As any vegetable gardener will tell you, growing food even in the best of seasons can be hit or miss. One year the gardening gods will bestow a huge crop of luscious tomatoes; the next year they’ll strike down every last plant with late blight early in the summer.
This year seems to be The Year of the Cucumber, at least in my garden. I (conservatively, I thought) planted just two Parisian pickling cucumber seedlings, so that I could make a few jars of refrigerator pickles. Who doesn’t love pickles, after all?! I sure do. I love them so much I even had a pickle martini on my birthday this year.
After a month of harvesting between 15 and 20 pounds of cucumbers every 2 or 3 days, my enthusiasm began to wane. Actually, my enthusiasm waned after the first week, but I kept harvesting the damn things. I filled gallon jars with pickles, which took up so much space in the fridge that there was hardly room left for beer and cheese. We had a potluck at work; I said, “I’ll bring pickles!”
When it dawned on me that I just didn’t have the time or desire to process all the cucumbers, I proceeded to foist them on anyone who made eye contact. Which isn’t easy to do — they’re such spiky little buggers that it’s actually painful to handle them. And did I mention that when you pick them at “gherkin size” they’re actually fairly bitter? These guys aren’t getting high marks from me. The last thing I want in my garden is something that (a) is stressful, (b) doesn’t taste great, and (c) takes fridge space away from more important food groups.
And then, last night in the garden, I stumbled upon these little gems: Mexican sour gherkins!
I’d actually forgotten I’d planted them. I started them from seed I’d bought from Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org), left them in cell packs in the cold frame for far too long (I really should write a blog post called “Profiles in Neglectful Gardening”), then hurriedly planted them a month late, figuring that nothing would come of them. I must have started six plants from seed, but only two survived. I shoved them in a bare patch, between a couple of four-o’clocks, and let them fend for themselves. They stuck it out, thriving despite my neglect, a hailstorm, and even a flood.
These little gherkins are utterly charming! As Ilona, our illustration coordinator, remarked, “They look like Barbie watermelons.” They’re crunchy, lemony, adorable, not painful, and (a point of special praise this year) not stressfully prolific. And because it’s an heirloom variety, I can save the seed and plant more next year. Actually, the Parisians are also heirlooms so, theoretically, I could save them, too. But with my new Mexican friends in the picture, who needs ’em?
— Carleen Madigan, Acquiring Editor
Before becoming an editor at Storey, Carleen Madigan was managing editor of Horticulture magazine and lived on an organic farm outside Boston, Massachusetts, where she learned the homesteading skills contained in her book, The Backyard Homestead. She enjoys gardening, hiking, foraging, baking, spinning wool, and knitting. Carleen lives in western Massachusetts.