In the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon, the weather and I are dancing—two-stepping in and around the autumnal edge of the garden—the killing frost. A cloudy day means I can push cleaning out the garden one more night and one more day of ripening fruit. A clear sky in evening after a glorious fall day often means that frost will skitter across the landscape. Some mornings before sunrise I stand with the brittle chilled hose spraying ice-cold water on plants to abate the coming damage. Because of the terrain and waterways it has frosted a few times in the last week but not landed in the garden. Beyond a few cold singed high flung top leaves of the squash plants, the hard frost has not landed as a death blanket across the tender annuals. I still had time.
It is of course double edged like most things in life—oh please frost take out the endless stream of work, picking and preserving—but it is also the end of homegrown warm season bounty. Often, even the years when I don’t think I can possibly pluck another morsel, lift another crock or empty a steaming hot canner, the threat of frost spurs me on. I can’t see food go to waste. I drag flat boxes, buckets and baskets to fill as every last green tomato, pepper and basil leaf gets harvested.
This year the cooler, damper temperatures brought with them a flush of garden activity. Squash and cucumber plants hardly productive in August sprouted new flowers and fruit in one last effort to fulfill their task of birthing seed. These pinky thick zucchini, the quarter-sized patty pans, lemon cucumbers, the dimensions of maybe a walnut, will never reach maturity. But they are abundant, can be eaten at any stage and make wonderful bite sized pickles.
End of the garden medley (where bite-sized veggies shine)
Makes one gallon
a few pounds of mixed (any combination) immature squash and cucumbers, enough to fill a gallon jar to the shoulder,
10 or more whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons pickling spice or:
1½ teaspoons mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon dill seed, or better a couple of fresh dill seed heads
2 bay leaves
3—4 whole hot dried red pepper such as cayenne
3/4 cup unrefined salt
1 gallon water
optional: grape, oak, or horseradish leaves to top ferment, the tannins will help keep things crunchy
If the squash still have their blossoms, you can pickle them as well. Take care that they are still whole and not wilted. Rinse off any dirt.
You don’t want any part of the blossom if using cucumbers. Scrub them in water; take care to trim the stem and make sure the blossom end is clean as it contains an enzyme that will soften your pickle. Crush the garlic cloves slightly with the back of knife, just enough to break them.
Pack veggies into a few wide mouth jars, or a 1-gallon jar. (If using a crock, you will pack into jars later.) Mixing in garlic and all other ingredients as you go, distributing equally.
Pour the salt brine over the cucumbers. It must cover all of the vegetables.
If you do have a grape leaf or other tannin leaf, this would be the time to add it.
Place a smaller jar filled and sealed with water on top for weight. If your little future pickles are packed and wedged tightly you will not need to place a weight on top. Just cover the jar, but do not tighten lid—it needs to breathe out the CO2. If you are fermenting in a jar you can watch the process. At this point the vegetables will be an incredibly vibrant. It will look as if all the colors are magnified. As they start to ferment you will see the colors turn drab. This change is a result of the acids interacting with the chlorophyll. The brine will get cloudy–this is a normal part of the lactic acid production. If you are fermenting in a crock, no worries all this will be happening as well.
After four days of fermentation time on your counter you will have half-sours in a about six days the flavors will all be stronger and more sour.