Cucumbers are a popular fruit to grow for homesteaders in the warmer seasons, but if you’re new to growing them yourself, you might be wondering what to do with the abundant results. Of course, you could give a bunch of them away, but otherwise you’ll need to explore ways to preserve them.
Pickling cucumbers is the most popular way of preserving them for good reason. Dill pickles go great in sandwiches and burgers, making them a staple food in most refrigerators.
Pickling cucumbers usually involves blanching the cucumbers in a hot pickle brine made from salt, water and vinegar, as well as various herbs and spices to taste (such as dill, of course). You’ll then let the cucumbers and brine cool before letting them ferment in an air-tight container for at least a few days, if not weeks, before they’re ready. Do it right (including sterilising your jars) and they’ll last for years.
However, if you want to enjoy the pleasure of pickles within 20 minutes, try this marinated cucumber salad instead. You’ll get much of the punchy flavour of pickles without the wait, although it’s important to note that marination is not a preservation method. You’ll want to eat them within a couple of days.
Sweet refrigerator pickles
A similar, quicker, and sweeter method of pickling cucumbers involves slicing them thinly first, before creating a brine similar to that above, but with sugar. Bring the brine to a gentle boil to dissolve the sugar and then pour it over the cucumbers in jars, let them cool, then seal the jars and place them in the refrigerator. They’ll be ready to eat in about 24 hours and keep for approximately 2 months.
To make cucumber jam, simply blend your cucumbers in a fruit processor then sieve out the pulp. Then gently boil about 2 ½ cups of the cucumber juice with 7 cups of sugar, 1 cup of vinegar, and 2 sachets of pectin.
Store the cucumber jam in sterilised jars. Seal properly and there’s no limit on how long they’ll last before being opened for your enjoyment.
Making a cucumber relish is something like a cross between making pickles and making jam. Essentially it’s just chopping cucumbers and onions into small pieces and then cooking them down in vinegar, sugar and spices. Once done, just strain out as much of the liquid as you can, cool, and seal in airtight jars. Now you’ve got yourself a delicious topping for hotdogs and cheese on toast.
We’ve got nothing against tomato salsa – in fact, we love it – but variety is the spice of life. Try making a green salsa with cucumbers instead of tomatillos for a delicious dip you can jar for weeks at a time. Of course, you’ll want to throw in some other ingredients too, such as salsa staples like onions, coriander and lime, but why not try it with chopped mango, radishes, or even avocado?
These make a delicious snack and a healthy alternative to potato crisps. Simply slice the cucumbers thinly, season them to taste, and spread them out in a dehydrator for at least 4 hours. (You might need to do this in batches.) Store the crisps in an air-tight container so they retain their crunch for as long as possible.
You can even use them to dip in the cucumber salsa above, as long as that doesn’t seem like (dare we say it?) too much of a good thing.
You’ve probably heard of courgette (or zucchini bread) and there’s no reason why you can’t make cucumber bread too. Simply puree the cucumbers and replace them in any zucchini bread recipe in like-for-like amounts. You can also make cucumber muffins.
Is this strictly a preservation method though? Perhaps not, but cucumber bread and cucumber muffins freeze brilliantly, always ready to be popped in the toaster or microwave for a quick breakfast.
Similar to the above, juicing your cucumbers might not seem like an obvious preservation method, but the trick is that it makes them easy to freeze. Simply defrost some overnight in the refrigerator and start your day with a healthy, detoxifying juice kick. (Oh yeah, and you can juice them with the skins on if you prefer.)
Freezing cucumber slices is also possible so long as you do so understanding that the texture will differ quite drastically from fresh cucumbers.
First, wash the cucumbers, dry them thoroughly, and peel them (you don’t want to freeze the skins). Then flash freeze them for a few hours on a lined baking tray before packing them up in freezer bags and returning them to the freezer. (Flash freezing the cucumber slices first will prevent them from sticking together in the bag.)
Or how about this for the tastiest cucumber freezing method of them all? Peel and deseed your cucumbers, cut into pieces, and blend them with lemon juice and sugar until smooth. Then freeze in a container for a couple of hours before transferring to your ice cream maker.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, all you have to do is shuffle the order in which you do things. Freeze cucumber chunks (using the method above) and then blend them with the lemon juice and sugar.
Either way, you can also add a few fresh mint leaves for extra flavour points.
How to store fresh cucumbers
Of course, you’ll probably also want to enjoy some of your cucumbers fresh in salads and sandwiches. If so, wash the cucumbers as soon as possible, dry them thoroughly, and then wrap them loosely in foil to stop them from accumulating moisture.
Fresh cucumbers will store for about two weeks in a cool and dry environment without softening, or up to 3 or 4 weeks in the refrigerator. However, note that temperatures below 5°C will damage cucumbers so you’ll want to make sure your refrigerator isn’t too cold for them. If it is, and you’re unwilling to turn the temperature up slightly, you’ll be better off storing them in a cupboard or, if you need to keep them longer, using one of the preservation methods above.
Cutting a cucumber will hasten the rate at which it begins to wilt. Be sure to keep any leftovers as whole as possible, covering the end in plastic wrap, and refrigerating them. Even so, plan to use them as quickly as possible.
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