We are in the midst of our ‘uhorková sezóna’ (or cucumber season) right now, both literally and metaphorically. Not much is happening on the political scene at the peak of the Slovak summer, no big stories are filling the news columns, and life in general has switched into a leisurely mode.
On the other hand, our gardens and farms have seen an upsurge of activity in the last month. Cucumbers, among other Slovak staples, have given excellent crops this year, so most Slovaks are filling their pantries with bottles of small, crunchy cucumbers preserved in spiced pickle.
No Slovak household can imagine their winter without a good supply of pickled gherkins, as this small variety of cucumbers is called in English. We love them in cold buffets, tartar sauce, our famed potato salad, or as a garnish for all sorts of meat and potato dishes.
Although the most valued cucumbers for pickling are the small ones, we also preserve medium size cucumbers cut in halves, quarters, or even sliced. Here is a recipe I got from my mum, who is an expert on preserving all sorts of fruit and vegetables.
- 3 kg small cucumbers (gherkins)
- black peppercorns
- allspice corns
- bay leaves
- mustard seeds
- fresh dill sprigs
For the pickle:
- 2 l water
- ½ l white vinegar
- 60 g salt
- 180 g sugar
- Wash the jars and let them dry off. Remove any dirt from the gherkins, check for blemishes and only select firm, good quality ones for the pickling. Cut off the stems and wash the gherkins thoroughly under running water. Rinse the dill sprigs.
- Pour the water in a large cooking pot and bring to the boil. Add the salt and the sugar. Stir and let dissolve. Pour in the vinegar and stir again. Set aside.
- Stand the jars in a row on the table. At the bottom of each one, put a small sprig of the dill, a bay leaf, 3 black peppercorns, 2 allspice corns, and a few mustard seeds. Cram in the gherkins, laying them lengthways from the bottom of a jar up to its grooves.
- Pour in the warm pickling solution. Make sure all the gherkins in the jar are covered in it. Tap each jar lightly with your hand to release air bubbles. Screw on the lids and sterilize the jars in a boiling water canner at 100°C for 5 minutes.
*If you don’t have a canner, you can sterilize the gherkins in an oven. Place a few jars on a baking tray and put in the oven. Set the temperature to 200°C and when the pickle in the jars starts producing tiny bubbles, turn the temperature down to 100°C. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Let cool down, take out of the canner or the oven, and stand on a wooden board or a dishtowel. As the jars are cooling, the lids will give a slight popping sound, which indicates a good seal.
As you can see in the photo above, the colour of the gherkins will change after the sterilization. If stored in a cool, dark place, pickled gherkins will keep for a few years.
The recipe is also included in A Taste of Slovakia cookbook together with other traditional Slovak preserves.