Our agricultural claim-to-fame crops for our farm fields in Starke County are still based in lush fields of peppermint and spearmint, along with plenty of corn and soybeans.
But for this harvest year, some of the neighboring farm fields just down the road have showcased sprawling vines of a new, old crop of crisp green favorites: cucumbers.
Our farm family friends Larry and Debbie Wappel and their sons Larry Jr. and Eric dedicated a few of their sizable fields to growing cucumbers, which had incredible yields this year. The Wappel Family, whose home is just a couple fields away down our road, farm more than 7,000 acres.
This was their third year growing cucumbers. They devoted 110 acres along Highway 10 in San Pierre to cucumbers, which are then picked and sold to the Hartung Brothers who get the cucumbers to their final destination, which is the Vlasic Pickle Plant. After the two pickings this year, the Wappels were pleased with abundant yields that resulted in 67 semi truck loads of cucumbers!
The Vlasic Company, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J. still follows the classic business model created by Frank Vlasic, who immigrated from Croatia to Detroit in 1912 and started a small creamery with savings from his factory job. In 1937, Vlasic was approached to distribute a home-style pickle, later marketing their fresh-packed pickle in glass jars, with the business rapidly expanded in the post-war years with growth in pickle consumption.
Throughout the summer, I enjoyed seeing the wagons of honey bee hives brought in for a temporary home base in the Wappel cucumber fields for the busy task of pollinating pickle blossoms. When I talked with Deb Wappel this week, she reminded me not to refer to the crops as "fields of pickles."
"Remember, they are still cucumbers when they are in the field," she said.
"They aren't pickles until they've been prepared and splashed with vinegar, salt and sugar."
On the subject of pickling, reader Linda Gorincen of Valparaiso called me to ask for help with a pickling recipe. She has been frantically picking all of her yellow banana sweet peppers before the recent threat of a hard freeze.
"I know you get some of your canning recipes from your neighbor Mrs. Scamerhorn," Linda said.
"So I'm hoping she might have a good recipe for putting up sweet yellow peppers, which we love with our sandwiches during the winter months."
Thank you for your request Linda. And yes, our farm wife neighbor Joann Scamerhorn has canned yellow banana sweet peppers in the past. (Not this season though.) She was happy to share the following recipe from her farm pantry. Enjoy!
Pickled Yellow Banana Sweet Peppers
4 quarts long yellow banana sweet peppers or red or green varieties of Hungarian peppers
1 1/2 cups salt
4 quarts water plus 2 cups water (divided use)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 cloves garlic
10 cups vinegar
Alum powder (optional)
DIRECTIONS: Use boiling water to sterilize and prepare glass canning jars and rings. To prepare peppers, wear rubber gloves to prevent staining or irritation of hands. Slit and core peppers, to remove seeds if so desired, which also allows to fit more peppers in each jar. Dissolve salt in the 4 quarts of water. Place prepared peppers in a large container and pour the salt water over to cover and allow peppers to soak for 12 to 18 hours in a cool place. Drain peppers and rinse thoroughly. Combine sugar, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and the additional 2 cups of water and simmer together in a large pot for 15 minutes. If using whole garlic cloves, remove these from brine. Pack peppers into the hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space at mouth of jar. For a more crisp and firm pepper, add a scant 1/2 teaspoon of alum powder sprinkled over peppers in each jar before brine is added. Heat brine to boiling and pour over the peppers in jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at the mouth of each jar. Use a butter knife to remove any bubbles or air pockets in jars. Adjust lids and rings and tighten. Whether using half pint or pint jars, process filled jars in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and cool to allow jars to seal. Store in a cool, dark area. Yields about 8 pints.