Today, I picked an enormous basket of cucumbers, enough to start pickles - sweet, of course, since this is the South. I will make dill pickles, too, but the sweets always are first. I use my husband's grandmother's recipe. It is one of those obscure non-recipe recipes that begin "Use 2 cups of pickling or kosher salt to every gallon of water." I understand the beauty of the flexible recipe, but this one is so flexible that it took a few years before I actually got to taste a pickle - the woes of trial and error. If I had been able to watch her make them even once, I could have guesstimated her handfuls and pinches but when I first started making pickles we were still in Chicago and she was in Mississippi. We talked on the phone a lot during the month it took for the pickles to become perfect or get dumped.
Success is more predictable if you use the right cucumber. Smallish, freshly picked, and blemish free are the best. These mega cucumbers are no good for pickles. I always have a few of these each time I pick. Cucumbers are much like green beans - you pick every one, turn your head and more reappear. They are never wasted. We either eat them sliced with onions and a vinegar marinade, throw them to the chickens who love them, or give them to the cows who also, remarkably enough, love them.
A few years ago, before we moved into this house, we had a garden on the place with a temporary fence around it. I couldn't watch the garden very well since we lived in town and the cows would push the fence to reach over and snack. One day, I arrived for my daily dose of picking and hoeing and there stood Milk Cream, a calf we bottle fed, in my garden with an enormous cucumber hanging from his mouth. We laughed and laughed, but once he got his first taste of cucumber he wouldn't leave the fence alone. It didn't take long for all the cows to get involved and the fence couldn't stand the pressure. Everything was eaten except a lone habanero pepper plant.