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Cucumbers Aren’t Just for Eating

     For the last step to make sweet pickles, Husband and I layered cucumber slices and sugar in a four-gallon crock. By the next day, syrup formed and now a week later we have sweet pickles.  There’s nothing better than a cheese sandwich – grilled, toasted or plain – with Miracle Whip and sweet pickles made using my mom’s recipe. The only way Husband eats cucumbers is pickled, and I’m pretty sure if he could get the same flavor and crunch using something besides cucumbers, he would. I’ve eaten raw cukes since I was a kid when I sat in the middle of my family’s garden, picked them from the vine and ate them like an apple. A garden salad isn’t complete without cucumbers and cucumber sticks is a better sandwich side than chips. 

During the summer I buy cukes at Farmer’s Market, and after I learned they are nutritious – providing vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and C, zinc, potassium, iron, and calcium – and a natural anti-inflammatory for arthritis, I gave myself permission to buy them at the grocery store when growing season ends.

Cucumbers aren’t just for eating. Gardeningchannel.com lists twenty-seven weird ways to use cucumbers, including placing slices on your eyes to reduce puffiness.  Cukes have ascorbic acid which is an antioxidant that relieves water retention, the swelling around the eyes.   Those antioxidants also relieve sunburned and itchy skin; use thin cucumber slices or make a puree to spread over the affected area.

            A cucumber face mask, puree or juice, can rejuvenate and brighten the skin and some commercial skin care products use cucumbers’ natural oils for toning and hydrating. 

            To make metal shine, use cucumbers.  The stains on my stainless-steel sink are gone after I gave it a good scrubbing.  Even tarnish was removed from my sterling silver sugar spoon. Slice a cucumber and leave the skin on.  Rub the metal to coat with cucumber juice, then rub with the skin to clean. 

            I read that cucumbers are great for removing pen and crayon markings on a wall.  On heavy paper, it simply got the paper wet and smeared the markings.  It might work on a wall, but I didn’t try it.

Another suggestion was a way to reduce the appearance of cellulite.  A paste made of cucumber juice, honey, and ground coffee tightens the skin; I can’t imagine sitting still for 30 minutes with that concoction under a tightly wrapped cloth on my thighs.   

Eating cucumbers are supposed to cure headaches and hangovers.  Maybe caused by one too many cucumber martinis? The weirdest use of cucumbers is keeping slugs away.  Would a metal pan really make chemicals in cukes create a reaction to discourage a slug infestation?

If anyone looks up and tries some of these weird ways to use cukes, let me know.  I’m not wasting any more summertime cucumbers on experiments.  At my house, cucumbers are for eating straight off the vine or pickled. The pickle recipe is available at https://susanrray.com/recipes/

It Wouldn’t Be Summer Without Pickles

Twenty pounds is a lot of cucumbers.  What was I thinking? 

              I wanted two crock churns, not just one, filled with sweet pickles like Mom used to make. Forty years ago, she gave me the recipe that she wrote on a 3” x 5” card; now it’s covered with dark splotches where I’ve splattered brine and vinegar and alum water.  Even though I’ve rewritten the recipe, and adjusted it a bit, I still look at Mom’s card before Husband and I begin the tradition of making pickles.

            Following Mom’s recipe, the first time, we washed four gallons of whole cucumbers and placed them in a big crock churn. Then we poured a brine solution, made of four cups of coarse salt and two gallons of water, over them, and let the cucumbers soak for seven days.

            Step two is drain the cucumbers and wash them in cold water.  Slice and put the cucumbers back into the churn and cover them with cold water, in which two or three ounces of powdered alum has been added.  Soak two days.  Imagine how slimy and slick cucumbers were after seven days in salt water.  They felt and looked like they should have been thrown away! The next year, I sliced the cucumbers before soaking them in brine and I’ve never touched a slimy, icky cucumber again.

            My pickles tasted like Mom’s, but hers were evenly sliced while some of mine were paper-thin and some 1/4” thick.  A few years later, Husband got a counter-top food slicer and pickle making became much simpler, for me, not him.  He cuts every slice the same thickness, and finally, our pickles taste and look like Mom’s.

            Step three is drain the sliced cucumbers well and put them back in the churn.  Cover them with one gallon of cold cider vinegar and let them sit for one day and one night.

            Step four is drain and pour all cucumbers out of the churn, but don’t wash them.  Empty one or two boxes of pickling spices in a cloth bag, or a square of cloth, and tie it with strong thread or twine.  Place the spices into the bottom of churn.  Alternate layers of cucumbers and sugar, about ten pounds, until all the cucumbers are covered.

            About 24 hours later, a sugar syrup will begin to form and eventually cover the cucumbers.  Shake the churn occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  The last line Mom wrote reads, “Leave in the churn and use as you like.”  I like that – don’t can – just eat, and we do that well!

            My favorite summertime sandwich is American cheese, sliced tomatoes, and sweet pickles.  I dice pickles for tuna and chicken and potato salads. If I forget to serve pickles for a family meal, a Grand does it for me.  And friends are glad when I serve cheese cubes, crackers and pickles as an appetizer.

            During these days when life hasn’t been like past summers, it feels good to have two full churns sitting in our kitchen.  Summer just wouldn’t be summer without making Mom’s sweet pickles.