What do you do with those renegade cucumbers that hide under the vine until suddenly they appear — huge and yellow? You could, of course, relegate them to your compost pile. But why not make an old fashioned mustard pickles recipe and more.
Old Fashioned Mustard Pickles Recipe
At our house, mustard pickles are called senfgurken (senf being the German word for mustard and gurken are cucumbers). Our old fashioned mustard pickles recipe is an old German recipe. Senfgurken are also popular in Pennsylvania Dutch country, although their version uses lots more sugar.
We like these pickles so well we deliberately stop picking from certain vines to let the cucumbers ripen. Any variety will do, although we’ve found that Straight Eight consistently produces a large number of cucumbers of similar size and shape all at the same time. So when we’re gearing up to make a batch of senfgurken, we’ll plant a couple hills of Straight Eights.
We use three-quarter quart (pint-and-a-half) canning jars because they are the perfect size and shape for these pickles. If you don’t happen to have that size, you could use wide mouth quart jars. Or even wide mouth pint jars, if you don’t mind cutting the cukes to fit.
The following recipe assumes you are already familiar with how to can pickles. If you need a refresher, you can find information on safe canning at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
11 large yellow cucumbers
2 cups coarse salt
6 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 cups onions, sliced thin
6 tablespoons pickling spice
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 chopped hot red pepper
(or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
6 dill flowers
2 bay leaves
Peel the cucumbers and slice each into eight strips. Remove seeds. Combine the salt with 4 cups of water and heat, stirring, until the salt dissolves completely. Add 14 cups of cool tap water. When the brine has cooled thoroughly, pour it over the cucumbers and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight. Drain without rinsing.
Combine the vinegar, sugar, onions, and spices with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. You can put the spices in a tea ball or tie them in a cheesecloth bag if you prefer. We find the pickles are more flavorful if the spices are left loose and not strained out of the vinegar during canning.
With the spicy vinegar boiling, add 10 strips of cucumber and return to a boil. The cukes will become transparent but remain crisp.
When the vinegar is fully boiling, use tongs to pack the 10 strips — one at a time — upright into a sterilized, hot three-quarter quart canning jar. If you tip the jar at an angle, at least to start with, the strips will be less inclined to slide down to the bottom. When all 10 strips are in, top off the jar with hot vinegar, leaving no head space. Seal immediately. Repeat to fill eight three-quarter quart jars.
These pickles go great with sandwiches, cold cuts, and buffets. Whenever someone who hasn’t seen senfgurken before asks me what they are, I say they are pickled banana slugs, then stand back to watch whether the reaction will be horror or skepticism.
What Can Chickens Eat? Cucumbers of Course!
Cucumbers supposedly have vermifuge properties, especially the cucumber seeds, which contain the amino acid cucurbitine. Although no definitive studies have been done on the effectiveness of cucumbers as a dewormer, there’s no doubt that chickens love them, peel and all.
If you’re wondering what can chickens eat, cucumbers are a good choice. When feeding cucumbers to your chickens, cut them lengthwise into thirds. Cutting the cukes exposes the soft flesh, giving the chickens a place to start pecking. If you cut the cukes only in halves the chickens may flip them over, peel side up, and then they can’t get at the soft flesh. By cutting the cukes into thirds, a flesh side remains visible no matter which way the chickens turn them.
Cucumber Seed Saving
If you’re growing open pollinated cucumbers, you might want to save some of the cucumber seeds scooped out before pickling the cukes or feeding them to your chickens. Straight Eight, Little Leaf Pickler, and White Wonder are some popular open pollinated varieties.
But even if you grow a hybrid such as Alibi, Cool Breeze, or County Fair you might still get decent cucumbers from your saved seeds, at least the first year you plant them. I’ve been saving County Fair seeds for several years and they still perform as well as the originals. The cukes in the above photo are renegade County Fairs.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.