s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

As any backyard gardener knows, those who choose to grow cucumbers are swamped with them at this time of year. The bins at the farmers’ markets and at the supermarkets overflow with them, too.

But there’s only so much Greek salad and Polish cucumber salad you can eat. Whatever to do with all these cucumbers?

Well, you can make your own pickles. It’s fun and easy to do. If possible, buy your cukes at the farmers’ market or grow them yourself. Supermarket cucumbers are often coated with wax to reduce transpiration and keep them fresh, which interferes with the pickling.

Some varieties of cucumbers are bred for pickling. A real farmer at the farmers’ market will know which variety he or she planted, so don’t be afraid to ask. The most common pickling cuke is probably Boston Pickling, but you may run into other excellent picklers like Solly Beiler (choose cukes the size of your thumb, no larger), Parisian Pickling to make gherkins or cornichons, Chicago Pickling, Delikatesse, Monika, and Muncher, all available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) or visit their store at 199 Petaluma Boulevard North in Petaluma (closed Saturdays).

One of the very best pickling cukes is the Persian Cucumber, now at Oliver’s. These small, warty fruits produce high-quality pickles. If you want to grow them yourself, Amazon sells a packet of 30 seeds of Persian cukes called Beit Alpha that were bred in Lebanon.

The long, ribbed, thin-skinned hothouse cukes that are often found wrapped in plastic in supermarkets do not make good pickles. And neither do very large, thick-skinned slicing cucumbers, which have bitter, semi-mature seeds when grown to marketable size.

To pickle cucumbers, you’ll need a pickling vessel, always glass or ceramic and never metal. I have several glazed stone crocks, and it’s my three-gallon crock that I use most often. A large, wide-mouth jar works just as well. You won’t need a lid.

In the herb racks at the markets, you’ll find pickling spices, and they go a long way toward making a tasty pickle. You could make your own blend but the commercial blend is probably cheaper in the long run.

When you get your cukes into the kitchen, always wash them, no matter where they’re from, to wash off dust and soil, both of which contain unwanted microorganisms. Bacteria called Lactobacillus acidophilus that occur naturally in the environment actually do the pickling, so you want to give them every advantage. These bacteria are probiotic, too, and are beneficial when they inhabit our gut.

After washing, trim a quarter inch off both the blossom end and stem end of each cucumber. This is extremely important, as these ends — especially the blossom end — contain enzymes that will result in mushy pickles, when what you want are crunchy, firm pickles.

The genus name of the bacteria, Lactobacillus, means a rod-shaped bacteria that transforms the sugars in the cucumbers into lactic acid. This acidifies the pickling solution, which makes it hospitable for the bacteria, whose species name, acidophilus, means acid-loving. The addition of vinegar to the pickling solution also increases the acidity.

It’s a feature of nature that spoilage organisms don’t like acid conditions, and this fact allows us to make healthful pickles. As long as the cucumbers are held below the surface of the pickling solution, you have no worries about spoilage. If, by chance, any portion of any of your cucumbers protrudes into the air, it will soon turn foul and spoil from fungus molds and yeasts. Keep your cukes submerged by covering them with a heavy plate on which you set a gallon freezer bag filled with water.

West County Regional Trail, Forestville to Graton

Hiking distance: 4 miles round trip

Hiking time: 1.5 hours

Elevation gain: level

Difficulty: easy

Exposure: mostly exposed with forested pockets

Dogs: allowed

Maps: U.S.G.S. Camp Meeker and Sebastopol; West County and Rodota Trails map

A rails-to-trails system has been developed on the old Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad line, which connects Petaluma and Santa Rosa with Sebastopol and Forestville. The West County Regional Trail, a 5.5-mile segment of that system, runs from Forestville to Sebastopol. This hike follows the first section of the trail in a tree-lined corridor from Forestville to the small town of Graton, following a water channel, meandering alongside pastures and vineyards, and passing through the Fish and Game’s Atascadero Marsh Ecological Reserve. The mostly paved path is a popular hiking, biking and dog-walking route.

From Graton, the walk can be extended another 1.75 miles south to Occidental Road and another 3.5 miles to Sebastopol. From Sebastopol, the trail continues west to Santa Rosa along the Joe Rodota Trail. The entire rails-to-trails system is 14 miles, from Forestville to Sebastopol to Santa Rosa.

Trailhead: Hwy. 116/Second Street, Forestville

From downtown Forestville on Highway 116, park along the south side of the street between Second Street and Mirabel Road, or pull into the open area off the road.

The hike: Walk down the gravel road alongside houses and buildings on the left. As the road curves left, leave the road to the right. Walk toward the tree grove to the posted trailhead.

Take the paved path through a tunnel of trees alongside a stream and a vineyard on the right. Follow the tree-lined corridor, cross a bridge over the creek and cross Kay Lane, a private road. Cross a second bridge over a stream.

Continue south to Ross Branch Road at 0.8 miles. Bear left 30 yards to Ross Station Road. Walk 40 yards to the right, and pick up the posted trail on the left.

Stroll between vineyards and a few farm houses, gradually descending past horse stables and corrals. Pass the Graton Sanitation Pond on the right, then cross a bridge over the creek and another bridge over a wetland pond.

Curve right, where the pavement ends, and follow the dirt path between a pond and a vineyard. Curve left through the Atascadero Marsh Ecological Reserve. Cross the wetland on a 160-yard boardwalk to Green Valley Road. This is the turn-around spot.

To extend the hike, walk a quarter mile to the left on Green Valley Road, picking up the trail again on the right. The path continues south 1.5 miles through the town of Graton to Occidental Road in Sebastopol.

Source: Robert Stone, “Day Hikes Around Sonoma” Second Edition (Day Hike Books, 2016)

You also add salt to this pickling solution, making it into a brine. The salt — sodium chloride — dissociates into sodium cations and chlorine anions, and the chlorine helps destroy spoilage organisms, too. In addition, the brine’s impulse to equalize osmotic pressure means that the cukes will lose some water and stay crunchy.

So, armed with this information, and an armload of cucumbers, you’re ready to make pickles.

This recipe makes three or four quart jars of pickles, depending on the size of the cucumbers. You’ll store them for up to 60 days in the fridge. Longer storage requires you to can them using a standard boiling water bath. This kills the probiotic bacteria, but canned pickles keep for a year or two on a cool, dark shelf.

Garlic-Dill Pickles

Makes 3-4 quarts

10 pounds unwaxed pickling cucumbers, washed and trimmed

1/4 cup pickling spices

2 bunches fresh dill weed

1 cup white vinegar

1 gallon spring or filtered water

1/2 cup coarse pickling salt or sea salt, not iodized

10 cloves garlic, peeled

Wash and trim the ends of the cucumbers.

Put half the pickling spices and one bunch of dill weed in the bottom of your fermenting vessel and add all the cucumbers.

Add the vinegar and water to a large bowl and stir. Add the pickling salt and stir until dissolved, then add this mixture to the fermenting vessel. Add the garlic, the rest of the pickling spices, and the second bunch of dill.

Add a glass or ceramic plate to weigh down and submerge the cucumbers and set a gallon freezer bag full of water, tightly closed, on top of the plate to insure the cukes are held under the brine.

Set the vessel in a place where the temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees, as cooler or hotter temperatures encourage spoilage. Cover the top with a clean dish towel held down with a book. Examine the brine’s surface every day and skim off any white yeast or mold that might be growing on it. This is crucial and must be done daily. Top off brine with salty water if necessary. Check pickles at three weeks. If they taste good, are dull pickle green, and crunchy, pack them into quart jars, add pickling brine to cover, lightly screw down lid and bands, and store in the fridge for up to two months.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based food and garden writer. E-mail him at jeffcox@sonic.net.

Show Comment