Cornichons and quick red onion pickle
It would be somewhat of an understatement to suggest the humble home lunch platter is of little importance. A month ago, few of us would have given it much thought. Today, as most of us are confined to our homes, it is of utmost importance.
Of similar priority, but a little late in the season, is a brief dissertation on the mechanics of seed and plant growth. So let’s put the egg before the chicken and discuss the seed before we discuss the pickle.
I have been growing my own mini gherkin cucumbers for years. It’s a yearly ritual that brings me joy and frustration in equal measure, and it usually begins in October when I sow the seeds. (In warmer climes, people could easily start indoors in August or September.) The seeds are sown in a little seed tray and then, when they have developed two or three sets of real leaves, they are picked out and the seedling is transferred to a small individual pot. Once the roots are established, the seedling is ready to be transplanted to its final resting place. If you are growing only one or two pickle plants, they can go into a pot into which you can insert a trellising device. If they are being transplanted into a vegetable garden or hothouse, remember that the plants are more controllable if you encourage them to climb upwards, not creep all over the ground. With some care, begin watering and mulching – and maybe have the odd chat here and there – and you will be rewarded with your own pickling cucumbers in 12 to 14 weeks.
Growing food from seeds is not instant but it is incredibly rewarding and allows you to control the size of your pickles. Actually, if truth be told, the plant controls the size of your pickles. Like zucchinis, cucumber plants tend to hide their fruit and you never seem to find them all before they become whoppers, so I tend to pickle in graded sizes. Why do it yourself? Because they taste so much better and are vastly superior and not nearly as sweet as the shop-bought variety. I truly believe everyone should plant one cucumber plant and quietly go through this process every couple of days for three months of the year. If you are serious, make a large quantity of brine and pickling liquid and it becomes even easier.
In these troubled times, it is lovely to have a little store of things – pickles, chutneys and relishes – to bring out for lunch. For good measure, I’ve added a recipe for a quick red onion pickle. I like to buy salami products and ham in pieces so they last me longer and can be sliced freshly as I wish to eat them. Add a good piece of cloth-bound cheddar, cornichons, mustard and bread and you’ll have a lunch fit for a king. Or queen.
For vegetarians, mustard, pickles and grilled vegetables are delicious. I like to grill batches of zucchini and eggplant two or three times a week to add to my lunch board. Add some sliced beefsteak tomato and pickled onions and you’ll have a perfect vegan lunch platter.
This is adapted from a recipe in Patricia Wells’s The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris.
– 60 x 5cm pickling cucumbers (about 1kg, or up to 70)
– 65g coarse salt
– 750ml best-quality white wine vinegar
– 1 tbsp sugar
– 4 large sprigs fresh tarragon
– ½ tsp whole black peppercorns
– 2 bay leaves
– 2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole (optional)
Trim the stem ends of the cucumbers, wash away the little black spines and then rinse and drain.
In a large bowl combine the salt with one litre of water. Stir until the salt is dissolved, add the cucumbers, and let stand in a cool place for six hours.
Scald two one-litre pickling jars, plus their lids and rings, with boiling water then drain well.
Strain the cucumbers and discard the salted water.
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat combine the vinegar, 375 millilitres of water and the sugar, and bring to a boil.
Layer the jars with the drained cucumbers, herbs and spices, making sure to divide the ingredients evenly between the jars. Add a clove of garlic midway through. Pour in the boiling vinegar, water and sugar mixture, letting a bit of the liquid overflow; this helps to seal the lids well. Wipe the rim of each jar and seal. Let stand until cool.
Store in a cool place for at least three weeks before serving. Refrigerate after opening.
Quick red onion pickle
– 1 red onion
– 125ml apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp white sugar
– 1 heaped tsp salt flakes
Slice the onion very thinly.
Place the vinegar, 125 millilitres of water, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and the sugar.
Pour the mixture over the sliced onion and cool. Can be used in half an hour and will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 11, 2020 as "Pickle me happy".
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