#0035: All In a Pickle
Updated: Jun 15
October has been my favourite month for as long as I can remember.
The changing of the seasons. The turning of the leaves. The chance to stop for a moment, between the whirlwind of summer and the long trudge through winter, and simply take a breath.
In my adult life, I became aware of another reason to love this month too.
Who wouldn't seize any opportunity to drink beer and eat food with friends? I've made no secret of my love of all things German so, as another October gets into full swing, it's time to throw the spotlight on my very favourite icon of Teutonic culture, the Gewürzgurke, or pickled gherkin.
When they left Germany, my mum's family took with them a new-found love of pickled gherkins. My wonderful nanna, always an experimental cook, would serve them with anything, drawing together her culinary experiences from life around the globe, to come up with some pretty unorthodox combinations. It wouldn't be unusual to be offered a side of dill pickles with a curry or alongside a stir fry recipe she picked up during her time in the Far East. For better or for worse, she was a pioneer of fusion cuisine before it even existed.
To this day, I still eat gherkins with pretty much anything, but I'm equally as likely to be found raiding the fridge and having them straight from the jar, or serving them up with two of my other favourite German exports, a big chunk of dark rye bread and a cold beer.
During the late summer and early autumn, my kitchen often sits under a cloud of spiced vinegar, as I make pickles and chutneys from the summer harvest, so this feels like a good time to share a couple of recipes. Along with gherkins, I'm also sharing a recipe for pickled red cabbage, which makes a sharp, colourful accompaniment to meat pies or pulled pork.
These recipes need sterilised jars. The easiest way to do this is to wash a couple of old jars and, before you start preparing your pickles, fill them with boiling water. When you're ready to use your jars, carefully pour out the hot water, and you're good to go.
For the gherkins, start by rinsing and patting dry six to eight small cucumbers, and lay them out in a flat bottomed bowl. Unless they have very tough ends, there's no need to trim them. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt to draw out excess liquid, leaving them for a couple of hours, or until the salt has dissolved.
Now, rinse and dry the cucumbers again and place them in a sterilised jar with a generous sprig of dill and a quarter of a small, red onion, finely sliced.
Next, use a pestle and mortar to gently crack, but not crush, half a teaspoon each of caraway seeds and coriander seeds, and a full teaspoon of mustard seeds. In a saucepan, bring 350g of white wine vinegar to the boil, along with 50g of white sugar and the cracked seeds, then pour the boiling liquid into the jar, covering the cucumbers, onion and dill. Put the lid on the jar and leave it to cool before putting it in the fridge for at least twenty-four hours before eating.
For the cabbage, start by removing the tough outer leaves of a small red cabbage, chop it in half lengthways, take one of the halves and chop that lengthways too, then finely slice one of the quarters.
Place the sliced cabbage in a sterilised jar with two peeled cloves of garlic and two thumb length slices of peeled ginger root.
In a saucepan, bring 350g of white wine vinegar to the boil, along with 10g of dark muscovado sugar, 20g of sea salt, a full teaspoon of cracked mustard seeds, and a star anise, then pour the boiling liquid into the jar, covering the cabbage, garlic and ginger. Put the lid on the jar and leave it to cool before putting it in the fridge, where it will keep for about a month.
And it's as simple as that. So dust off your Lederhosen, give gherkins a go, and have a great October!