Pick A Peck of Pickles

sliced cucumbersCucumbers are one of the garden's instant foods. They can be consumed skin and all, so they need little to no prep before serving.  Ready to eat fresh-picked, they can also keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks after being harvested. Pick cucumbers in the morning before the heat of the midday sun hits them.

Cucumber plants grow best and most plentifully when the fruits are removed from the vines as soon as they reach mature length.  Never allow cucumbers to remain on the plant once they start yellowing, as they'll become bitterand the ripe cukes will also keep the plant from generating and nurturing new fruits.

Different types of cukes require different lengths of time to maturity, so consider your climate and growing conditions when choosing the varieties you'll grow.  Also, decide whether you want a bush or vining growth habit before you select your plant type.

Other factors to consider when choosing varieties for your garden:  Some cukes have sweeter, thinner and more delicate skins.  Others are known for their unique disease resistance or color or length of fruit.  The shortest variety, Homemade Pickles are exceptionally crisp and are excellent choices for pickling. They're also delicious eaten raw.

Burpless varieties have a skin and seeds that are slightly less bitter and are more easily digestible.  Sweet Slice is another full-size fruit with sweeter skin. If your cukes are grown for pickling, factor that into your choice of varieties to plant.

When cucumbers are ready to be picked, leave a little of the vine attached to the end. Cut cukes off the stem with a sharp knife or scissors.  Since the leaves, vines and the cukes themselves are covered with tiny thorns or spikes, make sure to wear garden gloves before handling.  Generally, you can sweep your gloved hand down the length of the fruit to remove the tiny thorns.  Or, use a soft vegetable scrub brush under running water. Always make sure the skins are smooth before serving.

Pickling cucumbers is a terrific way to provide crispy snacks and condiments long past harvest time. Pickles will keep for days or up to many months, depending on the method used for brining, preserving, or canning.  There are abundant easy recipes for making pickles, whether crisp, lightly dilled, sandwich sweet slices, or fermented.

For serving fresh, cucumbers can be eaten with skin on or peeled.  The seeds can be left intact or scooped out with a tablespoon run down the center of a sliced fruit. They can be sliced thin for use on salads, or left in long spears for vegetable trays. Cukes can be turned into quick pickled salads with vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, and diced onion and red bell pepper.  Any way you slice them, they're crisp, crunchy, and nutritious.

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