Appalachia Gardening

Growing Cucumbers and Making Pickles

Sow true seed marketmore cucumber

“Most mountain people greatly enjoy pickles, relishes, and other condiments, probably because they add tang, spice, and variety to what could be an otherwise bland diet. Mountain women and girls learn early how to make a variety of pickles and relishes. Cucumber pickles are perhaps the favorite.

We always planted fifteen to twenty hills of cucumbers every spring, being careful not to plant them during the first three days of May, for those were flower days, according to Mother and the Farmer’s Almanac. She said if you planted at that time you would have a lot of blossoms, but no cucumbers.

I shall never plant, harvest, or put up pickles without remembering Mother and the really ingenious way she used cucumber hills to thwart Revenue Agents. Father made moonshine whiskey to sell after World War II. Mother, being a devout Christian, never approved of what he did, but she put herself on the line to keep him from getting caught.

Father was away from home for a few days and Mother heard via the grapevine that a Revenue Agent was coming up Straight Creek. For a few moments she walked the floor, wringing her hands as she tried to think what to do. Then, having come to a decision, she told me to hurry and get her a hoe from the tool shed. She went to the garden where only a few days before we had made about twenty large hills and planted cucumber seeds. She dug a hole in each hill and buried a jar of moonshine, carefully smoothing the hill into shape again. She hid all the jars this way, then calmly went about her chores. The Revenue Agents never came; she left the whisky in the cucumber hills until Father came home. Then we set about replanting the seeds—and had a good crop that year.

—Sidney Saylor Farr “Moore than Moonshine Appalachian Recipes and Recollections”

I’m already thinking about cucumbers and pickles. My cucumbers didn’t do worth a flip last year and I’m anxious to see how they do this year. All the seeds we planted last May came up just fine and climbed themselves right up the cattle panel like they’re supposed to, but they quickly succumbed to powdery mildew. I’m guessing it was the two straight weeks of daily rain that ruined our crop.


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  • Reply
    April 16, 2022 at 8:59 pm

    I love making pickles. Dill and bread and butter. I definitely will be making more this year. I also will be putting alot more pepper plants out to.

  • Reply
    Angelyn McLain
    April 14, 2022 at 9:31 am

    I am getting very low in my sweet pickles so I hope to have a good crop this year. Last year was not good. I would love to double my number of pint jars. I have never hit on a great dill pickle recipe yet, at least one that my husband likes as he is the sour pickle person.
    I saw a great idea for freeze drying pickles for chips. I might try that with some of the pickles no one is eating and see if they are good that way. It’s hard to watch something just sitting there when lids are so hard to come by these days.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 8:11 pm

    That was a great story. Her mom sure was creative in hiding that moonshine….lol
    I’m excited too, thinking about planting my cucumbers. Im hoping and praying all our gardens do well this year!
    Tipper, if you have a good Dill Relish recipe would you either post about it or share it on a Vlog. I love Dill relish, but have never made it. I want to try to make some this year, if my cucumbers do well.

  • Reply
    Joe F.
    April 12, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    Another problem/pest that will hinder cucumber production, that the wife and I recently discovered: vine borers. While I only thought they attacked squash and members of the squash family (pumpkins, gourds, etc.), we had one attack our cucumber vine several years ago. If your vines start to droop and wilt, look at the base of the vine for a round brown patch, where the larva entered the vine’s core. If not too far advanced, you can locate the bugger by collapsing the vine between your fingers up to the point of its progress, dig him out and kill him, then I wrap the part I had to collapse the vine with gauze of similar material. Keep well watered for a couple days. You can save your plant that way, as I have done it to our cucumber and some pumpkin vines in years past.
    As a fairly natural preventative (no harsh chemicals) , a friend gave me the idea that he has used successfully: A solution of Dawn dish washing soap and water, drenching the base of the plant (squash, pumpkin, gourd, or cucumber), as that is their usual point of entry, and also the ground around it up to 1 foot away. Repeat at one week or so intervals.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    Great story about the lady standing by her man. My great Uncle was shot and killed by a Revenue Man. Being the close extended family we were, I just naturally was brought up knowing he was just trying to make a living for his family in very hard times in “27. The deputized agent actually served time. I may have mentioned this before , but one man told of the kids delivering the “brew” in quart jars painted white, as the Mom also sold raw milk and butter.
    I have no luck with cucumbers anymore, and my pickles were terrible. So, guess I will have to let Mount Olive take care of that. A fond memory is a big dish of bread and butter pickles on the tables of kinfolk back in the day.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    April 12, 2022 at 11:27 am

    When we had our little garden in Georgia, the cucumbers went crazy. We couldn’t get a tomato to save our souls, but cucumbers… We were giving them away to anyone who would take them. How I wish I could grow some here. About all we can grow are shade plants. When we get moved back south, though, we’re going to make sure we have room for a good garden. Maybe then I’ll be able to plant some of the wonderful things you do (and that make me SO hungry for fresh)!

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 10:30 am

    My cucumbers didn’t do worth a flip last year either. Seems like I’ve used that phrase didn’t do worth a flip before:) The few little cucumbers I did get though were wonderful. I will try again this year and pay attention to the day I plant them. I love cucumbers and tommy toe tomatoes fresh from my own garden.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 9:42 am

    Enjoyed the story.

    I’m trying for the first time a cucumber named Beit Alpha Burpless. It supposedly doesn’t need a male pollinator and you don’t plant any other type of cucumber anywhere close, or they become bitter from being pollinated by other types of cucumbers.

    Dad told me of the alum cave where they got their alum. It’s been so many years I can’t exactly remember what the rockhouse was composed of. Seems like the white alum was between a layer of sand rock and a layer of shale rock.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 9:07 am

    I have never heard that the first three days of May were flower days. That is when you can find me in my garden planting just about everything. Maybe that explains why there have been years when my green bean vines look like they belong in a flower garden yet have very few beans when July rolls around. I learn something new just about every time I read the Blind Pig and The Acorn post.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 12, 2022 at 9:00 am

    Sorry to learn you have my old enemy – powdery mildew. We have a vining rose that gets covered up just as it tries to bloom and turns the pink petals and buds to gray. From there it got to some of the dogwoods. I have had little success with cucumber for years. But I keep trying. Powdery mildew is very persistent in my experience. You did about the best thing you could have done by having good air circulation and getting the vines off the ground because warm and moist favors the fungi. Sometimes the best we can do is just not good enough. Wishing you better luck this year.

    By the way, Joe Bastardi, a meteorologist much favored by a friend, says there will be temperatures over 20°F below normal in mine and your area on Tuesday April 19. And that is close enough to Easter that we know to expect some kind of cold spell. Maybe this is one of those 6 winters you posted about.

    You make me smile a little with the contrast between your post yesterday and today. Yet that very difference is so surely you, another one of your characteristics that endear you to us, how reliably you are always yourself in a good way. (Yes, I know. I have an awkward way of phrasing things sometimes, always have I reckon. I’m reliably myself in that way but I’m trying to do better.)

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 8:04 am

    My pickles didn’t do worth a flip last year either. All that rain we had made it easy for the powdery mildew to take over. My grandpa made moonshine. It was the only way they could keep the children clothed and in school. Back in the day you could get 5 cents a bushel for the corn or turn it into moonshine and get 10 dollars a jar. Nowadays they would call that a “value added” product.
    One time in the Depression the local Baptist church ended up with a preacher from up North. He pounded that pulpit against the evils of moonshine. The local moonshiners were just trying to keep their families from starvation and keep them clothed. In their eyes this ignorant preacher was trying to starve their families by driving away customers. So one weekday when the church was empty, they blew up the church. That preacher went back North and the children of those moonshiners finished school and went on to college.

    • Reply
      April 12, 2022 at 10:12 am

      JC, the Appalachian people had a different view of moonshine than many other parts of the country. I remember and old friend of the family, he would be 100 yrs. old if still living, telling me that when he was a boy at an old Baptist church, he saw some of the brethren go to their horse to get some shine. They had a little drink before entering church. This was in eky.

      • Reply
        April 13, 2022 at 8:06 am

        AW, that’s exactly right. Shine kept the flu away too. Doctors would laugh about it back then but now it’s known that viruses grow in the back of the throat and that strong batch would “give them a lickin'”. Many of the moonshiners that we knew, including my grandpa, lived into their 90s because they never got sick for long.

    • Reply
      Patricia Wilson
      April 12, 2022 at 11:38 am

      JC – your “value added” comment gave me a good laugh – thanks! I think it makes a perfect illustration for any teachers who need to explain the concept of value added – much better than yarn and a sweater.

  • Reply
    Nancye Chambers
    April 12, 2022 at 7:52 am

    Loved the story!! The lady was “standing by her man!” Hope you have a bumper crop of cucumbers this year!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    April 12, 2022 at 7:50 am

    Good story! My Granddad Nick Byers was shot by a revenue officer just below Mt. Pisgah Church at Warne, NC. He got away and carried the bullet in his body the rest of his life. He moved to Ivy Log GA after that and died from injuries suffered in a farming accident in 1955. Granddad never drove a motor vehicle but rode the mare that pulled his plows and other farm equipment. He is buried at Old Brasstown Cemetery beside Granny, Nancy Jane Bryson Byers.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 7:44 am

    My cucumbers didn’t do anything last year either! And I had terrible terrible aphids that came in with some dirt I bought. Awful. I’m hoping the freezes this winter killed them all.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2022 at 7:07 am

    What a wonderful award Tipper.congratulations

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    April 12, 2022 at 6:54 am

    Our teacher in the sixth grade asked the question, “What is alum used for in the kitchen”. I seemed to be the only one that knew alum was used in pickles to make them stay crisp. Must have been either nosey or observant; perhaps they are one in the same.

  • Reply
    Nancie S
    April 12, 2022 at 6:06 am

    “…didn’t do worth a flip.” That’s a good one! I’m going to have to remember that one. Thanks Tipper, you Award Winner!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 12, 2022 at 6:05 am

    Tipper, best I can remember yesterday had the most comments ever! That’s wonderful! I know it’s your blog, but I think of it as our blog…and we are proud!
    You go girl!

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