Cucumbers are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, although they are technically a fruit. It is believed that cucumbers originated from a wild species found in the foothills of the Himalayas and that they were first cultivated in India 3000 years ago. They made their way to France sometime during the ninth century and England during the fourteenth century. Christopher Columbus brought the cucumber to Haiti in late fifteenth century after which they quickly spread throughout North America.
Prized for their cooling effect, cucumbers are up to 96% water and are often used for tempering the effects of hot and spicy foods (such as in the Indian yogurt dish raita). Pureed or sliced cucumbers give almost instant relief to sunburns – just apply directly to the affected area and feel the cooling effect.
Cucumbers are in the Gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). About ⅔ of the cultivated species of cucumbers are for eating fresh with the remaining third used for pickling and are usually picked when smaller.
Cucumbers make a fun addition to the garden however, they do require substantial space. Trellising your cucumbers can help make the most use of your space and it also makes harvesting a little easier.
Generally, cucumbers like clay soil with lots of compost mixed in. Place 3 transplants (or 7-8 seeds) in mounds that are 90 cm wide, 120-150 cm apart next to a fence or a trellis. Water is essential – soak the soil deeply when weather is dry. For extra moisture, try punching a few small holes in a can and burying it up to the rim in the middle of the mound. Fill with water regularly. Put 5 cm of mulch (such as straw, hay, grass clippings or leaves) around the seedlings to help retain moisture.
Cucumbers are best planted from seed when the soil warms up in Spring. After harvesting cucumbers, you can plant lettuce, carrots, beets, onions or chard as a succession crop.
Here is a brine pickle recipe that really works. Our favourite pickles are made with a medium salt brine – 1.5 tablespoons of salt to every litre of water. From Wild Fermentation (by Sandor Katz, Chelsea Green, 2003)
How to make your pickles CRUNCHY:
One quality prized in a good pickle is crunchiness. Fresh tannin-rich grape leaves placed in the crock are effective at keeping pickles crunchy. Other options are: wild grape leaves, sour cherry leaves, oak leaves, or horseradish leaves.
Gauging brine strength:
Added to 1 quart of water, each tablespoon of sea salt (weighing about 0.6 oz) adds 1.8% brine. So, 2 tablespoons of salt in 1 quart of water yields 5.4% and so on. In the metric system, each 15 millilitres of salt (weighing 17 grams) added to 1 litre of water yields 1.8% brine. Low salt pickles are around 3.5% brine. This recipe is for sour, fairly salty pickles, using around 5.4% brine.
Timeframe: 1 to 4 weeks
- Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
- Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
- 1-gallon / 4 litre jug filled with water, or other weight
- Cloth cover
Ingredients (for 1 gallon/4 liters):
- 3 to 4 pounds/1.5 to 2 kilograms unwaxed cucumbers (small to medium)
- 3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) sea salt
- 3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or 3 to 4 tablespoons of any form of dill (fresh or dried leaf or seeds)
- 2 to 3 heads of garlic, peeled
- 1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak, and/or horseradish leaves (if available)
- 1 pinch black peppercorns
- Rinse cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them, and making sure their blossoms are removed. Scrape off any remains at the blossom end. If you’re using cucumbers that aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them for a couple of hours in very cold water to freshen them.
- Dissolve sea salt in 1/2 gallon (2 liters) of water to create brine solution. Stir until salt is thoroughly dissolved.
- Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it dill, garlic, fresh grape leaves, and a pinch of black peppercorns.
- Place cucumbers in crock.
- Pour brine over the cucumbers, place the (clean) plate over them, then weigh it down with a jug filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighed-down plate, add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 tablespoon to each cup of water.
- Cover the crock with a cloth to keep out dust and flies and store it in a cool place.
- Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the plate and weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.
- Enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment. Continue to check the crock every day.
- Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to enjoy them, moving them to the fridge to slow down fermentation.
Happy pickling and cucumber harvesting!