Overrun by Tomatoes and Cucumbers!

Too much of a good thing? We can barely keep up with our cucumbers and tomatoes. I mean, you can only have so many meals built around them: 

This is tabbouleh that Kirk made with some tomatoes and bulgur wheat (also a great way to use up lots of parsley) with a cucumber-red onion-feta salad on the side. That was very easy — slice it thin and put in the fridge with some white vinegar and it comes out cold and crispy for supper (add the feta just before serving).

In addition to all the salsa (I think we're on our third gallon of it now, plus a half gallon in the freezer), we've been doing a lot of canning this month. A lot:

As you can see on the left, we still have slicing cukes (in the front), rose tomatoes, and pickling cukes left over from our harvest session this past weekend, and I'm sure there will be a lot more when I got out to pick again tomorrow (I pick Thursdays and Sundays, plus whatever we grab on a daily basis for cooking, in case you were wondering). I think I'll be making more gazpacho to deal with the rest of those.

Anyway, we have canned a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers for winter. In the photo above, from left to right, we have 4 pints of dill relish, 7 quarts of brined dill pickles, 9 quarts of regular dill pickles, 8 pints of bread and butter pickles, 3 quarts plus 1 pint of sauerkraut, 11 quarts of kosher-style dill pickle spears, and 20 quarts of tomato sauce.

I think I can safely predict that we will never be able to eat all of that by ourselves. Even to get close, it will require a paradigm shift about pickles: they'll have to become a full blown side dish rather than just a sandwich garnish.

We made a different kind each time we did any canning to give us lots of variety over the winter. All are fresh-packed, which means just sliced and canned in a vinegar/salt/sugar mixture. All except, that is, our brined pickles:

These, like sauerkraut, are fermented in a crock for several weeks — basically a controlled spoiling, like yogurt or cheese. The cucumbers are also in a salty brine with spices, but you cover them up and scrape off the scum that forms while the cukes transform into pickles below the surface. 

The photo above shows them after we fished them out of the brine. They are yellower now, and translucent when you slice them open (which means they're done). It's hard to describe how they taste, but I'd definitely describe them as more mellow than the full-on vinegar taste of fresh-packed pickles. Kind of the difference between real, fermented sauerkraut, and just vinegar-and-salt canned stuff you often get at the grocery store. 

I purposely used our biggest and best cucumbers for this project, hoping to keep them whole (like those giant, awesome deli pickles in the big barrels). But we were worried that they'd take up too many jars that way, and that therefore the brine wouldn't go far enough to cover them all. (You strain and boil your brining liquid from the crock to use to pack the jars when you can these.) We ended up cutting most of them in half to can them ... and then we ended up with a ton of brine left, so it looks like we didn't have to do it that way after all. (Well, some would have been too tall for the jars no matter what.) So lesson learned here: no need to worry about running out of brine to can them whole.

I'm not sure exactly what we will do with the rest of the pickling cukes still out on the vines. It's hard to imagine canning any more...although we don't have any sweet gherkins yet. Maybe I'll start picking them small to make some of those. I should probably get started:

Because, mercifully, the vines are starting to die back. The cucumbers this year have far exceeded our expectations, and we may well not even plant pickling cucumbers next year, as I suspect we have more than a year's worth put up.


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