Recently, a number of our regular customers have started asking me about our pickles. Namely, when we will have them.
They’re jumping the gun a little, these wonderful, optimistic folks. Though I can’t blame them. We make a mean pickle, if I do say so myself, and last season our cucumber pickles were the one thing I sold literally every last jar of. But the cucumbers won’t be in for at least another month, and pickles won’t be made until we have our first batch of leftover cukes from a Saturday market, and even then, once they’re made, we’ll leave them sitting on the shelf at home for at least another week rather than bring them to market, because pickles aren’t any good if you don’t leave them to sit and…well, pickle for at least a week. In reality, two weeks is usually my minimum, but when we’re working with a short market season, a week in the pantry has to suffice.
So the folks who love our pickles are going to have to wait at least 5-6 weeks more before the first jars appear which seems like an odd response for any business to give its customer.
“Oh, hey! I really love your product!”
“Gee, thanks! I’d be happy to sell you more of it, a month and a half from now!”
Or, hopefully a month and a half from now. But in the end it really depends on when the cucumber plants decide to throw out their first fruit, and that depends on the weather, the genetic quirks of each plant, and our level of success in the ongoing war with grasshoppers.
But 5-6 weeks out seems like a reasonable bet.
Even though we could totally cheat and make a lot more money.
One trip to the grocery store to load up on a bunch of dirt-cheap cucumbers, and I could have pickles available year-round which, judging by how they sell, would help with our profit margin and since that hovers around depression-era wages without adjusting for inflation, the added bump would be most welcome. No one would ever know, really. A cuke is a cuke, and in reality the only function of a cucumber in pickles is to be the vehicle for vinegar and spices to reach the taste buds. Plus, even buying cucumbers from the store, I still would be making the pickles homemade, which is more than most folks can say about the jars in their refrigerator. And the Cottage Foods Act of Colorado, which is what allows us to sell pickles (and jams and jellies and other things) doesn’t mandate that you have to actually grow what you sell. That would be crazy town. No one in Colorado could grow their own sugar cane to make sugar for jelly, so how is it any different to buy the cucumbers I put in my pickles? I can justify away on all the reasons that I should be making a heck of a lot more pickles for a heck of a lot more months of the year.
But It’s not even tempting. Not because it’s wrong. I’d be delighted if more people took to making their own pickles from store-bought vegetables simply because it would mean they were taking an interest in their food. Time spent over the stove pickling is less time spent in front of the TV or on social media, and for me that would be a big societal win.
But the reason we started pickling was actually efficiency. Years ago, we began growing our own food out of a desire to be as self-sufficient, environmentally sound, and healthy as possible. When we started growing too much food for us, we began selling it. As we began selling more, we grew more and just as when we were growing food for ourselves, we once again found that we occasionally had extras.
Anyone who has put the time, effort, and love into a homegrown vegetable knows how soul-crushing it is to throw any of that food away. Each cucumber, beet, or carrot represents hours of toil, worry, and work. It sounds melodramatic, but it’s not. Ask any gardener and they’ll tell you that at some level we become emotionally attached to our vegetables. It’s the reason that gardeners go to great lengths during zucchini season to find someone, anyone who will take their extra three thousands zucchinis and maybe, just maybe, put them to good use. We’re not kidding ourselves. We know a fair amount of that gifted produce still probably gets thrown away, but by making an attempt to give it a new home, we can at least hope that the zucchini found its Forever Home. Or its Forever Until Ingested Home.
Each year in the United States, roughly 50% of all produce is thrown away.* FIFTY PERCENT. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that all that tossed-out food occupies the most landfill space in the nation.** There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is, quite simply, that Americans want perfect produce and if it’s not perfect, they will not eat it.
I will resist my soapbox speech on the implications of Perfect Produce Syndrome on society and the food we produce as a society (okay…just a little teaser…What happens when the food you eat has been genetically selected for appearance rather than nutrition? What strange things might you do to/put in/alter about your produce to make it appear more perfect? What kinds of things do you have to put on plants to keep every single bug/fungus/bacteria/critter off of it so it ends up looking perfect? Which of these things are you okay with ingesting regularly? And so on…)
For us, we simply decided we wanted to eat well and waste little, so we made pickles from leftover cucumbers. And pickled beets from leftover beets. And fermented carrots. And sauerkraut. And a million other things. Any produce that we didn’t eat fresh or sell, we tried to make into something else that would keep longer so we could eat it later. Repurposed food, if you will.
And in the process we came up with one helluva pickle recipe. Probably because it contains some of our repurposed garlic and repurposed dill. Along with a whole lotta love.
So when our cucumbers are back in season, our pickles will be, too. We’re not total idiots though. We sold a lot of pickles last year, so we planted more cucumbers this year. Possibly a silly amount. There’s a fair chance we’ll be up to our necks in cucumbers and crying uncle. We might end up growing so many cukes that even the chickens will get sick of the butt ends and peels we throw them. (That’s okay though, ’cause then we’d just compost them.)
So come by in a month or so, and grab a bucket of cucumbers and invent your own pickling recipe. Or just eat them fresh. They may not all look identical and picture perfect, but that’s because they’re real food that came out of a real garden just hours before you purchased it. And we can tell you everything that is in those cucumbers (…um…cucumber…and, uh…seeds…) and everything that isn’t in them (synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, any “-cides” or anything else we, ourselves, wouldn’t put in our mouths.)
There’s something cool about eating what’s in season, when it’s in season. There’s something cool about food grown a stone’s throw from your own house. There’s something cool about repurposing food, wasting less, growing your own.
Or at least if you’re garden geeks, environment nerds like us, it’s cool.
Cool as a cucumber.