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.