I threw out half of my first crock of brined cucumbers this year, because the cucumbers were strangely soft. Much more upsetting than the loss was the fact that I couldn’t explain it. I am supposed to understand such things!
Now I’ve figured it out. The spotted cucumber beetles have been more numerous than ever this summer. For a week or two, stepping into the vegetable garden was like entering a bee swarm, except that I could swat the yellow devils with impunity. Early in the season, many cucumbers were scarred from the beetles’ bites. These scars looked like scars, not open wounds, not rotten spots. I’d seen them many times before, though never in such quantity. As usual, I ignored the scars as I filled the first crock.
The most scarred cucumbers, it turned out, were of the Agnes variety. In fact, few other cucumbers had any scarring at all. Nearly all the cucumbers I ended up throwing out were Agnes. Their skins rubbed off at the scar sites. When I’d press on a scar, the soft flesh below would spurt out. Where a scar had touched the smooth skin of a neighboring cucumber in the crock, the second cucumber sometimes suffered a bit of softening, too.
Agnes, developed in Holland, is always bitter-free, so I doubt that the bitter-loving beetles are especially attracted by its flavor. I suspect that they like this variety, or at least can most easily injure it, because its skin is especially thin.
I’m still pickling Agnes cucumbers, but I’m taking care to cut away every bit of scarring. And I’ll do that in the future no matter what cucumber variety I’m pickling.