To pickle Cucumbers

I love pickles. I devour jars of them so quickly that I rarely have any in my fridge. I make platters of quick-pickled cucumbers, beets, cauliflower, and fennel for parties. I’m always tempted by the spicy pickled green beans that this one stand sells at the farmers’ market. Last week I realized that for all the pickled vegetable recipes in manuscript cookbooks, we’ve only prepared one so far (these delicious “Pickled Tamatas“) and I made it my business to change that.

I cannot think of a single manuscript cookbook without a recipe for something pickled. In an economy of thrift, pickling is an excellent way to save seasonal produce. Since I’ve been working on an article about other recipes from MS Codex 785, I decided to try a pickle recipe from this manuscript. (See my posts on “Lemmon Cakes” and “Bisket Pudding” for more information about Restoration-era lifestyle guru Hannah Woolley and MS Codex 785). I was also intrigued by the inclusion of thyme in this one.

The Recipe

pickled cucumbers

To pickle Cucumbers

Boyle your Vinegar with some long pepper,
and all Sorts of Spice, a little Salt, Thyme, and
Dill, lay your Cucummers into the pot, and
pour on your pickle boyling hot, and Couer
them up very Close, and set it by, and do so
for two or three days.

This recipe is very straightforward. Slice your cucumbers, prepare a spicy brine, rest, and eat. [UPDATE: The original recipe does not instruct you to slice the cucumbers, I sliced mine out of habit and because used a single-medium sized, slicing cucumber and I needed it to fill my jar! Feel free to use smaller kirby cucumbers here and skip the slicing.]

Long pepper was the only new ingredient for me. According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia (linked above), long pepper is a flowering vine with small, flavorful fruit. Although the plant is similar to the Piper nigrum, or standard black pepper, the individual fruits are far spicier. This spice is often used in South Asian cooking, but I was unable to locate any. Instead, I substituted in a small amount of red chili flakes to add some peppery heat. Let us know if you use long pepper, chili pepper, or black pepper when you make these pickles! I’ve made some suggestions in the recipe below.

 

Our Recipe

These proportions fill a single, 2-cup mason jar. Double, triple, and quadruple if you have a glut of cumbers on hand!

1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced (Peel or don’t peel as per your preference) [Per the update above, feel free to use different kinds of cucumbers and slice, or don’t slice according to your preference and ingredients.]
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh dill
1 c white wine vinegar
1/2 t salt
1/4 t chili flakes (or some long pepper, or 1/4 t pink or black peppercorns)

Put the sliced cucumber in the mason jar with the fresh thyme and dill.

In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar to a boil. Add the salt and stir until combined. Add the chili flakes.

Pour the spicy brine over the fresh vegetables. Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Consume pickled cucumbers within a month of opening the jar.

pickled cucumbers

pickled cucumbers

The Results

After three days in the refrigerator, these pickles are salty, spicy, sharp, and crisp. The  dill and thyme add depth to each bite. These pickles are not going to outlast the weekend!

Since the brine is very strong and I’m really making these as refrigerator pickles, rather than shelf-stable canned pickles, I might reduce the amount of vinegar in the brine and try a 1/2 c vinegar and 1/2 cup water brine instead. In addition, the original recipe also mentions “all Sorts of Spice.”  I only included spices that were listed in the recipe in this batch, but I wonder how cloves, mustard seeds, or caraway seeds would change the taste of these pickles. I may have to start another batch.

Let us know if you experiment with this recipe!

 

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15 thoughts on “To pickle Cucumbers

  1. Hi Marissa,

    Long pepper is readily available from the major U.S. spice sellers like Kalustyan’s (http://tinyurl.com/jghnhnx). i think you’ll find the pickle to have a different, although not necessarily better, taste than when made with chili flakes.

    Also, the homemade vinegars of the 18th century were probably of a lower acidity than modern distilled vinegar. A good white wine vinegar may be closer to what was originally used.

    Also, what type of cucumber did you use? I believe that the Kirby variety of today is the closest to the prickly cucumbers of the period.

    Lastly, I didn’t see anywhere in the recipe that the cucumbers should be sliced. Have you tried this with whole cucumbers?

    Peter

    ps: It was nice to meet you at the Manuscript Cookbook Conference in May.

    • Thanks for these helpful comments, Peter! It was lovely to meet you in May as well.
      As you know, Alyssa and I try to source our ingredients in our local stores so that any interested reader can prepare our recipes. But I do hope someone gives this a try with long pepper. Please let me know if you do!
      I was using a standard, super-market cucumber so slicing was necessary to fill my jar. You’re absolutely right that the recipe does not include an instruction about slicing and I’ve updated the post to address this. I think for my next batch I’ll try kirby cucumbers and a different spice mix.

      • I’m curious, did you consider some of the other cucumber pickle recipes in the book before settling on this one? I noticed there was one on page 47 for “large” cucumbers and one on page 132 for “sliced” cucumbers.

      • Yes I did! Even in this one manuscript there are a lot of options. In MS Codex 785 there are (by my count) 23 pickling recipes and 4 for pickled cucumbers. I decided on this one because I have a thyme plant that I’m always looking to use and I’ve never included thyme in my pickles before.

        I’m planning to make the one on 132 for “sliced cucumbers” soon. The pepper, mace, and ginger combination sounds wonderful. And the la-la mixed pickle on the facing page is intriguing as well.

        You’ll have to let me know if you try any of these!

        (Here’s the link to that page for anyone who’s curious: http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/pageturn.html?q=785&id=MEDREN_2706829&rotation=0&currentpage=136)

    • Thanks, Brady! Let us know if you try this recipe with long pepper.

      As a general rule, Alyssa and I try not to order ingredients online. We want these recipes to be immediately usable to our readers after a simple stop at a grocery store so we often make substitutions.

  2. Since it doesn’t give any amounts the cook probably had them memorized. In translation in my opinion there is no “t” on the end of on, that’s the tail of the “y” there. I just LOVE this blog and wish I could see the old recipes in person someday.

    • These early modern cooks had all sorts of things memorized!
      Looking at the manuscript again, I think you’re absolutely right about “on.” I’ll correct it above.
      Thanks for reading and let us know if you try any of these recipes.

  3. This is just like “fresh pickle” recipes of today except that they are refrigerated after brining instead of just “set by”. I like to use the small “pickling cucumbers” and lots of garlic in fresh pickles.

  4. Okay, I started some pickles based on the recipe from the early 18th century cookbook above. I made a few assumptions.

    All the spices and herbs are dried. From my research, it was rare that fresh herbs were used since they were often only available from the kitchen garden for a short period. When the time was right, an entire crop of a single item was harvested and dried. In England, were this manuscript is from, drying was often done in the chimney space, off to one side, because the humidity is relatively high year round. In areas where the temperature was often below freezing, drying could effectively take place under the rafters outside.

    For the “all Sorts of Spice” I included cloves and cinnamon, both common savory spices of the time. The relative volumes of the spices and herbs can be seen in this photo (http://tinyurl.com/zduc523). The long pepper, cloves, and cinnamon have been crushed in a mortar for better infusion. The “weights” were determined after I chose the quantities by sight and experience. I disagree with the above comment that “the cook probably had them memorized”. The cook in this case, who may have not been the author of the recipe, just used her experience in pickling to determine amounts.

    (As recently as last June i worked in a restaurant where there were no recipes. We created a new menu each day, and no dish went through a long testing and evaluation process. As a cook, I was expected to create good food each day based on the ingredients on hand. Other than working with known ratios, such as for garum add 3% salt to the seafood item, which required a scale, there was barely a measuring cup or spoon in sight.)

    For the vinegar, I diluted some white wine vinegar that I had on hand to 3.5% acidity, which should more closely match the vinegar of the period, which was generally a constant production made from leftover wine. By stuffing the cucumbers into the jar before starting, i was able to determine how much vinegar I would need to bring to a boil.

    Rather than add the flavorings to the boiling vinegar, I added them to the jar after the cucumbers. If added to the pot with the vinegar, some of the dry ingredients would have be lost to the sides of the pot after the vinegar was poured out. It can easily be seen from the picture (http://tinyurl.com/z2w27bb) that the liquid distributed the spices throughout the jar.

    The later instruction to “Couer them up very Close” made me curious. The answer was found in the OED. In example 4 for the adverb form: “Tightly, fast, so as to leave no interstices, outlets, or openings.” (The latest use listed is 1715!) This indicated to me that the reader was advised to not use a standard crock lid, which is a loose fit at best, for these pickles. A pig bladder seems to be in order. A double layer of cling film will have to suffice since I was too lazy to defrost a pig bladder. I haven’t been able to find salted bladders, which would have been the normal storage method back then.

    The pickles have been “set by” on my countertop, which should stay at 75°F or below for the next few days. I have seen French pickle recipes that call for leaving the pickles in the sun for a week, so a few few days in my kitchen shouldn’t be a problem.

    I’ll report the results in a few days.

    BTW, the ingredients were all obtained locally, including the long pepper which I found at a farmers market this morning.

    • After 48 hours, the cucumbers looked like pickles (http://tinyurl.com/hapv5p2), both inside (http://tinyurl.com/z3gakrl) and out. the taste was ‘interesting’. The dominant spice was the cloves. There wasn’t much of a peppery taste. I could envision these pickles being served as a side dish rather than a condiment in an 18th-century meal.

      After 72 hours, the taste and texture of the pickles was essentially the same as the day earlier. I declared them done, transferred them to a clean, sealable bottle, with the brine, and placed them in the refrigerator.

      I’m planing to shred one and serve it along with a pickled onion, pickled cabbage, and homemade mustard as an accompaniment to a country-style pâté Friday and Saturday nights.

      • Wonderful, Peter! I hope the pickles and pate were a delicious addition to your weekend table. Thank you for sharing your process and results here for our readers.

        (Apologies for my slow response. I’m traveling this week.)

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