Don’t throw away those big orange overripe cucumbers


I was raised by parents who grew up in the depression. Furthermore they are both of Scottish descent, so wasting things always bothered them and I grew up with the same values. I guess I could have rebelled but I chose to be frugal as well.
We always had a garden when I was growing up and on those sandy Maine soils cucumbers were easy to grow and they yielded well. Consequently, we made jars upon jars of pickles. My mother must have tried every recipe she came across, but after a while we settled on our favorites.
One of those required those big old overripe orange ones that we previously threw on the compost pile. Using what we would otherwise throw away was great for us skin flint Mainers. We peeled them and scooped out the seeds. Some we ground into relish, but most we cut into chunks. Then we mixed in onions, sweet peppers for color and poured this yellowish brine on them.
The vinegar brine was seasoned with sugar, mustard and celery seeds and pickling salt. It also contained turmeric, which along with the mustard provided the bright yellow color. The original recipe called for distilled vinegar, but Mom always liked to combine white and cider vinegars.  It deepened the color and added flavor.
These are among my favorite pickles. In fact, I like the recipe so much I use it for cauliflower and wild Florida betony tubers. It’s amazing the number of vegetables, wild and cultivated that pickle well.
My mother is in her eighties now and she still makes these pickles. In fact, she now processes them by the ton and has enlisted several volunteers at the church to help her for one of their annual fundraisers.
Each fall she enlists a bunch of church members and they travel to a cucumber farm several miles away and gather all the overripe cukes. The farmer donates the orange fruits to the church. He has no other market for them anyway. Mom and her friends literally harvest over a ton of them, load them in pickup trucks and everyone helps with processing. They get requests from miles away and all the locals know those pickles will be served at all the church’s baked bean suppers.
The only part that bothers me is that they don’t charge enough. I told Mom that when she considered the cost of traveling to get them and all the materials and labor she should double her price. She told me it didn’t matter because they were donating to the church anyway. When I reminded her that the church needed money she replied that the church is made up of people who help others. I guess mother knows best.
I can’t walk through my garden and spot an overripe cucumber without thinking of my mother and those pickles. The name of the recipe we first started using was Ruth’s Pickles. My mother has modified it a little, and I don’t even know who Ruth is, but her pickle recipe made a big impact on our family and that small Eastern Maine community.
Usually I have enough big orange ones for a batch, but this year our cucumbers were scarce. Bacterial wilt saw to that. Nevertheless, I think I still may have a few jars left. I guess I’ll have to make them last until next year.

Sweet Pickle Brine for those big orange cucumbers

5 qts. peeled and cut-up cucumbers                                 1  1/2 tsp. turmeric

4 medium onions, chopped (optional)                             6 c, sugar

2 sweet red peppers (optional)                                         1  1/2 Tbsp. mustard seed

1 qt. vinegar                                                                          2  Tbsp. celery seed

I usually use an even mix of                                               3 Tbsp. salt (I use pickling salt)

cider vinegar and 1/2 qt. white vinegar.

Peel and cube over-ripe cucumbers and mix in peppers and put into kettle with chopped onions. Add vinegar to only 3/4 depth of vegetable(about 1 quart).  Mix sugar, turmeric, mustard seed, celery seed, and salt; add to contents of the kettle.  Mix well and cook slowly at simmering temperature until pieces are just tender and can be pierced with a fork.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal. Recipe is great for ripe cucumbers or cauliflower.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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12 Responses to Don’t throw away those big orange overripe cucumbers

  1. Bret Latlip says:

    Ted, my mother born in Hartland, Maine recently passed away. Sadly, we did not get her over-ripe relish before she passed. Do you have a recipe?

  2. I just brought in 3 overripe cucumbers, bright orange in color. I was afraid they might not be fit to eat but after reading your post I have decided to try a few bits. I let them hang way too long on the vine and thus they were getting orange. I first thought the yellowish color that later turned orange was an indication of being under ripe. Now I know it’s quite the opposite.

  3. We had 3 bright orange ones we picked off the vine today. Glad I read your post. I actually thought they would turn green but later read that they were very over ripe. So I will use your recipe for my large overripe orange cucumbers. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am not familiar with your post, I’m
    Sorry. Where is your iFlorida betony post? I’d like to key to get your recipe

    Reply

  5. JOAN JUSTICE says:

    ABT OVER RIPE CUCUMBER PICKLES..DO YOU PROCESS IN WATER BATH? IF SO HOW LONG?

    • tedmanzer says:

      I don’t process them after I test them for proper texture. I place them in sterilized jars and seal them like you would jelly. I’ve never had a problem with jars not sealing or any type of storage problems. I will admit that they seem to remain crisper if stored at a relatively cool temperature.

  6. Debbie Ferguson says:

    Does this recipe require water-bathing for shelf storage?

    • tedmanzer says:

      I’ve done it that way for ripe cucumbers, but it’s not necessary. I prefer cooking them until I like the texture and them packing them in sterilized jars. That way They never get cooked too long and get mushy.

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