So we’ve been having some serious cucumber complications around here. I am not a seasoned gardener to begin with, and I have a total of two tricks up my sleeve as far as plant troubleshooting goes (1. Google, 2. the guy I buy plants from at the farmers market). Naturally, I was so discouraged by the aphid infestation that hit our cucumbers in early June. Dear Lord the aphids. There were grayish brown ones that looked like dirt, clearish yellow ones, and fuzzy white ones (which I think were actually mealybugs). Our main attempts to keep the aphids under control involved squishing the them by hand and washing the leaves almost nightly with Dr. Bronner’s and/or Neem oil. This worked okay.
Still, by the end of June it seemed we were settling into a drought much like the one we had last summer, and the highs were above 100 almost every day. While our peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes don’t seem to mind this too much, the cucumbers were just so sad looking. Plus, we’d only gotten about six pints of pickles out of the lot of them, which broke my pickle-loving heart. We picked the cucumbers as they ripened, but the lack of rain and intense heat severely stunted them, and I was afraid the ones we did have would be too ripe before I got enough to can another proper batch of pickles. To make matters worse, although the plants were blooming and putting out new growth, the tiny cucumbers kept falling off before the reached a couple inches in length. It was, to say the least, depressing.
And then I happened upon this Apartment Therapy post by Marisa McClellan, “Why Small Batch Canning Is Awesome: And What You Need To Get Started.” I realized, of course I don’t have to wait for a “full batch.” I can just weigh what I have and adjust the recipe accordingly. So that’s what I did!
And, as Marisa points out, small batch canning is awesome. For starters, it’s important to can cucumbers fresh if you want crunchy pickles. Furthermore, smaller batches require less preparation, leave less to clean up afterward, and don’t heat the kitchen up as much from processing so many jars. I’ve included the altered recipe below.
Small Batch Hot & Sweet Pickles
2 lbs pickling cucumbers, sliced to desired thickness
1/4 cup canning and pickling salt
3 cups water
1 1/2 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
5 tablespoons chopped garlic
12 dried cayenne peppers, stems removed
3 sterilized pint jars with bands and lids (I like to wash the jars by hand with warm soapy water and then keep them in the oven at around 200º until I’m ready to use them)
Cover cucumbers in pickling salt and water and soak in a large, non-reactive bowl. After two hours, transfer them to a colander and rinse well for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Combine the remaining ingredients (vinegars, sugar, mustard seeds, turmeric, cloves, garlic, and peppers) in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and add the cucumbers. Bring to a simmer and remove the saucepan from the heat.
Remove the jars from the oven. Using a slotted spoon, fill each jar with the pickle mixture, dividing them evenly, and enough of the liquid to come within 1/2-inch of the top. With a clean damp towel, wipe the rim and fit with a hot lid. Screw on the metal ring just until the point of resistance is met. Process the jars in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes.
Using tongs, remove the jars, place on a towel, and let cool. Test the seals by allowing the jars to stand at room temperature overnight or until the lids pop. Remove rings and store in a cool dry place for at least 2 weeks before eating.
And, in case anyone is wondering, the heat has finally let up here. It’s not supposed to be above 90 for the next week (in southwest Louisiana!) and it has been raining almost daily. Our cucumbers seem to have bounced back for the time being.