With a very harsh climate Swedes had to learn to preserve foods to see them through their long hard winters. Although this is no longer necessary, the Swedes have developed a great affection for the old fashioned ways of preserving, including pickling.
There are several different ways of pickling cucumber, but this is one of the most popular, as it has a nice balance of sweetness, salt and vinegar. Smörgåsgurka means, literally, sandwich cucumber, as the slices are used on open sandwiches, especially with meats and pates.
Another popular type of pickled cucumber is Ättiksgurka which uses essentially the same pickling method, but without slicing the cucumber, although it tends to be a bit sharper. Saltgurka is a completely different type of pickled cucumber which, although popular in Sweden, is something of an acquired taste as it is very salty and doesn’t include any sugar.
In Sweden dill flower heads (called dillkronor) are often added to pickled cucumbers. They make the jars look a bit prettier, but as they are virtually impossible to buy in the UK I‘ve used sprigs of dill instead. John Duxbury
• Choose a variety of cucumber grown for pickling such as Gherkin Diamant, shown above.
• For some extra kick, add 15 g (½ oz) of peeled and finely sliced fresh horseradish and a couple of blades of mace.
• If you like this, try making some pressed cucumber, in which the cucumber slices are much thinner and less pickled.
• Use a crinkly vegetable cutter to slice the cucumbers if you have one.
• The dill will tend to lose its colour and so look less appetising. If you find this off-putting omit the dill completely or use some dill crowns (flower heads) instead.
|1 kg||(2¼ lb)||pickling cucumbers (gherkins) or small ridge cucumbers|
|180 g||(1 cup)||salt (which needs to be additive free)|
|1 litre||(4 cups)||water|
|500 ml||(2 cups)||distilled malt (spirit) vinegar (5%)*|
|300 g||(1¼ cups)||granulated sugar|
|25 g||(1 oz)||dill (one handful), broken into small sprigs (optional)|
|2 tsp||yellow mustard seeds|
|1 tsp||whole white peppercorns|
|15 g||(½ oz)||thinly slice horseradish|
|2||small blades of mace|
*Swedes would normally use a spirit vinegar called ättiksprit. If you are using 12% ättiksprit dilute it with 3 parts water to produce a 4% solution.
1. Wash the cucumbers thoroughly and place them in a bowl. Dissolve the salt in the water and pour over the cucumbers. Leave for 24 hours.
2. After 24 hours, wash a couple of preserving jars, sufficient for about 700 ml (3 cups). Place the jars in a warm oven for 5 minutes to sterilise them.
3. Boil the vinegar and sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool.
4. Pour the brine off the cucumbers and drain thoroughly. Slice the cucumbers so that they are about 5 mm (¼”) thick.
5. Return the cucumber slices to the bowl and add the mustard seeds, white peppercorns, slices of horseradish (optional) and half the dill sprigs (if used). Stir the mixture so that the mustard seeds and peppercorns are evenly distributed.
6. Transfer the cucumber slices to the sterilised jars, adding the remaining dill sprigs as you go. Pop a blade of mace into each jar (optional).
7. Pour the vinegar solution over the cucumber. When the jars are cold seal and store in a cool dark space for about 3 weeks before using. Once the jars are opened, store in a fridge.
Although smörgåsgurka are usually eaten in smörgås (open sandwiches) or with leverpastej (liver pâté), I think they also go very well with pyttipanna (Swedish hash).
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