Updated: Jan 22
This is advanced pickle making on the homestead. Broadside pickles are just as the name implies, as wide as the broadside of a barn. You can make these with regular cucumbers but Armenian cucumbers get the massive sandwich-covering width without getting poor texture or bitterness as many regular cucumbers often get with size. Growing Armenian cucumbers are almost as easy to grow as regular cucumbers however they do not climb and need to be hand trellised to keep them from overtaking your garden. These plants can span 15 feet across when not trellised. They are extremely heavy plants that require good support. I use 16-foot horse panels. I use t-posts to support three panels each year and I plant around 10-15 plants per panel. These panels are expensive but buy once, cry once. They will outlast your gardening years.
The sad-looking plants are tomatillos. They had an early start and an early finish this season. I will be planting romaine lettuce there this week to be protected from the Kansas sun until I remove the cucumbers.
THREE DAYS (a few hours each day.)
10-15 pounds of Armenian Cucumbers
2 gallons of filtered water
1 cup Mrs. Wages pickling lime
16 cups sugar
16 cups 6% vinegar
2 Tbs canning salt
Waffle cutting mandolin
XL food safe container or food safe 5-gallon bucket
XL stock pot
Up to 19 wide-mouth pint jars and canning lids.
I grow these massive Armenian cucumbers to supplement feed my livestock since I went "bag-feed free" around ten years ago. Cucurbits are extremely healthy for ruminants and poultry. They add the benefit of an anti-inflammatory and hydration in the hot summer months that grain does not. Armenian cucumbers are a little more in the canteloupe family without the soft texture and don't tend to get bitter even in 100º F heat. They don't have a terribly pronounced cucumber flavor so they won't make good cucumber water to drink but they take pickling spice very well. If left to mature, they get a little canteloupe like in the center. Poultry love the seeds and sweet centers. The Armenian cucumbers in these photos are in or on 5-gallon buckets. They often grow as long as my leg if left unattended. These were early season harvests needed to feed poultry. Yes, those buckets are dirty but the chickens, turkey, geese, ducks, and hogs don't mind. I use clean food grade 5-gallon buckets to collect garden food.
I collect around 15-pounds of cucumbers for my pickle project. Armenian cucumbers often get hollow in the center when they get large. It takes a lot of extra cucumbers to get the seedless slabs that make the perfect pickle. There are a lot of leftovers that go back out to the livestock (or your compost pile) but it is worth it for a pickle that will cover an entire sandwich or burger. Imagine a ham sandwich that has homemade pickle in every bite!
This pickling process uses powdered pickling lime to make them so crispy. They are as crisp as a slice of raw potato and it really adds an extra dimension to a soggy burger or stacked sandwich.
Making the ultimate broadside pickle takes time and dedication. This is a three-day process. I will break it down, day by day.
Day 1: This will take several hours. The more patient you are the more beautiful your end product will be.
Collect 10-15 pounds of Armenian cucumbers. Seven finished pounds of sliced cucumbers are needed for this recipe, you will be discarding a lot of extra parts. Wash the cucumbers with dish soap and rinse well. Cut the ends off the cucumber first, this can remove any bitters, and it is just a good habit to get rid of stems and the flower blossom end that tends to gather dirt.
I measure out how long I will cut each cucumber with a bamboo skewer that I pre-cut so I know each pickle will be cut to the perfect size to fit in my canning jars below the pickle with the appropriate headspace of one inch. Then I run pre-cut length cucumber sections through the mandolin using the waffle cut. Slice long ways instead of making the more common coin-shaped cut. Discard seedy pieces and slabs that are all skin on one side. (Yes, you can use them if that is all you have but go for gold here.)
You may find the technique of running one side of the cucumber section through the mandolin until you get close to the seedy center. Then flip the cucumber section on the mandolin to the opposite side and slice. This will give you a few perfect slices that are edged with the cucumber skin. Then slice off the remaining sides until you get down to a square seed core to discard. Keep smaller sliced cucumbers and a few sides that don't have seeds to fill the extra spaces in your canning jars. I grab all of the baby cucumbers available when picking and run them through the mandolin as long as they make length. The smaller pickles are great for hotdogs and chopping up for relish. Be sure to weigh out EXACTLY seven pounds of finished-cut cucumber slices. Don't skimp. The water to lime ratio must be correct for the cucumbers to get crispy.
In an extra large, clean, non-reactive pot, food-safe 5-gallon bucket, or container, measure out two gallons or 8 quarts of cool filtered water. Add one cup of Mrs. Wages pickling lime and mix well.
Carefully add your cucumber slabs by hand to the lime water. Do not be tempted to dump them in. They will break. Place a clean plate on the top to keep them submerged in the solution and put them into the refrigerator overnight. Gently slosh the container a few times to semi-stir the lime around before bed and again in the morning. Aim for chilling for 24 hours or as close as you can get.
Day 2: This will also take several hours. Plan on working in the afternoon and again in the evening. Drain the lime water from the cucumbers. I use my broken container lid and put it inside the container cattywampus so the cucumbers do not tumble around in the container as it drains. They are extremely brittle at this point.
Don't gripe about my broken or cracked containers. They are that way from the sterilizing cycle in the dishwasher which is hard on them, but I know they are clean.
Here is the part that is extra time-consuming. Place the plate you used as a submersion weight in the sink and rinse both sides of each sliced cucumber to remove ALL of the pickling lime. The plate in the sink will catch any cucumber slices you fumble to keep them from getting any cross-contamination.
Why is this step important? Lime has a very small risk of carrying botulism because it comes from the earth. It also should not be consumed as it is harmful to the digestive tract. The directions for lime pickles on the back of the Mrs. Wages pickling lime recommend rinsing the pickles three times but I found that it really didn't get enough lime off of the waffle cuts. So, I rinse them individually under filtered water until no lime is visible. Then I place them all back into the freshly cleaned container and run filtered water in them until they are all covered and again use the cattywampus lid to dump the water out. THREE TIMES. Yes, essentially this is four rinses. One really good one and three more to make sure all of the lime is removed.
So clean and clear by the third rinse! Dump the water out again anyway.
Then cover the cucumbers with ice and refill again (the fifth filling of the container) one more time and place in the refrigerator for three hours.
While they are chilling mix the 6% vinegar, 2 Tbs canning salt, and sugar in a non-reactive pot and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. I use 6% vinegar because I use many homegrown spices in this recipe and the acid content needs to be high enough to make the water bath canning process safe.
After three hours skim off any excess ice and you might notice the slightest haze of lime on the top of the water. This is the last of the lime that has surfaced. If you look close you can see a little blur caused by some lime on the surface of the water next to the light reflection. This is why rinsing is so dang important!
The vinegar, salt, and sugar mixture you prepared should be clear. It does not need to be cold. Just room temperature and mixed well. You will not be able to stir this once poured over your cucumbers without breaking them.
I know this seems like a lot of pickling solution but the pickles can't be packed really tight in the jars or they will snap and break, the extra pickle will be helpful later, you will see. Pour the vinegar, salt, and sugar mix over the pickles, put a clean plate on top of them again, cover, and put them back into the fridge overnight.
Day 3: Yes, this is still going to take several hours.
If you use a dishwasher to sterilize your jars (this means your dishwasher has a CERTIFIED sterilize cycle) it is time to start cleaning your jars now. Don't forget to sterilize your canning funnel and your ladle and to wash your canning lids.
These pickles are hot packed so plan ahead about an hour for lid washing and jar sterilization by hand. My dishwasher takes three hours to sterilize so I have to adjust the time accordingly to use the hot jars fresh out of the dishwasher. Alternatively, if you miss your mark you can carefully transfer your clean jars into the oven on a cookie sheet to keep them hot until you are ready to pack. Plan ahead. Be careful and don't pack your jars on the hot cookie sheet. Move them to a towel or cutting board for that process.
Remove your cucumbers from the fridge and drain your vinegar and sugar mix off of your cucumbers into a non-reactive stock pot and add your pickling spices. I use a mix of coriander, broken bay leaves, mustard seed, dill, whole all-spice, freshly picked baby dill (or dill heads), homegrown dried dill seeds, a few cloves, chopped or whole garlic, a sprinkle of dehydrated broken chili skins, ginger, turmeric, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. You have seen prepackaged pickling spice and have an idea of what you like (whether you know it or not!). I have never measured my pickling spice but here is a close guess for you to go on until you devise your own. I just add common picking spices until I like the flavor. This is basically a pickle tea. If you like the taste of it, and it makes you think of pickles, you will like the pickles that you are making.
1 Tbs ground tumeric (this is what gives pickles the perfect golden color)
3 ½ Tbs coriander
2 Tbs mustard seed
1 tsp whole all spice
6-7 crushed bay leaves
1 tsp black pepper whole or ground
Enough fresh dill that each jar gets some (I have never made this recipe without fresh dill)
1 ½ Tbs dried dill seeds
¼ tsp ground ginger
5-6 sliced garlic cloves (use more if you want to leave them whole).
½ tsp dehydrated chili flakes
A tiny pinch of cinnamon (a little goes a LONG way)
A pinch and a dash of nutmeg
Simmer for 35-minutes.
I want to be real clear here. Once you have finalized your spices simmer for a whole entire 35 minutes. Do not add anything else or you need to start your timer over. This 35-minute simmer is to kill any potential pathogens in the pickle from the spices or from the refined sugar.
*Advanced homesteading tip. Before you start canning - know how many jars will fit in your canner and only pack those jars. You do not want to have excess cucumbers marinating in a hot pickle bath getting soggy while waiting for the first batch to finish the run. The pickle can remain on the stove. Bring it back up to boiling before packing your next batch.
Snugly pack the slabs into the number of hot wide-mouth jars that will fit into your canner. Fill large empty spaces with broken or smaller pieces or slices. Ladle in the pickle and leave 1-inch of head space. Headspace is very important. Measure if you have to. The cucumber slices should be below the pickle to prevent any discoloration in storage. Wipe the mouth of the jar clean. I use a little rubbing alcohol on a paper towel. It sterilizes and removes anything sticky in a heartbeat. Top with CLEAN sterilized lids.
*Always wash and inspect every canning lid before use. I often find grease and scratches in the lid liner from the manufacturing process. I have also found some rubber seals too thin to make a seal. Any minor scratch in the lid liner will quickly rust and create questionable content blooming on the lid which should always make you toss the contents. I learned my lesson about not closely inspecting canning lids before use when I had to toss a whole quart jar of hand-shelled pinto beans. It was heartbreaking tossing out the hours of hard labor in the sun growing and the sweating picking beans with sore thumbs, hand shelling them, canning them, and then losing the food too.
Process pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Let's get specific here. Home stoves are not made like they were years ago. Most stove burners do not get hot enough to get a good rolling boil in a large water bath canner. Your pickles and food safety will suffer if you drop your jars into the canner and the water stops boiling. The water should be boiling for the entire time they are in the canner. I use a propane burner and a huge stockpot with a turkey frier basket to move the jars so I can maintain proper canning temperatures. I tie a string on the handle to keep the handle from falling down so I can easily get them out when the time is up. If the fryer basket is unbalanced I have to use two hands on the handle and be careful not to slosh boiling water on my legs.
Lower pints SLOWLY, so very slowly, into the boiling water bath and cover the pot to maintain a strong boil. Dunking them in too fast can cause a weak jar to explode from the temperature change. Set timer for ten minutes. At ten minutes, uncover the pot, turn the heat off and let sit for 5 minutes. This will stop the boil so the jars will not break when removing them from the canner. This also finishes the canning process. Remove pickles from the canner and set the finished jars on a towel. Do not disturb jars for 24 hours so the jar seal sets and hardens correctly. Refrigerate for eight hours prior to use for the crispest pickles ever!
If you have leftover pickle canning liquid that you do not want to waste, you can use it to drop in some boiled eggs and leave them for 24 hours in the fridge. Label your jar. Don't leave them in there longer than 3-4 days. Storebought pickled eggs are pressure cooked and oftenhave chemicals to stabilize the protein in the eggs and fat. I peel and dice, or french fry cut, raw potatoes and simmer them in the leftover pickle for 15 minutes, lightly coat them in flour, and then deep-fried them at 350º until crisp. Top them with sour cream and chives. It's a nice dilly change-up once a year on a tater staple. Otherwise, you can add it to your compost pile. Yes, a little vinegar and sugar can feed microbes there. You could also soak chicken feed with it if you aren't using too much at once.
In my house sandwiches are a work of art and yes, the flavor reflects that. Every single ingredient matters as well as the location of the ingredients in the stack. This is a smoked T-Bone sandwich on half-toasted Rye with bacon, American cheese, homegrown tomato, onion, homegrown romaine, and homegrown Berkshire bacon with mayo, mustard, and horseradish. This sandwich deserves salty pickle in every bite and not some sad grocery store wanna-be soggy wrinkly wafer of wasted flavor. Each bite is exemplary and leaves us not wanting anything including desserts. If you don't want to eat a pickle fresh out of the jar don't put it on your sandwich.
Sandwich-building blogs will come later when I have more time to put them together. When growing food, the importance of making great meals from your ingredients never gets old. Sign up at growingbacktotheland.com to never miss a blog or advanced homestead recipe.
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