Newsletters: 25 Aug 2010

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 25 Aug 2010. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

Cooking, and reading about cooking
When cucumbers start showing up at the market, it always makes me think of pickles. I’ve never had much success with them, but my mother made jars and jars of them every year. This is one of the recipes she used, perfect for the home gardener with room for just one or two cucumber vines. You can make them fresh as the cucumbers become ready, and we all know how important freshness is for good pickles.

I think Gerry Wilbert was one of my mother’s friends in Davenport (Wash.) in the 1960s.

Gerry Wilbert’s dill pickles
Wash the cucumbers and pack into quart jars with a sprig of dill and 1-2 cloves of garlic at the bottom, middle, and top of each jar. Pour in 1/3 to 1/2 cup white vinegar and 2 rounded tbsp. canning (pickling) salt; top off with cold water. Boil lids 10 minutes and seal the jars; place upside-down for 24 hours. Let cure for several weeks before using. Any jars that don’t seal should be kept refrigerated until used or the pickles will be soft.

Cantonese pickled vegetables
200 g Chinese turnips, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
1 cucumber
1/2 teaspoon salt
100 g sugar
100 ml clear rice vinegar
5 thin slices ginger, smashed with the flat side of a cleaver
Cut the turnip in half lengthways, then cut lengthways into thirds and diagonally cut into 2 cm pieces. Diagonally cut the carrots into 2 cm pieces. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, remove any seeds and cut lengthways into thirds. Diagonally cut into 2 cm pieces. Place the vegetables in a non-reactive bowl, add the salt, toss lightly, and leave for 1 hour. Dry thoroughly. Combine the sugar and vinegar and stir until the sugar has dissolved Add to the vegetables with the ginger and toss lightly to coat. Leave in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

Index to all blog posts.


native to: western Asia or Middle East
in season here: late summer
Cucumbers, Cucumis sativus, are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with melons and squash, and are technically fruits rather than vegetables. There are two basic types of cucumber: slicing, which are generally larger and have thicker skins (at least in the US), and pickling, which can also be eaten fresh but their smaller size makes them fit into jars more easily and their thinner skins let them absorb brine more readily.

Of course, lots of different foods can be pickled, but cucumbers are the most common these days, so let’s consider pickles for a minute. The word “pickling” refers to keeping food from spoiling by soaking it in a liquid or fermenting it. Fermenting allows food to soak in a solution for long enough that microorganisms can cause changes such as the buildup of lactic acid. Salt is the main ingredient in such brines, although vinegar, dill, garlic, and lime (calcium hydroxide or calcium oxide, not the citrus fruit) are also common. Fermented pickles are often referred to as “brined pickles” but in fact some pickles are “quick brined” or “quick pickled” and not fermented — vinegar or some other already-acidic solution preserves the food, not lactic acid. “Quick brining” produces pickles in just a few days, while properly fermented pickles take several weeks at least.

“Seedless” cucumbers are produced by parthenogenesis, in which the plant produces fruit without pollination and therefore seeds are not developed. If cucumbers make you belch, you may prefer a seedless variety or remove the seeds, but the seeds and skin do have more of certain nutrients than the pulp. Thin-skinned varieties of cucumber generally have fewer seeds than thicker-skinned types, so that’s a possible compromise.

When cucumbers have to travel or be stored any length of time, they’ll probably be waxed. Even organic cucumbers can be waxed, they just have to use chemical-free, non-synthetic wax. If wax is a concern, you’re better off buying nice local cucumbers at the farmers’ market or removing the peel from grocery store cukes. You can also try removing the wax by thorough washing with a vegetable brush. Waxed or not, conventionally-grown cucumbers are members of the “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 fruits and vegetables most likely to have pesticide residues.

Cucumbers contain lignans that have been connected with reduced risk of cardiovasular disease and several kinds of cancer. They have also been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They provide phytonutrients, vitamin K, molybdenum, pantothenic acid, copper, potassium, manganese, vitamin C, phosphorus, magnesium, biotin, vitamin B1, and silica (which is good for your nails). On top of all that, a cucumber is 95% water and contains important electrolytes, which makes it a great snack choice on hot days or when you’re working hard. A couple of slices over the eyes is a popular folk remedy for puffiness, an effect achieved by the high water content and some caffeic acid. Cucumber slices are also supposed to be good for treating sunburn.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw cucumber (with peel)
label-style nutrition information for dill pickles
Medical News Today

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Dill pickles by the jar

cucumbers, washed, as fresh as possible

For each quart jar:
2 rounded Tbsp. canning (pickling) salt
1/3 to 1/2 cups white vinegar
3-6 cloves garlic
3 sprigs of dill
cold water to fill

Pack jar(s) with cucumbers, placing a sprig of dill and about 2 cloves of garlic at the bottom, middle, and top as you go. Pour in vinegar, add salt. Fill to top with cold water. Boil lids 10 minutes and seal. Place jars upside down for 24 hours. Allow to cure several weeks. If a jar fails to seal, the pickles will get soft unless kept cold.

Adapted from: Gerry Wilbert, as told to Dorothy Huffman in the early 1970s.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Cucumber Soup With Avocado

1 tsp. butter
1 tsp. olive oil
3 leeks, washed and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups (about 3 large) cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cubed
4 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. chopped fresh dill
2 tsp. sherry or red wine vinegar
8 ounces plain Greek yogurt

to garnish:
2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cubed

Heat butter and oil over medium, and saute leeks 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add cucumber and chicken stock, and simmer about 6-8 minutes, until cucumber is softened. Pour small batches of cucumber soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and add 1 tsp of dill, sherry or vinegar, salt, pepper, and yogurt. Whisk to blend thoroughly, cover, and refrigerate 2-3 hours, until chilled

To serve: ladle soup into bowls and garnish with avocado and dill.

Adapted from WebMD

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.