead and give Wrinkled Old Man a try.  This is one pepper that deserves a place in your garden.  Your taste buds will thank you.

10 Growing Tips for Yellow Squash

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10 tips for growing yellow squashThis time of year, gardening is in high gear.  In between pulling weeds and watering plants, harvesting is happening.  Gazing down into the basket, one particular plant is producing like crazy… the humble yellow squash.  Each day, it seems as though I am plucking more of them than any other vegetable.

Now the squash family is huge.  It is split most commonly into summer squash and winter squash.  Given that we are in the midst of summer, let’s focus on summer squash.  Looking deeper into the summer squash family, one notable member stands out… yellow squash.  To be specific, Cucurbita pepo.  If you are not familiar with this branch of the squash family, they are golden-yellow and just slightly elongated.  They are best when harvested at approximately 6″ – 8″ in length.  At this stage, the flesh is quite tender.If you allow them to get much larger, the seeds inside become quite large and slightly bitter.  The flesh also becomes much firmer and loses some of its delicate flavor.  While they may not reach the legendary size of their cousins, the zucchini, huge yellow squash specimens tend to be more seeds rather than flesh… and that does not make for a great meal.

Tips for Growing Yellow Squash

  1. It is considered a warm season crop – do not plant this before the average frost-free date for your area.
  2. Squash plants HATE having their roots disturbed – for best results, direct sow rather than transplanting seedlings.
  3. Select powdery mildew resistant varieties – will generally be noted on the seed package.  If the package or catalog does not give any indication, select a variety that you are interested in and then plant in a place with good air flow and do not crowd the plants.  This will help reduce the likelihood of powdery mildew from developing.
  4. Choose varieties to fit your garden space – if you have limited space, go with ‘bush’ varieties.  Bush varieties do not vine out across the garden.  Bush varieties may also be planted in large containers with good drainage.  A good example is a 5-gallon pot.

    bush variety of yellow squash

    bush variety of yellow squash

  5. Plant in full sun locations with good draining – squash plants will thrive in the sun, but the roots may rot if placed in poorly drained soil.
  6. Extreme heat can stress the plants –  a stressed plant may suffer from reduced yields.  Add mulch around the base of the plant which will help conserve water, keep the root zone cool, and reduce competition from weeds.  Examples of mulch include straw, chopped leaves (whole leaves tend to mat when wet and may prevent adequate moisture from reaching the plant roots), hay, and even shredded newspaper.
  7. Hand pollinate to ensure high yields – squash have both male and female flowers.  At the base of a female flower is a tiny, immature squash.  Take a swab of pollen from a male flower (no immature squash at the base of the flower) using something such as a small paintbrush or Q-Tip and then apply to the stamens of a female flower.  Yes, squash is a bee pollinated plant, but you are helping out.

    tiny squash at base of female flower

    immature squash at base of female flower

  8. Protect the plants with floating row covers – this will help reduce infestation from insects such as squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and vine borers.  The row cover is put in place when the squash are seedlings, but should be removed when the plants begin to flower.
  9. Good for succession planting after radishes, lettuce or peas – a yellow squash plant generally produces in approximately 50 days (give or take a few days depending on the cultivar).  Refer to the seed packet or plant tag for maturity date.
  10. Don’t plant near pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, and other varieties of summer squash (such as zucchini) if saving seed – squash can readily cross pollinates with cucurbits listed earlier in this bullet point.   Worth noting is that if cross-pollination has taken place, it will not be noticeable in the crop that is produced in the first year (the current season), but seed saved from the harvested crop, may bear fruit that looks and tastes different from the original yellow squash plant.  To help reduce cross-pollination, you could try planting pumpkins in the front yard, gourds in the side yard, and yellow squash in the backyard.  Another suggestion would be to coordinate with your friends and neighbors.  Each person grows a single type of squash and then when harvest season begins, folks share with each other.

Whether you have a huge garden, small raised bed, or even a large container, you can grow yellow squash.  And with the 10 growing tips listed, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest!