Pantry-filling season has started for good. This weekend was cucumber pickling time. Cucumbers pickled in vinegared brine are easy, relatively quick and the seasoning possibilities are endless. After several years and at least a dozen different experiments (including such exotic versions like curry powder or Sichuan pepper and more basic, with bay leaves or allspice), I have decided to stick to my oldest recipe, with dill playing the most important role. I also prefer them slightly more acid than most people, but dill and garlic are the ones which give the typical traditional flavours of Polish pickled cucumbers. This time I was extremely lucky to have fresh horseradish, but it can be omitted.
Short, hard, prickly cucumbers, also called “gherkins”, are the only ones that can be pickled whole, but they might be difficult or impossible to find in some countries, so if you feel like pickling, but have access only to other smooth skinned, softer varieties, try this fabulous Moomins’ Pickled Cucumber Salad (which can be prepared with gherkins too):
I have actually made both preserves this weekend, the second one with long smooth cucumbers. Click here to check this pickled salad recipe (I have already written about it last year). I have found the recipe in a charming book called Moomins Coookbook. An Introduction to Finnish Cuisine. The original recipe called for short gherkins but I discovered that any cucumber can be used instead with equally good results. The salad is sweeter and milder than whole pickled cucumbers.
If you feel like making short-term Japanese pickles, you might like this quick and easy Kyuuri no Kyuuchan (Cucumber Pickled with Soy Sauce and Ginger):
TIPS: Horseradish is not necessary, but if you can get it, it will improve the taste of dill pickles.Both preserves, the pickled whole cucumbers and the salad, can be made as short-term pickles and kept in the fridge without being processed, but I think it’s worth trying traditional long-term preserves.
My favourite dill parts here are long, thick old branches, flower crowns and/or seeds, but – unless you live in a country where many people prepare pickles with dill – you need to grow your own dill and wait until it flowers. If you have access to young fresh dill only, you can use it too (fresh or dried).
The seasonings’ amounts below are just an example of what you can put into one liter jars. Of course you can change them as you wish, but don’t put too much mustard seeds, peppercorns, horseradish or garlic cloves: they might make the taste too harsh or too bitter. It’s difficult to say how much dill you can put… the younger the dill the less aromatic. I have always used thick “old” dill branches, stalks, flower crowns and seeds, approximately one long branch (20 cm/about 8 in) and one crown per jar.
You can add more sugar to the brine if you prefer sweet pickles, but don’t dilute the vinegar (a certain acidity or/and sugar level is obligatory to preserve food).
Preparation: about 1 hour
Ingredients (yields at least 5 x 1 litre jars, but everything depends on the jars’ size, shape, the cucumbers’ size, etc.):
2 kg (4 lbs) short, hard pickling cucumbers (“gherkins”)
10 flat tablespoons sugar
2,5 heaped tablespoons salt
2 litres (about 8 cups) vinegar (I have used 4,5% white wine vinegar; if your vinegar is more acid, use more water accordingly)
500 ml (about 2 cups) water
yellow mustard seeds
garlic cloves (peeled)
dill branches, stalks, “crowns” (flowering dill) or seeds, preferably dried (if you have only young fresh dill, it will be ok too but a bit less strong in aroma)
(fresh horseradish, peeled and cut into small pieces, about 1/2 garlic clove size)
Prepare clean, sterilised, dry jars (washing in the dish washer at 70°C is enough), checking if the lids don’t have any trace of rust.
In each empty jar place 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 3-4 peppercorns, some dill, 2 garlic cloves and, if you have, two-three horseradish pieces).
Wash the cucumbers well and dry them.
Put them into the jars not higher than 3/4 of the jars’ height.
Combine the vinegar, the water, the sugar and the salt. Bring to a boil, stirring from time to time, and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
Put aside the brine and after about 10 – 15 minutes fill the jars with it, very slowly (if you are afraid they might break, wait until the brine is no longer hot; personally I have never broken a single jar this way) up to about 2 cm/about 2/3 inch from the jar’s edge.
Do not worry if you see that the cucumbers stick a bit out of the brine. If you have respected the above instructions (cucumbers packed only up to 3/4 of the jar’s height and brine stops 2 cm below the jar’s edge), the cucumbers will have space at the bottom of the jar and they will gradually fall down after being processed.
Close tightly the jars and put them aside until they are cool (I usually leave them overnight).
/At this point you can (after the jars have cooled down) either keep them in the fridge for a couple of weeks or process as described below and store in your pantry for at least a year. The below method is the way me and lots of people I know have been processing pickles, but choose any method you know and prefer./
Place the cool jars into a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling – water to the level just below the lid. Bring to a boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes.
Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the pickles and don’t forget to mark the date. If you experiment with different vinegar or sugar amounts or seasonings, mark the different versions on the label. This way you will know what suits your taste buds best for next year!