Gherkins are cucumbers that have been fermented in brine or pickled with vinegar.
Botanically cucumbers are fruit although they are a vegetables from the culinary point of view.
In Polish the word ogórki means cucumbers.
Kiszoneogórki means fermented cucumbers – either in brine or vinegar.
Letnieogórki means summer cucumbers – which are fresh salad cucumbers.
The Latin name for the cucumber is Cucumis sativus and it is a member of the gourd family and so related to pumpkins and melons.
It is thought the plant originated in India and then was taken to Greece and from there to northern Europe.
I have read that the making of pickles by fermenting in brine is over 4,000 years old. This would preserve vegetables throughout the winter – well before the days of frozen food and supermarkets!
A quick look at the journey of the word –Gherkin – according to several dictionary sources.
This is a word that started in Greece and travelled to England & America via Poland, Germany and The Netherlands.
Angourion – Medieval Greek for cucumber.
Ogórek – Polish for cucumber
Gurke – German for cucumber
Augurk – Dutch for a brined or pickled cucumber
Gherkin – English for a brined or pickled cucumber
In Poland, July & August are the main months for making gherkins at home and once when I was there at that time in my relatives’ houses every container seemed to have been put into use for a stage in their production.
Everyone has their own special recipe using brine and sometimes vinegar with the addition of garlic and herbs and spices – the most often used is the flower head of the dill plant – hence we get dill pickles. Some methods are very quick taking just a few days others take longer.
The type of cucumber used is a different variety than the salad cumber it is shorter, fatter, often knobbier and has a lower water content.
I cannot at the moment give you a good recipe for making gherkins as I have rarely seen the right variety of cucumbers for sale in England – maybe now with more Polish shops I might see some next year and try out some recipes.
The bought gherkins I like are the Polish Krakus ones.
Another type I like are ones you can buy in Lidl – these are made with sugar and vinegar and are sliced lengthways – they have only a slight vinegar taste and are sweet – I do not like the very vinegary kind.
There are many uses of gherkins in Polish cookery – the most famous must be gherkin soup – which I just love – but that recipe I will cover later once I start to write about soups.
Of course gherkins – form part of many salads.
Gherkin and Tomato Salad
3 or 4 Gherkins – cut into discs
4 or 5 Tomatoes- cut into half & then thinly sliced
1 small onion – finely chopped
Flat-leaved parsley – finely chopped – to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste.
In a bowl mix together the gherkins, tomatoes and onions.
Sprinkle with a little salt and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the gherkin jar (if none is available then use some lemon juice) and mix again.
Place into a serving dish and sprinkle with chopped flat leaved parsley and freshly ground black pepper.
Śmietana – Soured Cream – must be one of the most used salad dressings in Poland.
Soured cream is used just on its own and sometimes if it is thick or because they like it that way people will add lemon juice to make it more runny.
I am going to write about the three classic salads which will have soured cream on them.
Legend has it that this salad was beloved by Queen Bona, the Italian princess, who married King Zygmunt 1 in the early part of the 16th Century.
She is famous for bringing her chefs and a variety of vegetables to Poland and many vegetables names in Polish have Italian roots.
The word mizeria comes from the Latin meaning misery.It is said that this salad made the Queen homesick for Italy. I can understand the cucumber – not sure about the soured cream – but that is the story.
It certainly is a delicious cooling salad for a hot day.
I was talking with one of my Polish friends earlier last week and I said that I was going to write about mizeria and she said “Oh there were 20 people for dinner yesterday and I made a huge bowl of mizeria – it was delicious and it was all eaten!”
It is the salad that everyone loves to make in the summer and it is so easy.
Just – Cucumber, Soured Cream and a little salt.
Lemon juice added to the soured cream.
Some people add little bit of icing sugar.
Dill or chives as a garnish.
Take a cucumber and peel off the skin. If the skin is thin then sometimes I do not peel it all off, just stripes so that you have a nice pattern later of dark and pale green.
Cut the cucumber into thin slices and put them into a bowl
Lightly salt the cucumber.
Add several spoonfuls of soured cream to the cucumber and mix them together, you want to coat most of the slices.
Sprinkle with a garnish of chopped dill or chives if desired and serve.
This is delicious with Polish style smoked meats and sausage and also with hot roast meats as a lovely contrast.
This is best made with young fresh cucumbers in summer. However now that you can get greenhouse grown cucumbers all year round I sometimes find that they are a bit old and woody, if this is the case I would remove the seed area – this is best done by cutting the cucumber lengthwise in two and removing the seeds by pulling a teaspoon down the seedy middle. Then you can slice the cucumber as before.
Some cooks salt the sliced cucumber and leave this for about half an hour and then discard the liquid before adding the soured cream. I do not usually do this unless I am making it for serving at a much later time.
Radish and Soured Cream.
Chives or Spring onions to garnish.
Prepare the radishes by removing the hairy roots and stalks.
Thinly slice the radishes.
Put the radish slices in a bowl and add several tablespoons of soured cream (thinned with lemon juice it desired).
Garnish with chives or the green part of spring onions, finely chopped.
I love the way the radish skin colour seeps into the soured cream after a while and makes it pale pink.
This is the most simple salad you can make – just use lettuce leaves pulled off from the head of lettuce, wash and dry them using a tea towel or a salad spinner and add several tablespoons of soured cream (thinned with lemon juice it desired) and mix them together.
Garnish with a few chives if you have them and serve.