Gherkins a-growing in my garden today
Gherkins are not essential vegetables. They are not high in nutrition or flavour, and yet the second characteristic is in their favour when it comes to making a good pickle, soaking up salt, vinegar, herbs and spices until they become tasty morsels to eat with cheese on a cracker or in a sandwich, or sliced into a potato or cauliflower salad.
They are also dead easy to grow from seed, and each plant will produce dozens of gherkins happily for some two months so long as as it is kept well-watered. They are spreaders, so if you are looking for an edible summer groundcover - consider the gherkin.
Gherkins are also known as pickling cucumbers, as reflects their use. Compared to regular cucumbers, they are smaller (even when full grown) and their skins are scratchy rather than smooth. They are also firmer, and less seedy.
One never sees them for sale in supermarkets, and nor are they commonly found in specialist greengrocers' shops or even farmers' markets. They don't keep well after picking (two-three days in the fridge is the maximum time to keep them before processing). So if you want gherkins free of the pesticides, preservatives, colourings, artificial sweeteners and other unnecessary ingredients found in the imported jars of gherkins on offer in supermarkets the only way is to grow and pickle your own.
I am still working on the best way to do this, starting with the standard Kiwi recipe in my Otago University Home Science School booklet on pickles and other preserves. This takes time, especially if you create the spiced vinegar the recommended way, by steeping the spices in the vinegar in a glass jar in a sunny spot for 10 days, AND also soak the gherkins in brine for 3 days before putting them in the spiced vinegar, AND then keep draining off the vinegar, bringing it to the boil, and returning it to the pickle jar(s) every day until the gherkins are 'a good colour'. (They don't tell you what a 'good' colour is for gherkins, so possibly mine are an awful colour.)
Today I branched out with an American cucumber pickle, 'Kosher Dills'. This involves using dill seeds, and whole heads of dill. Dill and cucumbers are a classic combination, and with good reason. I like them each separately, but think they are even better together.
I don't know why these dill pickles are kosher any more than I know what a good colour is - if anyone can help me out on this or other matters relating to pickling cucumbers I would be much obliged. Meanwhile, I will keep experimenting, and when I have optimised my recipes and methods I will gladly share them.
Gherkins a-jar, and
The jar on the left
is completed and sealed;
the jar on the right
has just started its
getting to be a 'good colour'