For millennia people have been searching for ways to extend the shelf life of their foods while also improving taste. In response the process of pickling developed, which involves soaking the food to be pickled in vinegar, salt brine, or other herbs, spices, and fluids. By far one of the most popular foods to pickle is the cucumber, and indeed throughout North America the term “pickle” is synonymous with pickled cucumbers, requiring the speaker to clarify if the pickled food in question is something other than cucumber.
Facts about Pickles
References to pickles exist in some of the earliest known literature. Aristotle praised the curative effects of pickles, Julius Caesar is known to have fed pickles to his army believing they would promote strength, and even Cleopatra attributed her renowned beauty to a diet rich in pickles. Likewise noted writers including Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson often mentioned them in their text. In today’s era of health-conscious dieting pickles have the advantage of being very low in calories while still containing up to 20% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin K.
Types of Pickles
Because pickles are so popular and widespread they are found in traditional dishes throughout the world. The pickling process allows a great deal of flexibility in terms of the pickling brine used, for example vinegar or salt brine, as well as the spices and herbs used, for example dill, allspice, garlic, horseradish, mustard seeds, bay leaves, and many others. Additionally the pickles may be sliced, speared, or pickled whole and may be pressed or unpressed. The cultivar of cucumber used in the pickling process may also vary as does the pickling vessel, which may be a glass jar, wooden barrel, or ceramic container. Finally, different textures and flavors can be attained depending on the length of time the pickle is soaked in the brine. The following is a list of some of the most popular types of pickles and information about them:
Bread-and-Butter Pickles – Bread-and-butter pickles are very popular on hamburgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs. They are sweeter than dill pickles thanks to a higher concentration of sweetener in the brine. The cucumbers used in bread-and-butter pickles are often pre-sliced prior to pickling to allow the consumer to easily add them to sandwiches and burgers.
Brined Pickles – Brined pickles use a saltwater brine which may vary in concentration to promote the natural fermentation process. The more salt there is present in the brine solution the more sour the pickles will be. The natural fermentation process does not involve the use of any vinegar, though some modern manufacturers add it as a preservative. Instead the process relies on the presence of Lactobacillus bacteria which is usually naturally found on the skin of growing cucumbers. In addition to the saltwater brine many other herbs and spices may be used, depending on the particular recipe.
Cornichon Pickles – Cornichons pickles are a type of French pickle. They are made from small gherkins that are pickled in a solution of vinegar and tarragon. This tart pickle is often found accompanying French pâtés.
Danish Pickles – Traditional Danish pickles are thinly sliced and pickled in a brine of sour-sweet vinegar containing salt, sugar, dill, and mustard seeds. Danish cucumber salad is known as agurkesalat and it often accompanies traditional Danish meat dishes, particularly a roasted chicken dish known as gammeldags kylling med agurkesalat. Danish pickles are also often found on Danish-style hot dogs.
Gherkins – Gherkin are perhaps the most popular and well-known type of pickle. The term gherkin refers to a particular cultivar of cucumber, the West Indian or Burr Gherkin (Cucumis anguria) which are harvested and pickled when they are about 1”-3” long. The term has also has come to refer more loosely to any small cucumber that was pickled in a vinegar brine, even if a different cucumber cultivar was used. In the United Kingdom and Australia instead of the American term “pickle,” the word “gherkin” is used to refer to a pickled cucumber.
Hungarian Pickles – Hungarian pickles may be either savanyú uborka, which are made throughout the year using vinegar, or kovászos uborka, which means “leavened pickles” and which are made during the summer using a mixture of spices such as dill and garlic, water, and salt as well as slices of bread. The bread is added to the pickling vessel and then the container is left in the sun for a few days to promote yeast fermentation.
Kosher Dill Pickles – The term “kosher” in the kosher dill pickle style does not refer to the usual meaning – that the food has been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary practices – but rather that the pickle has been made in the traditional style of Jewish New York City pickle makers. This style includes the generous use of garlic and dill in a natural salt brine. The pickle may be “full-sour” which means that it has fully fermented, or it may only be “half-sour” denoting a shorter pickling process that leaves the food still crisp and bright green. This style of pickle has been produced in New York City since at least 1899, but is known to have existed even earlier in Germany, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine.
Lime Pickles – Lime pickles are first soaked in lime for at least 24 hours, rather than a salt brine, which makes them crisper. The lime is rinsed off prior to consumption. Often after the initial 24-hour lime soak vinegar, sugar, and other spices are added to the solution.
Polish Pickles – There are two primary styles of Polish pickles which originated in Northern Europe but have spread worldwide. The ogórek kiszony/kwaszony is similar to the kosher dill style but contains a different blend of spices and seasonings and is preserved in wooden barrels. The ogórek małosolny style, which translates to “low-salt cucumber” refers to a type of pickle that has only been in the pickling solution for a few days. The second major variety of Polish pickle is the ogórek konserwowy which is sweet and vinegary, uses a different recipe of spices, and is preserved in jars rather than barrels.
Swedish Pickles – Swedish pickles, known as pressgurka, are similar to Danish pickles in that they are thinly sliced and placed in a pickling solution of vinegar, sugar, dill, and mustard seeds. However, unlike Danish pickles they are pressed and the solution also contains parsley.
The Importance of Cucumber Quality
Regardless of the style of pickle, nearly all can be enhanced with the use of fresh, high quality cucumbers. In order for cucumbers to maintain peak flavor, quality, and nutrition it is important for all proper harvesting, cooling, and storage methods to be observed. Semco is an industry-leader in manufacturing cooling and storage systems that are ideal for cucumbers and pickle farmers. Our systems can be customized to best fit the needs of each of our clients.