Did you get a massive cucumber harvest this year? I had so many that I barely knew what to do with all of them. Sure, salads and gazpacho are great in the summertime, but not for every meal. Fortunately, there are several innovative and delicious ways to preserve cucumbers to eat all year round.
1. Dill Pickles
One of the easiest (and most beloved) ways to preserve cucumbers is to make dill pickles out of them. You can do this with tiny gherkins or sliced mature cukes, and season the brine however you like it.
Some people like their dill pickles with lots of garlic, while others add mustard seed, peppercorns, and even chili flakes.
The basic dill pickle recipe from the Ball Blue canning book is a great starting ground. From there, you can adapt the seasonings to suit your own preferences. Omit the bay leaves if you have gallbladder issues, and feel free to add more or less garlic as desired too.
2. Bread and Butter Pickles
If you prefer sweet-and-sour flavors, then you might enjoy bread and butter pickles instead. These are the quintessential “sandwich” pickles, as they go with pretty much any sammy filling you can think of. Since these are pickled in slices (usually crinkle-cut), you can use more mature cukes to create them.
Try these slices with egg salad on toast, tucked into a Reuben, or even chopped and added to potato salad.
3. “Fridge” Pickles
The difference between standard pickles and “fridge” pickles is that the latter aren’t water bath canned. This means that they haven’t been processed in order to sufficiently ward off pathogens like botulism during long-term room-temperature storage. They’re just as delicious as traditional canned pickles, but need to be refrigerated in order to keep them safe for human consumption.
Try to eat all of your fridge pickles within 6 weeks of preparing them.
4. Sweet Relish
If you like bread and butter pickles then you probably enjoy sweet relish too. This stuff is absolutely gorgeous on hot dogs and hamburgers, but you can use it as a topping for countless different snacks. In fact, it goes remarkably well on crackers with brie or vegan nut cheese.
You’ll need to water bath can it for long-term storage, if you don’t eat all of it as you prepare it. This is a great, kid-friendly way to preserve cucumbers because little ones tend to prefer sweeter flavors to sharp, acidic ones.
5. Savory Relish
Alternatively, if your culinary preferences lean towards savory rather than sweet, try canning some savory or spicy dill pickle relish instead. Much like sweet relish, this condiment can be used on just about anything you can imagine. I love it on cold leftover roast chicken, but it’s lovely as an accompaniment to all kinds of dishes.
If you follow the recipe linked above, be sure to take your time caramelizing the balsamic onions. They add a depth of flavor to this relish that is absolutely gorgeous.
6. Fermented Cucumbers
As an alternative to pickled cucumbers, you can try fermenting some pickles instead. People have needed to preserve cucumbers in innovative ways for as long as these veggies have existed, so they’ve gotten creative with various techniques. Fermented cucumbers are very popular throughout the Middle East, and you’ll also find them in most Slavic countries as side snacks and garnishes.
Instead of creating a vinegar brine for your cukes, you merely brine them in seasoned salty water for a few days. Once they’ve reached the flavor level you like best (usually around the 10-day mark for whole pickles, 6 for sliced), you can seal those jars and pop them into the fridge or cold cellar.
7. Dehydrated Cucumber Chips
If you like dill pickle chips, you’re probably going to freak out about these, but in a good way. They’re crunchy and light, and satisfy your chip craving without the high carb count. Also, if you had as much of a cuke bumper crop as I did, you’ll be able to make tons of ’em. If there’s a tastier way to preserve cucumbers, I haven’t come across it yet.
Use a mandolin slicer to make consistent 1/4″ thin slices. Don’t bother peeling your cucumbers: the peel helps to keep their shape. Toss these slices into a bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Then season to your heart’s content. My favorite flavoring method is to add a liberal amount of dill pickle popcorn flavoring, plus a bit of extra salt. That said, you can use BBQ seasoning, ranch flavorings, or just some salt and pepper.
Mix the slices around thoroughly with your hands to make sure they’re all coated, and then spread them out onto your dehydrator trays. Set this to 135°F for 10 to 12 hours, though they might need a bit longer. They should be really crisp and break apart easily if you try to snap them. Store these in airtight jars if you don’t eat them all in one sitting.
8. Frozen Cucumber Chunks
You won’t be able to use these in salads, but they’re ideal for juices, smoothies, and gazpacho.
Decide whether you’d like to leave the peel on your cukes or not, and then dice them. Line some freezer sheets with waxed paper, and spread the diced bits all over them. Try to leave some room between the pieces so they don’t clump together.
Pop the trays into your freezer for 8 to 10 hours, and then transfer the solid cuke nuggets into freezer bags. Then you can shake out as many as you need, whenever you need them.
In addition to being great in the aforementioned juice etc., these frozen cucumber bits also make great ice cubes. If you slice them instead of dicing them, you can add them to drinks like Caesars or Bloody Marys. Then you’ll have a cold, refreshing drink that won’t get diluted by melted ice.
9. Cuke Jelly
If you like savory jams and jellies to use with charcuterie platters, then you’ll probably enjoy this cucumber jelly too. It has a bright, fresh flavor that can pair well with smoked fish or sharp cheeses, and also makes a killer spread for roast beef sandwiches.
Just make sure that you use liquid pectin for this instead of the powdered stuff. For some reason, it just doesn’t seem to set properly with dry pectin.
10. Cucumber Wine
Okay, I can’t vouch for cucumber wine personally as I’ve never tried it before, but this recipe sounds fascinating. I suppose that if you like cucumber water or green kombucha, it’ll probably be right up your alley.
See how many different ways there are to preserve cucumber? You can put each and every one of those cukes to good use with recipes that’ll tantalize every taste bud.
As a final note, if you happen to come across a recipe that you really like, make a few batches more of it than you think you’ll need. Preserves like jellies, relishes, and pretty little pickles make excellent gifts. Just tuck a couple of jars into a basket along with some good cheese, some delicious homemade crackers, and a bottle of wine, and you’ll make someone’s weekend significantly more awesome.