July is National Pickle Month
A pickled cucumber, most often simply called a pickle in the US, is a cucumber that has been pickled in a brine, vinegar or other solution and left to ferment for a period of time.
Before refrigeration, fresh fruits and vegetables were only available during the growing season. A variety of food preservation techniques were developed over thousands of years to make perishable foods available in the off seasons. One of the methods was pickling, a simple way to preserve vegetables without changing their flavor. Vegetables were submerged in a mild salt and vinegar brine in a crock.
Cucumbers were probably first pickled 4,400 years ago in Mesopotamia. The pickling process was also known to the Ancient Greeks. Aristotle is reported to have praised pickled cucumbers for their healing effects. Julius Caesar's soldiers ate pickled cucumbers as health aids. Many other brine-soaked foods were part of life in Ancient Rome. Pickled cucumbers became popular in the US due to the influence of immigrants from central and eastern Europe.
Types of Cucumber Pickles
A gherkin is not only a pickle of a certain size but also a particular species of cucumber: the West Indian or Burr cucumber (Cucumis anguria), which produces a somewhat smaller fruit than the garden cucumber (Cucumis sativus). Standard pickles are made from the West Indian cucumber, but the term gherkin has become loosely used as any small cucumber pickled in a sweet vinegar brine, regardless of the variety of cucumber used.
A kosher dill pickle is usually not kosher in the sense that it has been prepared under rabbinical supervision, which would ensure that no non-kosher ingredients were used, and that no utensil in contact with the pickles had ever been in contact with food that was not kosher. Rather, it is a pickle made in the traditional manner of Jewish New York City pickle makers, with generous addition of garlic to the brine.
Polish style pickled cucumbers (Polish: ogórek kiszony) are a type of pickled cucumber developed in the northern parts of Europe and have been exported worldwide and are found in the cuisines of many countries. As opposed to some other varieties of pickled cucumbers, they are prepared using the traditional process of natural fermentation in a salty brine which makes them grow sour. There is no vinegar used in the brine of a Polish-style pickled cucumber.
Typically, small cucumbers are placed in a ceramic vessel or a wooden barrel, together with a variety of spices. Among those traditionally used in many recipes are garlic, horseradish, whole dill stems with umbels and green seeds, white mustard seeds, oak, cherry, blackcurrant and bay laurel leaves, dried allspice fruits, and — most importantly — salt. The cucumbers are then placed under clear water and kept under a non-airtight cover for several weeks, depending on taste and external temperature. The more salt is added the more sour the cucumbers become. Since they are produced without vinegar, a scum forms on the top, but this does not indicate they have spoiled, and the scum is just removed. They do not, however, keep as long as cucumbers pickled with vinegar.
Lime pickles are soaked in lime rather than in a salt brine. Vinegar and sugar are often added after the 24-hour soak in lime, along with pickling spices, although this is done more to enhance flavor than as a preservative.
Bread and Butter
Bread-and-butter pickles are sweeter in flavor than dill pickles, having a high concentration of sugar added to the brine. Rather than being served alongside a sandwich, they are more often used in fully-flavored sandwiches, such as hamburgers, or in potato salad.
Swedish and Danish
Swedish pickled cucumbers (pressgurka) are thinly-sliced, mixed with salt and pressed to drain some water from the cucumber slices. Afterwards they are placed in a jar with a sour-sweet brine of vinegar, salt, sugar, pepper and parsley.
Danish cucumber salad (agurkesalat) is similar, but the cucumbers are not pressed and the brine doesn't have parsley. The cucumber salad accompanies meat dishes, especially a roasted chicken dish (gammeldags kylling med agurkesalat), and is used on Danish hot dogs.
Kool-Aid Pickles (a.k.a. "Koolickles")
Kool-Aid pickles (considered a delicacy in parts of the Southern United States are created by soaking dill pickles in a mixture of Kool-Aid and pickle brine.
Cucumbers aren't the only vegetables that can be pickled. Okra, asparagus and beets are popular Oklahoma vegetables that are often pickled. Chow chow is a pickled mixture that is sometimes made with squash. Peppers can also be pickled. Remember Peter Piper?
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?