The cucumbers did amazingly well this year. Last year we planted them amongst the tomatoes and they got swamped. I think we had a very few and so the question of preserving them never came up. But this year we ran the propagator and grew nearly everything from seed, under lights in the kitchen. For several months the whole flat looked like an overfurnished greenhouse but it resulted in many more young plants than we’ve ever grown before. In the end we gave many of them away but we still planted out half a dozen plants and they generated a surplus that just cried out to be preserved in some way.
I blitzed the internet and did a good deal of research, only some of which was reassuring sice the word ‘botulism’ cropped up alarmingly often – especially in the American sources. In the end we bought three books to guide our first attempts. They were:
- Sandor Katz – The Art of Fermentation
- Diana Henry – Salt Sugar Smoke
- Pam Corbin – Preserves (River Cottage Handbook)
I’d recommend any of them, especially since what we’re talking about here is a kind of controlled rotting which demands a good deal of reassurance when it comes to tasting the results!
Stella was dead against me even tasting the first (Sandor Katz) batch because they had grown a thick layer of green mould. But I was determined to try them before I discarded them and so I dredged off the mouldy bit and pulled out all the cucumbers. It was obvious at the outset that the larger cucumbers had hollowed out in the ferment, so where there had been a juicy cavity of seeds everything seemed to have dissolved into the liquor leaving large cavities. The smaller ones had fared much better and looked more natural. I gingerly cut a few slices off them and tasted. First impressions were that they were far too salty for my taste, and that the garlic had left a rather rubbery dried garlic flavour. It didn’t take more than one thin slice to decide that this first batch should be called a failed experiment and so they all went into the bin.
And so to a second batch to a recipe called “half sour’” by Diana Henry – as the photo shows they’re in the sterilized fermenting jar. I abandoned the wholly inadequate airlock and went for a two layer musiln screen tied on with string. The Henry recipe includes a slice of sourdough rye bread resting on the top of the liquor. Katz thinks it’s unnecessary Henry thinks it is – so game on. If this one fails I’ll think about cutting back on the garlic. Salt doesn’t seem to agree with it.
Initial tasting of the second attempt (the half-sour) was a lot more favourable; still very salty but with lovely dill and horseradish flavours, and that one’s gone into the store cupboard. The third method was another Diana Henry recipe for ‘Scandinavian Pickled Cucumbers’ which only went in yesterday so we’ll wait a few weeks and taste again.