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Bounty Part 3: Kewkz

The excess of cucumbers in the world this year has me hornswoggled. And happy. Happily hornswoggled. I think of cucumbers as strictly a high summer vegetable, abundantly available during the hot season’s zenith, but for a short time only. Turns out not. I can’t spend five minutes in my Mumini’s company without her offering me more and filling my handbag with them when my back is turned.  While buying beetroot at the markets for pickling adventures, I learned that cukes are still unbelievably cheap. And they’re not the enormous, late-harvest, flavourless, discomforting-in-a-definitely-sexual-way ones, either, but sweet and tasty, at least as good as the high summer crop. I’m stoked. We bought two kilos ludicrously cheap. I think we just swapped some dryer lint for them.

Because someone gave me a jar of bread-and-butter pickles and lo, I saw that they were good. Must now make them in vast quantities. (I’ve always been a polski ogorki nibbler, meself, but it’s important to ford new frontiers.) I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, because I’ve never done this sort of thing before and I wanted a recipe from a stalwart and reliable source. You don’t blog for as long as Smitten Kitchen has without being on the ball. Took my cukes and got slicing.

So fresh and whole and innocent

I should also mention that you normally use wee cucumbers for pickling: little baby ones that are smaller, less watery, and so on. I’m taking my chances with bigger, more mature vegetables. Liberally tossed with some chopped onion and salt, I put them on to soak and leach out all the juices (as we did with the green tomato relish) and, boiled up the pickling solution with spices, sugar and vinegar. While my sinuses burned and my eyes streamed from inhaling too much boiling-vinegar-vapour, I had plenty of time to lay down and think about pickling. I get a real sexybuzz out of cooking techniques that make use of abundance, stockpiling against the inevitable leaner times. I think it’s sensible and satisfying: think of the kind of watery tomatoes you often get in the middle of winter, and then think of a big jar of fat sun-dried tomatoes. Plump those fuckers up in some boiling water for five minutes, and you’ve got the kind of lush, juicy tomato heaven for your pasta sauce, pannini or pizza that you so deeply crave (I understand you). Compare and contrast, bitches. This kind of cooking goes in and out of fashion. Folks whose grandparents or parents pushed through leaner times will, given half a chance and a biscuit, tell you all about the many different ways that they made use of abundance to stockpile against tough times: smoking, drying, curing, pickling, jam-making, jelly-making, canning, bottling and preserving. Especially if your grandparents didn’t have a refrigerator until 1994 or whatever. But because of the association with Old, a lot of these techniques became unpopular, and everyone thought them quaint or pointless. Jam is cheap to buy, why bother making it?

But then, why bother doing anything? Why bother going fishing or knitting a jumper, writing stories or playing the piano? Duh. Because they’re fun, challenging and interesting.

There’s been a huge Renaissance in this stuff — pickling and so on — which I suspect is a combination of trend over the past ten years in favour of cooking (and blogging about it) and the financial downturn much of the privileged Western world has undergone in the past three or four years. That’s the kind of economic event that affects people’s thought patterns and assumptions: partly because it shakes people up and reminds them that the ready abundance they see everywhere is not deserved, automatic and perpetual — if you can lose your house and job so abruptly after being faithful the system, what other truths do you need to question? — and partly because people are looking internally, homewards, for entertainment and challenge. I don’t mean to imply that this is as easy as “I’m broke and bored: I think I’ll make jam”, but I think a lot of the economic and social changes over the past five-to-ten years have resulted in a reinvigorated interest in skills that could have otherwise remained quaint and old-timey (and consequently uninteresting).

I think a lot of people have rediscovered cooking (not just fancypants wow-cooking, but simpler stuff like making your own bread, pasta sauces, cakes and so on) and through that have discovered a love and appreciation for food that makes it fun and interesting to find ways to preserve and make the most use of it.

I thought about all this while I recovered from inhaling too much boiling spiced vinegar. Does things to your head, that shit. And sinuses.

Then I recovered and drained the salt-soaking cucumbers and onions. They were stunningly beautiful in the steel bowl: white and vivid green, the last of the crisp bold greens of summer — much like the green tomatoes we turned into relish. The photos I took did not do justice and so were huffily deleted. The next step was to add the drained cukes/onions to the vinegar mix and nearly boil, then bottle. The white and vivid green changed into a duller, muted, more autumnal green, and the onions took on a similar shade to the cucumber slices.

This was not easy to photograph

Thank Zombie Jesus I’m not a photographer: this was challenging enough without trying to achieve perfection. I took a bajillion photos of this jar, wiping the condensation off (since it kept distracting the camera’s autofocus) and turning it round and round to try and avoid a big glare on the curved glass.

The elusive perfect pickle pic?

Oh, how we laughed.

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe says they will keep for a few weeks, but will start tasting pickle-y within a few hours. I’m so excited. If they are as delicious as my giddy and ill-focused brain thinks they should be, I will happily work my way through this whole jar while waiting for the pickled beetroot. (M can have some too, I guess.)

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