Though Wisconsin’s cucumber harvest season is over for 2019, pickle season is here! At least, it is for the Martin family. Earlier this year, my mom and I made and canned pickles from fresh Wisconsin cucumbers, thanks to a neighbor’s plentiful garden. After the pickles were canned, the pickling process required that they sit for four to six weeks before eating. Now, six weeks later, our pickles are ready to eat!
I first began making pickles with the help from 4-H leaders and my mom as a project for the Rock County 4-H Fair several years ago. The initial decision to make pickles was actually not mine, but stemmed from a family request. (Growing up, I was NOT a pickle fan.) Mom, dad, and my brothers (all pickle fans) made the suggestion for a pickle entry, and I am sure glad they did. Fast forward to today, and though I still do not consider myself a pickle lover, I am fond of the bread and butter pickles I make.
My homemade pickles were a big hit with family and friends after they received a blue ribbon that first year at the fair. I continued to make pickles the rest of my 4-H career, and my mom and I have since carried on the annual tradition years after I graduated from exhibiting at the fair.
Each time, we start our pickles with locally-grown cucumbers. Cucumbers are a member of the gourd family, originating in South Asia. Today, cucumbers can be found in many Wisconsin gardens. There are three main varieties of cucumber: slicing, pickling, and seedless. The pickling cucumbers, as their name implies, are best for pickling.
Wisconsin may not be known as the ‘cucumber state’, but we do rank among the top ten states for production. In 2017, we ranked eighth, with a harvest on 5,500 acres. Cucumbers are great to eat fresh in the summer, and are popular as a crisp addition to a salad or sandwich. Though cucumbers contain mostly water, they do have a small amount of lutein which is essential in eye health.*
After we have selected our pickling cucumbers, we slice them up, add onions and salt, and cover the mixture with crushed ice cubes. This mixture will sit in the fridge for three to four hours before we add the pickling solution. Our recipe makes bread and butter pickles, so the pickling solution is nice and sweet! Once chilled, the cucumbers and onions are drained, placed on the stove, and the pickling solution is added. They are boiled, and placed into jars. The final step is to process the jars in boiling water, so they will be sealed until ready to eat.
Pickling cucumbers has now become quite a tradition at the Martin household. Next cucumber season, I encourage you to try your hand at making pickles! Start with Wisconsin cucumbers, grab a few family members or friends, and end up with delicious pickles and cherished memories.
*According to the Wisconsin Farmers Market Association: http://www.wifarmersmarkets.org/foodfacts-cucumbers.aspx