I grew up eating my Mom’s sweet pickles and have always wanted to make my own. This summer I planted 7 cucumber plants in our garden, hoping I would get a big enough batch of cucumbers to make pickles at some point. The truth is, I’ve had a few big cucumber harvests that would have worked well for a round of pickles, but I was so excited about eating the cucumbers that I never really got the chance. However, now that it’s mid-September, I think I’ve eaten about as many cucumber salads as I can stomach and I was delighted when I finally got another big cucumber harvest from the garden that I could make pickles out of.

I called my mom up last weekend to ask for her “secret” pickle recipe, only to learn that it was the recipe printed on the back of the Mrs. Wages pickle lime package. As it turns out, they sell the very same pickling lime here in Davis, so I was in luck.

I suppose this post isn’t so much about sharing a recipe as it is about sharing the wonderful feeling I get from growing and preserving my own food. In a world and economy that seems so unpredictable, it is comforting to know that I can at least grow the vegetables I would need to sustain myself and maybe a family one day. I like to think that maybe my parents had the same thoughts when they planted their first garden as a young couple.

I still have pretty vivid memories of my dad coming home for lunch during the summer when my mom, sister, and I were all out of school. We would gather around the messy kitchen table, moving aside art supplies, dishes, and other things that had accumulated since breakfast, make sandwiches, and eat as a family. My dad always had a jar of these pickles out and after putting them on his sandwich, he would stack a few extras on his plate to eat between bites of sandwich. These memories are what really made me want to make these.

As far as I’m concerned, the pickles themselves are really delicious. They are the perfect crisp and tangy accompaniment to any sandwich and my dad would give you a big list of what else they belong on. I guess I’m just happy to be carrying on a few of the family food traditions I grew up with. It makes the distance between California and home seem just a little smaller even if the 5 hour plane ride inevitably reminds me otherwise.

“Old South Cucumber Lime Pickles”
from my mom, slightly modified from the Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime package

7 lbs slicing cucumbers, sliced to about 3/16-inch thickness (if you plant your own, Burpless cucumbers work well)
1 cup pickling lime
2 gallons water
8 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
8 cups sugar
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp pickling spice

Prepare and process home canning jars and lids to sterilize jars.

Wash cucumbers; drain. Mix water and pickling lime in a large non-reactive pot. Do not use aluminum (you can use enameled pots). Let cucumbers soak in mixture for 2 hours or overnight. Remove pickles and discard lime water. Rinse 3 times in fresh cold water. Soak 3 hours in fresh ice water.

Wrap pickling spice in cheese cloth and tie with cotton string or thread. Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, and pickling spice packet in a large non-reactive pot (again–no aluminum). Bring mixture to a low boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove syrup from heat and add cucumbers. Soak 5-6 hours or over night. Boil in the syrup for 35 minutes.

Pack hot cucmbers into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles and cap each jar as it is filled.

Process pints 10* minutes, quarts 15* minutes, in a boiling water bath canner. Test jars for airtight seals according to manufacturer’s directions. If jars do not completely seal, refrigerate and consumer within two weeks.

Ready to eat in 24 hours. Chill before serving to enhance flavor and crispness.


Apparently I’ve been enjoying my summer so much I’ve forgotten to update the blog recently. Maybe saying I’m “enjoying” summer is an understatement. I have actually been LOVING everything about this summer. Since I come from the land of hot and humid summer weather, I feel odd saying that, but bearable summer weather is one of many great things California has to offer (especially if you cheat like me and go to the mountains). I spent most of July in Mammoth doing field work, and even though I’m always reluctant to want to go, once I’m there I am reminded of just how lucky I am to get to work there. The weather is perfect, there’s climbing nearby, and I get to stare at the amazing Sierras every day.

I also spent the last week of July at a lake cabin in Minnesota, celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday with my parents and all my mom’s siblings. Since my sister couldn’t make it, I was the only one there under age 58, but I had a blast. We did crosswords, swam, and ate delicious evening meals, which were always followed by hours of talking at the dinner table when we were done eating. I think the dinner table lingering would have killed me even 5 years ago, but I guess I’m a real grown up now because it was actually enjoyable to sit and chat.

Aside from the traveling to pretty places and visiting family, I’ve been especially happy while I’m at home in Davis and I think it’s due in large part to the garden. There’s just something about harvesting fruits from plants that I nurtured from seedlings that makes me giddy. I have a permanent grin on my face while I’m there and proudly display every harvest to Vicken when I come home, in the same way I imagine I showed my parents my report card as a kid. It’s pretty ridiculous how proud I am of the food I’ve grown.

Since returning from Minnesota, I’ve been harvesting a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. I planted 6 or 7 cucumbers, hoping I would get enough to make pickles, but production has been pretty sporadic (2-3 cukes at a time) so we’ve just been eating them instead. The Armenian cucumbers that I planted haven’t done much, but I did get one really nice one that I used in this cucumber salad. I’ve also made the salad with a peeled slicing cucumber and that works just as well. If you’ve never had an Armenian cucumber though, it’s worth a try. You don’t have to peel them, which is a major plus, and they are light and crisp. Plus, if you care about looks, the ridges that run the length of the cucumber give the slices a pretty ruffled edge.

This salad has been my favorite meal this summer. It is light and satisfying, and I it eat for lunch most days when I’m at home. The key ingredient is the Aleppo pepper (the red stuff in the jar above) you add to the lemon dressing. Vicken’s mom brought a bunch from Syria with her when she visited in June so we always have a full jar on hand. You can also buy it from any specialty spice store.

I harvested close to 10 pounds of tomatoes yesterday, so I’m sure I’ll be making lots of tomato dishes in the near future. I’ll try to write about them soon. In the meantime, this roasted tomato soup is a great thing to make with fresh tomatoes. I recently found this blog and am in love with the photography and recipes. The quality of the site is a little intimidating, but it’s inspiring me to step it up here, so that’s probably a really good thing.

Cucumber quinoa salad
Makes one large salad or two smaller side salads

1/2 large armenian cucumber, cut in half length-wise and sliced (about 2 cups chopped)
large handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked quinoa (quinoa cooking instructions)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped parsley

juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil*
1/2 tsp aleppo red pepper
small pinch salt
small garlic clove, minced

Stir together cucumbers, tomatoes, and quinoa. Combine dressing ingredients together in a small jar or bowl and shake or stir to combine. Pour dressing over the salad and mix until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with feta and parsley just before serving.

*If you don’t like the idea of so much olive oil, just use part of the dressing on the salad. I found I needed this much oil to balance out the lemon, so I wouldn’t skimp too much while mixing the dressing.

My field season is rapidly coming to an end. I officially moved out of the field station and back to Davis 2 weeks ago and I only have one more experiment to do later in August.  Before I’m totally out of field-living mode, I wanted to share a recipe that I made a lot at the field station this summer.

This salad was inspired by Erin, the field assistant I lived and worked with over the summer. The girl pretty much lives on salads made of greens, some kind of grain, and other vegetables. Since I’ve been trying to eat a wider variety of grains anyway, I figured I might as well give her approach a try. I started with quinoa and played around with additions until I came up with a pretty good salad base consisting of quinoa, chickpeas, and feta cheese. I’ve done variations with whatever vegetables I happen to have around or whatever is in season and it has consistently turned out well. For this summer version, I used cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and parsley. I even got to supplement the cherry tomatoes from the co-op with a few from the “garden” at Vicken’s house!!! I guess it’s a little pitiful how excited I got about this, but really! Aren’t they beautiful!?!

I add quite a bit of vegetables to this so that the quinoa isn’t the main component.  I find it’s a great way to eat a big serving of vegetables without having to eat a boring green salad.  You can add less vegetables if that’s your preference, or you could even serve this over salad greens with some extra dressing. The best thing about this salad is that you can make a big batch and then eat it for lunch for a few days. This assumes, of course, that you (like me) can stand to eat the same meal day after day.  I used to think I was boring for doing this, but, in the spirit of positivity, I now prefer to think of it as “adaptive.”  I am a broke grad student after all.

In case you’re curious, I’ve made a spring version of this salad with arugula, green beans, and green onions and another summer version with roasted zucchini and tomatoes. The possibilities are endless!  Despite this, I figure it’s in my best interest to come up with a different type of salad or bulk meal to make before I get totally sick of this one…  I’ll let you know when I find it.

Quinoa salad with tomatoes and cucumbers

1 cup quinoa (I used red, but you can use white)
2 cups water

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered length-wise, and sliced
4 green onions, green and white parts, sliced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 can chick peas, drained
4 oz. feta crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid from quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature. (You can make the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rest of the salad.)

2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix well. Add the sliced vegetables, chick peas, and parsley and stir to combine. Top with the crumbled feta and serve immediately.

**I’ve kept leftovers for up to 4 days in the fridge. It is great cold or at room temperature, and it makes a great light lunch.