July 14, 2012
The garden struggles on in near drought conditions, seemingly in spite of anything I do to it. I’ve had several nice batches of beets and carrots, which I promptly ate for supper thinking that, next month, I’d haul out the gardening notebook and plant a fall garden of the “early” crops I like for winter eating.
I’ve snacked on the little cherry tomatoes for the last week or so and they show no signs of abating, so far. The Arkansas Travelers are not large, but they, too, hold promise of producing enough to eat this summer and freeze for winter. I’ve diced and frozen green peppers, onions and several bags of rhubarb. The okra plants have blossomed into tiny okras and the corn is about ready to pollinate. I had a couple of meals’ worth of green beans before they quit producing, but they are blooming again, so I may yet get enough to freeze some for this winter.
When I went out last March to trim back the grape vines, I found them already brimming with sap in the surprising warmth, so I left them alone. They have gone quite rogue on me and I’ve already stemmed and frozen a couple of gallon bags full, with more to come. I’ve snacked on them, given several batches to the tenant to snack on and that’s only the ones on my side of the fence. There seems to be an equal amount on the neighbor’s side, for their picking. The birds usually take their share, too, but the tenant’s three dogs – out in the yard several times a day, now that the yard is fenced – seem to have discouraged the birds from overindulging this year, though there remain enough for them to take their share while the dogs are inside.
The cantaloupe vines are in flower and I expect to see tiny melons nestling in the grass any day now. And the cucumbers are … well … being cucumbers.
I love fresh cucumbers, though I only keep a couple of vines of the prodigious little producers. I love them sliced or diced with tomatoes and onions in vinegar. I love them sliced into sour cream flavored with dill. I love to snack on lightly salted slices while I’m working on the computer. I’ve even turned them into batches of freezer pickles. (The last batch, consisting of six quarts, lasted me all that winter and well into the next batch of cucumbers.) In good years, I’ve even taken a bag or two, along with squash and tomatoes, to the food bank.
Last year, in desperation, I even peeled the last of them, turned them into pulp in the food processor and froze the pulp in bags, hoping to turn them into a creamy dilled cucumber soup last winter. My advice? Don’t try this at home. Alas, instead of the creamy, refreshing soup of my dreams, I wound up with a mushy- tasting mess that, in spite of every remediation I could think of, was a waste of good cream.
The obvious answer, of course, would be to can some pickles, but I have never learned the secret of crisp canned pickles, do not like mushy canned pickles any more than I like mushy cucumber soup and, frankly, am not at all enthusiastic about canning anything in my small apartment during the extreme heat of this summer.
For the first week of cucumber production this year, I managed to keep up by slicing, dicing and eating them in all the usual ways. By the second week, they were beginning to line up on the kitchen cabinet in a very smug and accusatory manner.
Determined to keep up, I even offered one to my vegetable hating tenant, hoping he would discover cucumbers were a delicious exception to his dislikes. He did not.
So, last week, I cut the accusatory cucumbers into wedges, thin-sliced an onion, boiled a vinegar and salt brine seasoned with dill and garlic and made a batch of refrigerator pickles. The next evening, in an act of purest charity, I decided to take a couple of the wedges down to my tenant, to see if he liked them.
After scarfing them down and proclaiming them delicious, he rushed into his kitchen and came back bearing the cucumber I’d given him the day before as if he were a miner who’d suddenly discovered that what he thought was fool’s gold had turned out to be the real thing.
“Can you do that to this one?” he asked.
“Sure, I can,” I said, smiling like a cat who’d just discover a mouse.
He returned the empty container the other day and, though he didn’t hold it out and say, “More, please,” I’m pretty sure he would not be adverse to my presenting him with another batch or two this season.
So, I think I may have solved the cucumber problem, for now. And who knows, if the weather cools off a little toward the end of cucumber season, I would not be adverse to canning some pickles for winter eating and sharing – if I can just discover the secret to keeping them crisp.