In my garden, for whatever reason, cucumbers seem to take “be fruitful and multiply” quite literally. This year, the little buggers even got shredded by hail. I mourned their early death, only to be surprised by new vines dotted with yellow flowers with the promise of many more cucumbers to come. To deal with the annual bumper crop, I’ve tried my hand at pickles of all kinds–fast dills, slow dills, dills with spices, dills with hot peppers, horseradish, etc, etc, etc…
I have a love-hate relationship with my cucumbers. There’s not much better, garden-wise, than crunching into a baby cucumber, still warm from the sun, or popping open a mason jar of homemade pickles for a barbeque. On the flip side of that double-edged sword, cucumbers don’t pickle themselves! They demand to be brined, fermented or pickled in vinegar, and canned in a water bath canner, which involves a considerable amount of time standing in a steamy kitchen in late summer days.
There are tricks to making the pickles stay crisp (which never work as well as I want them to): cutting off the blossom end, using strange and unusual powdered preservatives (um, no.), canning the same day of harvest, etc, etc, etc. Can I tell you a dirty little secret? Although I continue to can pickles the time-intensive way, so that I can eat them year round, I much prefer the taste, crispness, and minimal effort of refrigerator pickles.
These pickles were born out of my sadistic need to create an even spicier pickle than ever before. Dried habañeros give them a time-released heat. The first couple weeks after they are ready to eat, they have a slight honey sweetness and a little bit of a spicy undertone. By November, they are so spicy that you can’t help but give a little Woo! when you bite into one. I gave a jar to a spice-loving friend at work, and she took them out for lunch every day, face flushed and eyes watering. They’re so good! I just can’t stop eating them!.
This recipe goes out to all my fellow spicy spooners. You can forget about spending hours over the steaming canner for these ones. May your cucumber harvest be plentiful and your spice tolerance be high!
- 3 pounds pickling cucumbers
- 1 pound small onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1½ teaspoons celery seeds
- 3 large cloves garlic, halved
- 6 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
- ½ cup plus 1 TB mild honey
- 1½ teaspoons turmeric
- 1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 6-12 dried habañeros (more or less to taste, depending on level of heat desired)*
- Cut the blossom end off of each cucumber and slice into ¼ inch rounds. Put the cucumber slices and onion slices into a large bowl. Toss with the mustard seeds and celery seeds, and set aside.
- In a non-reactive pot, combine the vinegar, honey, turmeric, mustard powder and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer.
- Put a garlic clove into each of 3 clean, quart-size canning jars. Begin to pack the cucumber-onion mixture into the jars snugly, but without forcing. Layer the dried habañeros in the jar as you go. Ladle the hot brine into the jars, and close with the lids. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for two days before eating. Continue to store in the refrigerator.
- *Dried habañeros can be ordered online, or found at specialty spice shops, such as Savory Spice. Be careful when handling the chiles. It's best to wear gloves!