I made my monthly trip out to the Community Food Bank. I buy my local coffee in their value store, and because I’ve spent money there, I’m also eligible to pick up whatever free produce and bread they are distributing that day. As I waited in line, I saw that people were getting an entire box of produce. When it was my turn, I found out it was English cucumbers. I had a great big box of English cucumbers. A case. A bushel, or more precisely, according to the side of the box, 1 1/9 bushels.
At first I was really excited and planned to make a zillion pickles. Once I got home and started doing some research, that plan didn’t look so hot. English cucumbers and pickling cucumbers are not the same critters, and not one canned pickle recipe said, “Yeah, go ahead and substitute other cukes.” Nope, not one. Darn!
I don’t dislike fresh cucumbers. In fact, I made a really tasty cucumber-radish salad to go with dinner. I also called up a friend in the CSA and asked if she’d like some cucumbers for the cooking demo and sampling she had scheduled that evening. I peeled and sliced four of them for her, and took them to the demo. They were great with a miso dressing.
There are only so many cucumbers one can eat before they go bad. I hunted online for recipes that would allow me to preserve the bounty. There were lots of variations for refrigerator pickles, which involved considerably less work than canned pickles. I noticed one or two mentioned using English cucumber. Another interesting option was a recipe for English Cucumber and Ginger Conserve. The combination sounds strange but sometimes those are the best dishes.
I looked through all of my books on preserving food and found precious little for English cucumbers. One suggested making cucumber vinegar. After some thought, I decided against it since I really don’t use much vinegar on salads and can’t imagine using it for hot dishes. My Ball canning book had a recipe for Achar - South Asian pickles. It specifically called for English cucumbers, which made it a winner.
I biked to the store to pick up the necessary additional ingredients, and made a batch of refrigerator pickles. Due to their large size, a mere two cucumbers yielded four pint jars of pickles.
Even with the other recipes I'd found, there was no way I could handle this. Taking eight cukes out of the box (for the salad, CSA, and pickles) had barely made a dent. It was time to hit craigslist. I posted a free ad and got a few responses. I met one couple in the evening and gave them six cucumbers. When I got home, I noticed my neighbors (the good ones) outside and gave them a few, too.
My kitchen was a mess so the first order of business was to clean up. Then I washed all my canning jars and got the equipment ready for canning. I ended up online quite a bit with my new challenge and making arrangements with people from craigslist to pick up cucumbers.
I set up an afternoon meeting time with five people. When I showed up with 20 cucumbers on my bike, only one car was there. I handed him his share of four. Another person showed up a few minutes later. And then nothing. I waited 20 minutes and the other three people did not show up. When I went home, I checked for messages or emails. Nothing. They just blew me off. I hate this kind of casual rudeness and I’m encountering it more and more often lately. Common courtesy has become increasingly uncommon.
Back to the cucumbers. The box was still dangerously full. I offered my CSA friend more cukes for her Friday demo, which she was happy to accept. Grouchy from the wasted time and effort of dealing with craigslist flakes, and eager to get rid of the damn vegetables, I loaded up the bike for the CSA. On the way, I pawned off a few more to a friend who lives nearby. I pushed extras off on my friend at the CSA for her personal use. And I snagged another member and convinced him to take two more. Progress!
When I got home, I counted what was left. After all that I had given away, I still had 20 cucumbers!
This morning, I sent two with my sweetie for his co-worker. And then I got to work on my recipes. First, I threw together another fresh salad for dinner. Then I figured I’d knock off the conserve quickly before tackling the more complicated achar.
There was only one problem with my plan. I’d read the ingredients and had everything I needed for the conserve. I’d noted how many jars were needed for a half recipe and had them ready. But I had not read the actual recipe. The very first step says to peel and slice the cucumbers, place them in a bowl, cover them with sugar, and let them sit for 24 hours. Oh. Well, I guess I won't be canning these today.
The achar was a labor-intensive recipe. Lots of chopping: 5 cucumbers, 2 carrots, and 5 cups of cauliflower florets. Toasting ground peanuts and sesame seeds. Chopping and pureeing onion, ginger, garlic, and dried red peppers. After cooking the pureed vegetables with sugar and vinegar, all that was left was simmering the other vegetables for five minutes before canning. Not so fast! With that mass of cold vegetables, the syrup took forever to come back to a boil and was a pain in the arm to stir. And it barely fit in the stock pot. It's finally done and it damn well better taste good after all that work.
Have ya’ll noticed I tend to whine a lot? No? Geez, you’re not really paying attention, are you? Well, you must not mind because you’re still here reading what I’m whining about, so I say we deserve each other.
Back to the saga. I just looked in the refrigerator and there are still six cucumbers in there. I’m running out of ideas. With a hot weekend in the forecast, I might use one or two for some agua fresca. I could make a curried cucumber dish for dinner tomorrow night, counting the coconut milk as the last fatty food I can have for a month.
That still leaves me with two cucumbers. Maybe my sweetie and I should just re-enact the lightsaber fight from Star Wars and call it a day. Or maybe the new family up the street might want them for their chickens. I don’t know, and quite frankly, I’m getting to the point that I don’t care anymore.
The one question still on my mind is this: What was the food bank thinking when they gave each person an entire bushel of cucumbers?!