About a month from now we can expect two things to happen in the garden, one good and one bad.
The good thing is the start of cucumber season, or in my case, pickle season.
I am not a fan of cucumbers, fresh from the garden or otherwise. I have been known to eat them in salads coated with dressing, as long they are peeled and the seeds, along with the gelatinous mass that coats them, have been thoroughly scraped clean. That's the part I hate the most.
So it's odd that I love pickles, seed mass, peel and all. I love making pickles, too, and already my mailbox is starting to fill up with refrigerator pickle recipes from seed growers, online cookbook sites and others.
The bad thing, as most probably already guessed by the timing, is the emergence of Japanese Beetles. Even their beautiful copper and deep green coloring can't warm me up to them, or their nasty little grub offspring. I've tried to push the resentment aside and learn to at least tolerate this non-native insect in my garden, telling myself they only will be around for six weeks or so, but when I go outside to cut a bouquet of roses for the table and find the buggers deep inside the flower petals, it tests my patience.
But let's get back to those cucumbers. Although I don't eat them fresh, my family does, and I enjoy growing them so much, I don't mind cutting them into slices and soaking them in a quick brine of vinegar and ice water. It is pretty common to see a bowl of these simple brined cucumbers in my refrigerator through most of the latter half of summer. My family grabs these to snack on even over potato or tortilla chips.
But as for me, the addition of dill, garlic and kosher salt, in which the cucumbers have steeped for at least a week in the refrigerator, makes for some pretty tasty, quick homemade pickles.
Pickles don't have to be complicated with canning jars, boiling water baths and sterilized lids with seals. When I was young and my mother, aunt and grandmother would get together on a Saturday to harvest cucumbers and make pickles, it always was a big production. Their purpose was to stock up on supplies for winter, but I remember some of those jars, for whatever reason, didn't seal in the hot water bath. When that happened, they were put in the refrigerator for immediate consumption, and we couldn't keep our hands out of them. There isn't much that tastier than a crisp, cold pickle. We had homemade pickles on our dinner table nearly every night throughout the year from those days of canning in my grandmother's hot kitchen.
Yet you don't have to go all that trouble. If you don't have the time, or the inclination to spend hours canning dozens of jars of pickles, making instant pickles while the cucumbers are in season is a great alternative.
The time to start, however, is right now. Cucumbers are heat loving plants. When the ground is nice and hot, which it is right now, pick up a few plants of straight slicing cucumbers and shorter pickling cucumbers for your garden. It's not to late to put them in the ground. It also isn't too late to put in seeds, since they are very fast growers and once they start to bloom and form those tiny gherkins, not much can stop them other than wilt disease and insect infiltration. Usually before that happens, they have produced so many fresh cucumbers you'll like be as sick of them as next month's zucchini explosion. (Zucchini, by the way, also can be pickled).
The Internet is filled with recipes for these quick pickles. And whether you're making basic bread and butter or dill pickles, the brine is what makes the flavor.
And while we're speaking of brine, there also is a brine for Japanese beetles. Instead of pulling out the chemical sprays right away, I like to give the pests a little swim in an old coffee container, preferably one with a molded handle. Mix up a solution of warm, soapy water using plain tap water and dishwashing liquid and as you take your daily constitutional through the garden, flick those beetles off the plants right into the solution.
As far as pickle brine, check out my blog at www.tribtoday.com for some of those instant, refrigerator pickle recipes.