Cucumbers, Really a lot of ’em, and the World’s Easiest Pickles (or Salad)

“Really a lot” is really the right number because I’m doing a mega-testing of vegetable varieties and Rob Johnston (thanks, Rob!) has given me access to the trial fields at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Combine that with help from Steve Bellavia, Johnny’s Vegetable Product Manager, and from Vegetable Product Technicians Andrew Mefford and Lauren Saraiva and what do you get? Among many other things, 34 varieties of cucumbers.

Cucumbers in the foreground, peppers (to come) in back

At Johnny's trial fields. Cucumbers in the foreground, peppers (to come) in back

There’s a different variety every 10 feet

and on each plate ( only a few shown here).

and on each plate ( only a few shown here).

Sample slices were taken from large and small fruits, from the blossom end and from the middle. Result in addition to many tasting notes: pounds and pounds of cut cucumbers that needed to be used up right away.

Easy PICKLESALADRELISH to the rescue.

Easy PICKLESorSALAD to the rescue.

Not a very mellifluous name, but it’s hard to know what else to call a product that starts out as refreshing and mild as salad then becomes ( almost) as intense as pickles and (almost) as long-lasting.


The reason pickles come first in the title is that the salad phase doesn’t last nearly as long as the pickle one, which is just as well. They’re great in most of the classic pickle locations: chopped into potato salad or tartar sauce, served alongside hamburgers, crabcakes,  lobster rolls, cold fried chicken or grilled slabs of the first winter squash. And they’re also perfect where classic pickles are not: with poached salmon, for instance, or as part of a cocktail array that includes gooey cheeses like Brie and Camembert.

There are no fixed quantities. All you need is:

Fresh cucumbers

Kosher or other additive-free salt

Rice vinegar


hot pepper, either minced fresh like jalapeno or dried as flakes or powdered cayenne

Slice the cucumbers about 1/4 inch thick. Combine them in a large, non-reactive bowl with about a tablespoon of salt for every 4 cups of slices. Mix well ( I use my hands) then let them sit for 4 or 5 hours, stirring occasionally. They will shed a lot of liquid and turn translucent and a little bendy.

Drain and taste. They should be just pleasantly salty. If they are more than that, give them a brief rinse but don’t wash all the salt off.

Stir in about 1/3 cup of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar for each 4 cups of slices. Let sit for 5 minutes or so, then taste. Add vinegar and/or sugar until you like the taste, remembering that it will intensify as the mixture ages. Add some hot pepper, again to taste, again remembering.

That’s it. The cucumbers will be a side salad for about 2 days, then become stronger and stronger pickles as they sit in the refrigerator ( stirred from time to time) for the next week to 10 days. They aren’t salty enough to last longer but that’s not usually a problem because they tend to get eaten up.

cooling the cucumbers

cooling the cucumbers

A cooler is fine for transport but even when there’s plenty of ice in it it won’t keep cucumbers (or wine, btw) as cool as a bucket of ice water. This is the rain barrel, iced with frozen milk jugs of water. Each of those bags has an indelible number… never travel without a Sharpie or generic equivalent.

( In case you were wondering, the papyrus is behind the barrel, not in it.)

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