I hope everyone had a fun and safe (if wet) Fourth of July. We marked it by staying home and just taking it easy. The Independence Day holiday typically sees the first harvest of cucumbers, and this year was no exception. I picked two pounds and placed them in brine on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, I added a couple more. If more have matured by today, I will also add them to the crock. They will remain there for 14 days. This produces a "long-brined" cucumber that can be turned into various kinds of pickles. My favorite remains the sweet pickles my grandmother made, and I still make a batch using her recipe every summer.
Cucumbers can be turned into all sorts of pickles, of course. Check out the easy raw-pack dill pickle recipe on the In the Kitchen Page. You can find many other pickle recipes online. Fresh cucumbers can also be pickled in the refrigerator, if you have a couple of hours before dinner to prep them. Simply trim and slice the cucumbers into thin rounds, toss with a little salt, and set them in the refrigerator for an hour. Rinse, drain them well, and add a few dashes of vinegar, some freshly ground pepper, and, if you wish, some chopped onion or chives. Use these refrigerator pickles for a salad topping, or as a side dish with something rich, like a curry.
Our triumph this season has been artichokes. We harvested a total of four large ones and eight small ones from our single plant of 'Imperial Star.' The small ones are delicious when prepped as described below. If you did not grow them this year, you can find baby artichokes in the market in summertime.
On the counter, have ready a large bowl of cold water to which you have added the juice of half a lemon. On the stove, bring a large pot of water, to which you have added the juice from the other half of the lemon, to a boil. Starting at the bottom, bend back and break off the leaves of each artichoke, working around the natural layers, until no hint of purple coloration is visible and all the exposed leaves are yellow-green. With a paring knife, carefully trim off the stem and any leaf bits remaining at the base of the bud. With a chef's knife, cut across and trim off the top half inch of the artichoke, then divide it in half lengthwise. Drop these halves in the prepared bowl of water. When all the buds have been prepared and the water is boiling, drain the artichokes and drop them into the pot. Set a timer for three minutes and refill the bowl with cold water and some ice. (No need for more lemon juice.) When the timer chimes, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked artichokes to the bowl of ice water. Let them sit for two or three minutes, then drain well. Using a melon baller, remove the small bit of hairy "choke" at the base of the innermost leaves and discard it. Drain the artichokes thoroughly on paper towels and refrigerate. They can be prepared up to two days ahead. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the artichokes in an oiled baking dish large enough to just hold them in one layer, and drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the artichokes until they are beginning to brown, about 25 minutes. Serve hot with a cheese sauce, or at room temperature with a vinaigrette dressing.
Green Beans Arriving
The first green beans arrived in the markets a couple of weeks ago, and ours are just now hitting their stride. We grew three types this year, spacing the plantings a couple of weeks apart so we don't get inundated with fresh beans. Roma II, a flat Italian type, started our harvest. These beans taste best with long cooking, and--in true East Tennessee fashion--the addition of a little bacon fat to the cooking water. This produces green beans prepared "as God intended," according to my friend, Glenda Ross of www.eatyouryard.biz. Our next harvest should be ready in a few days, as we have already picked a few early arrivals. This one is 'Goldrush,' a yellow wax bean perfect for quick cooking. Wax beans also star in bean salads, a favorite for picnics and potlucks. Just emerging from the warm, damp soil are seedlings of 'Provider.' This one is a round, brown-seeded bean good for canning and freezing as well as fresh eating. To freeze beans, simply toss the washed, trimmed beans into rapidly boiling salted water for three minutes, drain, and immediately place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and set the color. Drain them thoroughly, dry on kitchen towels and pack into freezer bags. Don't forget to label the bags with the date. I prefer to use home frozen beans within three months. Canning green beans requires a pressure canner. It is dangerous to use other methods. Instructions are widely available if you choose to invest in a canner. We eat most of our beans soon after they are picked and seldom can them, but green beans are a great first subject for a home canning project.