I stumbled at the first hurdle with this recipe which began: ‘Prick your cucumbers with a silver fork.’ We don’t have any silver cutlery in our house so I had to make do with EPNS. It works just as well.
Before we get back to forks I want to say a word in praise of greengrocers. I love ‘em and try to avoid buying vegetables in supermarkets except for just one, the Ozmen supermarket on London Road. Asian grocery stores are always fascinating but Ozmen’s goes over the top with its vast array of fruit and vegetables, some familiar, others exotic. It puts the average British greengrocers to shame.
There is not just one kind of aubergine but at least four, plenty of varieties of onions, a bewildering amount of greens, long, thin beans, crinkly pods, colourful chillies and peppers in different shapes and sizes, sacks of walnuts and chestnuts and mysterious fruits – I just like looking at them. The other day my eye was taken by the cucumbers, about five inches long, a third the size of a normal one but bigger than a gherkin. I think they came from Jordan. And I was just itching to pickle them.
We like pickled gherkins. In fact we once bought a big, cheap jar of them from Ozmen but you get what you pay for. They tasted of nothing and went off almost immediately. But when you do it yourself you do it right.
I bought a handful of mini cucumbers and found if I cut them in half across the middle I could get three and a half or so in each old gherkin jar I’d saved. I never throw any jars out but that’s another story.
I had a recipe lined up for garlic and dill pickled cucumbers. You can get big bunches of dill at Ozmen’s but I had some dill seeds which needed using up. To make four one litre jars you will probably need 14-16 mini cucumbers, depending on how big they are.
You will also need:
250g sea salt
4-6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Bunch of dill or two tablespoons dill seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
Four bay leaves
300ml clear distilled malt vinegar*
900ml of water
*I used cheap Happy Shopper vinegar so I don’t imagine it was very strong. Use better vinegar if you wish but the ratio of vinegar to water is about 1:3, or one to four at a push. You will almost certainly have some pickling liquid left over so bottle it to use for the next batch.
Wash and prick the cucumbers all over with a (silver) fork to allow the water to flow out and pickling liquid to penetrate.
Layer in a plastic or ceramic bowl and cover with the salt. My recipe said leave for four hours, I left them overnight. Drain the liquid, wash VERY thoroughly to remove salt and leave to drain dry.
In a saucepan gently bring the vinegar and water to a boil, adding all the other ingredients. Cover, simmer for five minutes and allow to cool.
Pour one inch of pickling liquid into each jar (to avoid air pockets). Put in cucumbers upright (I managed to fit one across the top) and fill jars with pickling liquid. Seal and leave in a cool dark space.
The recipe said they were ready for eating next day. Ambitious. It took a week to develop the full crunchiness. Best store in the fridge once opened as the acidity of the pickle is not great. Unopened jars should keep in the cupboard for a month or two.
If you have a cucumber or two left over slice into discs and put into a small jar (or eat them at once). It’s also fun playing around with this basic pickle, perhaps adding fennel and or chilli, mustard seeds or even caraway.
These little beauties are ready for pickling
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