Last June, I discovered the magic of pickle juice during the annual MS-150 charity bike ride. I loved my mom's homemade pickles (from cucumbers she grew in our New Mexico garden!!!) as a child, and as an adult, I've tried (without much success) growing my own cucumbers everywhere I've lived (except 7,500 foot Estes Park) so I could try making my own pickles.
I was successful in growing cucumbers and cantaloup in New Mexico before I moved to Colorado, but I didn't get to try canning for the first time because I didn't know until it was too late you shouldn't plant cantaloup and cucumbers too close together. They cross-pollinated, and they were pretty darned nasty!
Here in Colorado, oh, the heartbreak! I attempted squash and cucumbers (as well as tomatoes) in the tiny backyard of my townhome while my kids were still living at home, but there apparently wasn't enough sunlight. I got no blooms.
I tried again for several years on the tiny south-facing porch of my apartment after my kids left home, and I got flowers, but no pollination. I learned to assist mother nature with Q-tips. But still, I got no cucumbers or squash.
I've tried cucumbers, squash and tomatoes every year since The Lizard and I bought our home, going on six years now, and the best I've been able to do have been the glorious overflow of my neighbors. Sometimes I get flowers on my plants; most of the time I don't. Sometimes I get very tiny, grape-sized beefsteak tomatoes that rarely grow or turn red. Sometimes I get a single crookneck squash that grows to about two or three inches, perfectly formed, before squash bugs plunder my bounty. Not a single cucumber or squash of my own in all these years.
I'm nervous about real canning because I've never done it. I'm pretty chicken and convinced I will ruin my first batch of whatever I can. So imagine my thrill when I first learned about refrigerator pickles!
My first batch was with the neighbor's cucumbers, and the neighbors were so excited about my pickles, they asked me to teach them how to make their own pickles! I probably won't get any cucumber overflow from them next year! They'll be too busy eating all their own pickles!
I don't have much faith yet in growing my own cucumbers, but I've found some tasty ones at the farmers market and even at the local grocery store! Nothing is quite as good as home-grown, but even grocery store-bought cucumbers make better pickles than what I can buy in a jar!
I altered the Smitten Kitchen recipe just a bit (I use a tad less salt, I usually throw in just a touch of garlic, and sometimes I add my own home-grown chives or onions, too), and I've been making my own pickles ever since. Sometimes I even take a few slices with me on rides to eat along the way. This is one of my new favorite ride treats!
I haven't had much success in growing my own cucumbers, but my dill is coming on strong, and I even have enough to share with my neighbors! I also have had wonderful luck growing my own Thai, Serrano and habanero peppers both indoors and out, ALL. YEAR. LONG. !!! I may be adding a touch of hot stuff to my next batch, just to see how it will taste.
I was thrilled earlier this month to find a heart in my dill, just in time for Valentine's Day!