Chef Sandra is in a Pickle!

I have been growing pickling cucumbers for many years and make a mean bread and butter pickle – recipe courtesy of my mom. I also like to make dill spears, and use my cucumbers in relishes too. Cucumbers are great for pickling, tossing in salads, or just eating straight off the vine. Of course to make a good pickle, you have to first start by using fresh firm pickling cucumbers. And you MUST use pickling cucumbers for pickles and not salad or “slicing cucumbers”. You cannot make pickles using slicing cucumbers.  If you are fortunate to live near a farmer’s market, that is always a good option, but look for local farmers and ask when the cucumbers were picked.

Cucumbers like warm, humid weather; loose, organic soil; and plenty of sunlight. They grow well in most regions of the United States and do especially well in the South which is why I have had such good success here in Texas. These photos were from my spring garden earlier this year.

How to Plant Cucumbers

Cucumbers may be planted in hills or rows about 1 inch deep and thinned as needed. Since cucumbers are a vine crop, they usually require a lot of space. In large gardens, cucumber vines may spread throughout rows; within smaller gardens, cucumbers may be trained for climbing on a fence or trellis. Training cucumbers on a fence or trellis will reduce space and lift the fruit off the soil. This method also can provide your garden with a neater appearance. The bush or compact varieties work well for growing in small spaces or even in containers, although I recommend a lot more space.

Purchasing Cucumber Seeds Locally

Cucumber seeds are plentiful from any garden center or nursery, or places like Home Depot, Loews, Walmart, and some hardware stores. I like Calloway’s Nursery (great resource if you live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area to locate the Calloway’s near you. Or you can do a search for a garden center in your area.   Like any good garden center, Calloway’s always has a garden expert available to answer your gardening questions. And they also offer free weekly workshops and if you join the garden club, you get regular updates on weekly sales, workshops, etc.

Purchasing Organic Cucumber Seeds Online

I now use organic seeds. My sister Agnes and my Niece Kelli (and her son Alex also love to garden), and we have been sharing organic seeds that we purchase online. It takes only a few seeds for a huge yield, especially with things like squash!! Squash will totally take over your garden if you are not careful so don’t use many seeds. My basil, oregano and cilantro have all seeded, and I was able to save seeds from each of them for planting next Spring. And if you should purchase an organic vegetable like butternut squash for example, you can remove the seeds before you roast your squash, dry the seeds and then replant them in your garden at a later date. Be on the lookout for a blog about Butternut squash!!

Here are a couple of resources for purchasing organic cucumber seeds, including pickling cucumbers as well as a list of the different varieties of cucumbers for pickling. I am always amazed by the many different varieties.

Recipes using Pickling Cucumbers

I still eat a version of this simple, yet very flavorful fresh cucumber salad when I go home to visit my parents. In fact, there is always some sort of homemade condiment on our table. Usually chow chow relish, sliced tomatoes and onions in a vinaigrette dressing, or something else fresh. My dad grows pickling cucumbers Spring and Fall. We have often eaten an entire salad from our family garden, including bibb lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, bulb onions, parsley, fresh dill. Below is my version of my dad’s cucumber salad.

Chef Sandra’s Simple Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Do you think home canning is a lost art? I think not!

Three days and counting before my first Home Canning series begins at the Dallas Farmer’s Market and I am so excited!    I can’t wait to meet the new breed of contemporary home canners who are taking an interest in learning home canning and what was once considered to be a “Lost Art”.  I’ve spoken with corporate executives, gardeners, gourmet chefs, retirees and families who are just concerned about food safety and nutrition.

Urban canners love the fact that you don’t have to live in the country or devote every waking hour to a garden in order to enjoy the canning process.  In fact, city-dwelling canners find that searching for excellent produce and new recipes leads them to wonderful out-of-the-way markets and restaurants.  Many new home canners don’t garden at all, but love shopping for fresh organic produce and enjoy making their recipes in their high rise apartments.

Whether your reason for learning home canning is because of your concern with ingredients and nutrition, or because you find it something that is relaxing to do, now is the time to get on board.