By Vicki Ivy for The Columbian
The cucumber season is in full swing, and that means it’s time to decide what varieties of this versatile vegetable to buy and what to do with them.
Cucumbers are the perfect snack with only 8 calories per half-cup serving. Over 90 percent water, high in Vitamin K, they can be eaten in many ways including raw and pickled.
Related to melons, squash and pumpkins, cucumbers come in two main varieties which are slicing and pickling. They come in several shapes, sizes and colors including the lemon cucumber, which is yellow-white, round and can be eaten like an apple, skin and all. Pickling cucumbers can be eaten raw, but are grown specifically for pickle-making characteristics.
When buying a cucumber, either slicing or pickling, choose firm cucumbers that are rounded at their edges and their color should be a bright, vibrant green to dark green. Storage life of cucumbers is less than 14 days. Cucumbers like temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees. Store them in a perforated plastic bag near the front of the refrigerator where it is warmer for 3-5 days. Leaving them on the counter for an extended time will make them wilt and become limp. Do not store them with apples or tomatoes.
Slicing cucumbers are meant to be eaten fresh and have a smooth skin and may be waxed. These cucumbers are for eating fresh and not pickling. The most common variety is a Burpee hybrid, and specialty varieties include Armemian and Burpless which are long. Burpbless cucumbers have a thinner skin, few if any seeds, and sweeter than other cucumber varieties. They are great to snack on or use in all types of salads. When ready to eat wash waxed slicing cucumbers under cool water using a vegetable brush to wash off the wax or peel the skin off.
Make a quick batch of refreshing cold gazpacho soup in less than five minutes by pureeing cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions, then add salt and pepper to taste. Top with a dollop of yogurt. Or create a delightful summer beverage by juicing and mixing with sparkling water and squeeze of lemon.
Pickling cucumbers are shorter, thicker, have bumpy skin and are never waxed. Choose fresh, firm, young pickling cucumbers and pickle them as soon as possible after harvesting. Pickling cucumbers should be used as soon as possible for the best quality pickled product. To wash unwaxed pickling cucumbers just brush the cucumber gently with a soft brush under cool running water.
Gherkins use cucumbers 1½ inches long, Dills are 4 to 5 inches. Oversized cucumbers are excellent for making into relish or bread-and-butter style pickles. To prevent spoilage and to be certain you have firm pickles remove 1/16 inch from blossom end of the cucumber before pickling. You can either make a brined pickle, which is fermented for several days in a crock before processing or a quick pickle which is made with vinegar brine and processed or stored in the refrigerator. Additional tips to be sure of a quality safe pickle is to always use an approved recipe, use canning/pickling salt, and make sure your vinegar is 5 percent acidity or higher.
Nine pounds of pickling cucumbers will yield an average 9 pints of pickles.
For more information and downloadable how to publications on preserving, pickling and dehydrating visit the WSU website http://ext100.wsu.edu/clark/?p=1134
Vicki Ivy is a WSU Clark County Extension master food preserver. For more information, call the Master Food Preserver program at 360-697-6060, ext. 5366, or visit clark.wsu.edu.