Vegetable gardens constantly surprise. One year my zucchini crop was on steroids. When friends saw me pull in their driveway for the second time that week to share another basketful of the dark green squash, they locked their front doors.
Another season, the string beans took over and grew Grew GREW. I put Epicurious on speed-dial for new recipes. I vowed never again would I plant beans.
This year it’s cucumbers.
My cucumbers filled up their assigned plot by mid-July. In early August, they had swarmed over the furrows and buried the yellow squash, purple eggplant and green peppers. This week they are marching up and over the split-rail fence that encloses my Victory Garden. Five tiny seedlings that I planted in roto-tilled and fertilized soil last Memorial Day have become a marauding horde of burpless European and Straight Eight cukes that threaten my entire acreage.
So when life gives you a bumper crop of cucumbers? You make pickles.
First, some poop about pickles: They date as far back as 2030 B.C. when cucumbers from their native India were pickled in the Tigris Valley. The word “pickle” derives from the Dutch “pekel” or Northern German “pokel,” meaning “salt” or “brine,” two key components in the pickling process.
Cleopatra attributed her good looks to a hearty diet of pickles. Before Amerigo Vespucci set sail to explore the New World, he was a pickle peddler in Seville who knew that brine kept food from spoiling. His lucky sailors dined on pickled vegetables and most were spared the ravages of scurvy. (Keep Calm and Munch On, as it were.)
A century and a half later, Thomas Jefferson fortified himself by savoring “a fine spiced pickle on a hot day” while working on the second draft of the Declaration of Independence. (Quite a big dill, if you ask me.)
Fortified with this vital knowledge, I drove to Michael’s Stores to buy Mason jars (which were patented in 1858 by New Yorker John Mason who invented these jars with reusable screw-on lids.)
Google offered a slew of pickle recipes. So did my dog-eared sauce-splattered Joy of Cooking. I chose the latter to make Bread and Butter pickles, and headed off to Hannaford to get the requisite vinegars, onions, spices and seeds.
Then I set aside an entire morning to make pickles and immediately discovered: this is not heavy lifting. Or time consuming. You simply slice, salt, brine, and voila! Fourteen Mason jars filled to the brim sat on my refrigerator shelves to “age" overnight.
But there was no way Mr. Wonderful and I could consume even four jars of Bread and Butter pickles. So I dug out my “zucchini delivery route map” and headed off to share the bounty with friends.
The problem is, my cucumbers won’t stop growing. I’ve been back to Michael’s twice. I expanded my recipe search and have mastered making dills. When I ran out of Mason jars, I borrowed a half-dozen from pal Laurel who had made dill pickles with her visiting grandchildren one afternoon.
Final factoid on pickles: Did you know that 5,200,000 pounds of pickles are consumed every year in the United States? That’s nine pounds per person. I’m doing my part to keep that statistic viable.
But I’m truly in a pickle. Lock your door!