What is your take on cucumber? I admit to a love-hate relationship. There was a period a few years ago when I agreed with Samuel Johnson that “a cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing” (as quoted in James Boswell’s Tour to the Hebrides), and ignored the watery vegetable. Then I went to Macedonia and fell in love with cucumber again. Whether it was the way it was prepared or the fact that there were good and fresh cucumbers to be had I don’t know, but I still think about shopska, that lovely refreshing salad with cucumber, tomato and feta cheese. Water with cucumber slices in it is vile, cucumber in a Hendrick’s gin and tonic is wonderful. As to the gherkin, the cornichon and all of that family, well they are some of the best things ever invented.
As you may know, for the past few years, I have set myself a goal of making pickles and preserves. I have had some successes, some failures, but always there is a certain satisfaction in creating an edible product that will last several months. My latest pickle project over the holiday weekend was bread and butter pickle. In the same way as you could say that piccalilli is the essential British pickles, so bread and butter pickle could be said to be the quintessential American pickle. I read that the supposed origin of the name is attributed to Omar and Cora Fanning, cucumber farmers who started selling pickles in the 1920s in Illinois. They applied for the trademark “Fanning’s Bread and Butter Pickles” in 1923. Whatever the story, this is a great pickle with cheese, on a burger, with smoked salmon, well, with almost anything.
The recipe I used is from Kirsten Day’s In a Pickle. I made half the quantity as I am probably going to be the only one who eats it in our house. The pickle needs to be started the day before. You need:
- 1.5kg cucumber (in my view, the Lebanese ones, but please feel free to contradict me or use whatever you can get hold of where you live)
- 450g onions
- sea salt
- 1l white wine vinegar
- 2 cups (NZ/Australian) sugar
- 2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- zest of one lemon
- 3 bay leaves
Finely slice the cucumber and onion (try and go for nice half moons for the onions if you can), then layer them with a sprinkling of salt in a large colander. Cover with a damp, clean tea towel and leave overnight.
Next day put all of the other ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Ideally you have one only used for pickling, something I have my shopping list. Drain the vegetables, rinse them, drain again, washing off as much salt as possible. Add them to the preserving pan and bring to the boil again.
Turn off the hear, transfer the pickles into hot, sterilised jars, packing in as much pickle as possible. Spoon over the liquid. Label and date the jars (this is essential so that when you find a jar of pickled cherries from December 2016, you can decide for yourself what to do with them….has happened to me this week….). Leave for at least two days to allow the flavours to develop, and store in the fridge once opened.
Verdict? Well, I waited the minimum of two days to try and found lovely, crunchy pickles that were perfect with cheese. Will eat, will make again – what greater praise? Cucumber – you are in favour at the moment.
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