Pickled cucumber

Smörgåsgurka

Pickled cucumber being prepared

With a very harsh climate Swedes had to learn to preserve foods to see them through their long hard winters. Although this is no longer necessary, the Swedes have developed a great affection for the old fashioned ways of preserving, including pickling.

There are several different ways of pickling cucumber, but this is one of the most popular, as it has a nice balance of sweetness, salt and vinegar. Smörgåsgurka means, literally, sandwich cucumber, as the slices are used on open sandwiches, especially with meats and pates.

Another popular type of pickled cucumber is Ättiksgurka which uses essentially the same pickling method, but without slicing the cucumber, although it tends to be a bit sharper. Saltgurka is a completely different type of pickled cucumber which, although popular in Sweden, is something of an acquired taste as it is very salty and doesn’t include any sugar. John Duxbury

Tips

Gherkin "Diamant"

• Choose a variety of cucumber grown for pickling such as Gherkin Diamant, shown above.

Cucumber sliced using a crinkly cutter

• Swedes normally slice the cucumbers using a crinkly cutter as it increases the surface area in contact with the pickling solution.

Dill crowns on sale at a market in Sweden

• Swedes usually use dill crowns (flower heads). They are widely available in Sweden at local markets. If you can't find dill crowns you can use a few sprigs of dill, but as these tend to discolour they are best removed after a few days. Alternatively, use a tablespoon of dill seeds instead as they can be left in the jar.

Swedish vinegar Winborg, 12% strength

• Swedes normally use a 12% strength vinegar, but as this is hard to obtain I have also provided a recipe using 5% vinegar which is widely available.
• The strength of the pickling solution varies quite a lot. Some use 12% vinegar without diluting it, whilst others dilute the vinegar to end up with anything between 6% and 2.5% solution.  I prefer a 5 or 6% solution, but you could experiment to see which you prefer.
• For some extra kick, add 15 g (½ oz) of peeled and finely sliced fresh horseradish and a couple of blades of mace.

Pressed cucumber

• If you like this, try making some pressgurka (pressed cucumber) in which the cucumber slices are much thinner and less pickled.

Ingredients using 12% vinegar

1 kg (2 lb) pickling cucumbers
1250 ml (4¼ cups) water
250 g (¾ cup) salt, additive free

 

Pickling solution

350 g (1¾ cups) granulated sugar
180 ml (¾ cup) water
180 ml (¾ cup) distilled malt (spirit) vinegar, 12%
½ tbsp   yellow mustward seeds
1 tsp   white peppercorns
12   small dill crowns (flower heads)
15 g (½ oz) thinly slice horseradish, optional
2   small blades of mace, optional

Method

1. Wash the cucumbers thoroughly and place them in a bowl. Make a brine solution by dissolving the salt in the water and pour over the cucumbers. Leave for 24 hours.

2. Sterilise 2 or 3 preserving jars. Ideally, each jar should hold about 700 ml (3 cups).

3. Add the sugar, water and vinegar for the pickling solution to a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Leave to cool.

4. Meanwhile, pour the brine off the cucumbers and drain thoroughly. Slice the cucumbers so that they are about 5 mm (¼”) thick.

5. Place the cucumber slices in a bowl and add the mustard seeds, white peppercorns, half the dill crowns and slices of horseradish (optional). Stir the mixture so that the mustard seeds and peppercorns are evenly distributed.

6. Transfer the cucumber slices to the sterilised jars, adding the remaining dill crowns as you go. Pop a blade of mace into each jar (optional). Pour the pickling solution over the cucumbers and seal the jars when they are cold.

7. Store in a cool dark space for about 3 weeks before using (they should keep well for at least six months). Once the jars are opened, store in a fridge.

Ingredients using 5% vinegar

As above, but omit the water from the pickling solution and use 360 ml (1½ cups) of vinegar instead.

Serving suggestions

Pyttipan with fried eggs

Although smörgåsgurka are usually eaten in smörgås (open sandwiches) or with leverpastej (liver pâté), I think they also go very well with pyttipanna (Swedish hash).

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