Sometimes I think that we have forgotten how joyful eating is. With all the food rules imposed on us, we have lost the ability to feel the pure pleasure and joy of cooking and eating. Recipes that bring back memories of loved ones can help you bring back that pleasure. The memories that come back to me when I make my grandfather’s Homemade German pickles -Senfgurken are truly special.
It’s time again for the monthly Recipe Redux!
The Recipe Redux September Theme: First Cooking Recollections
“Stir up some of your earliest culinary recollections. Did you stand at your grandmother’s elbow to learn to cook? Or did you learn by stumbling through a cookbook by yourself? Share a healthy recipe and the accompanying story about one of your first cooking memories.”
My first memories of helping in the kitchen are of baking brownies or cookies with my mom. I don’t consider myself a baker now. Many of our family recipes do not revolve around baking, so I did struggle with figuring out what to share this month. After eating some of my recent batch of pickles I realized that my grandfather’s Senfgurken recipe was perfect.
Senfgurken is a German pickle that uses mustard, dill, and possibly other spices. These particular pickles are peeled before they are placed in the pickling brine.
I never made the pickles with him, but we all have his recipe and use it every summer. We were swimming in cucumbers from our garden this year and I needed to do something with them before our vacation in August, so I made a huge batch of pickles before we left. This year is the first in probably 17 years that I made them. My husband has been the pickle chef all these years. I had to ask him a few questions, which felt wrong since this is my Pop-pop’s recipe!
My grandfather was so happy when Scott took an interest in his pickles and made a batch himself. Scott was given Pop-pop’s giant glass jar that he used when he made large batches. Scott became the pickle chef when the pickle jar was passed to him.
This recipe takes a few days to work through. I took a picture of each step, so don’t freak out because you have to scroll down further for the recipe.
Stage I: Prep
The smallest batch calls for 4 cucumbers. We have made batches of more than 20 cucumbers before. You don’t need pickling cucumbers. We use regular cucumbers. The bigger the better.
Start by peeling off the skin. Remember Senfgurken are peeled. After you peel the cucumbers slice them into four chunks. I cut them in half in the center and then cut each half in half again lengthwise.
The seeds are removed. The best way is to use a spoon to just scoop them out. This task can get a bit messy. My daughter and I had some seeds that ended up on the floor and on our clothes. You can see I have a garbage bowl to put the seed into, but they still get away from you.
Each cucumber section is then cut into smaller strips (about a 1/4-1/2 inch thick). You should get four slices per section.
Layer the cucumber slices into the bottom of a large pot. Salt each layer before starting a new one. The purpose of salting is to draw water out of the cucumbers.
To increase the release of water we add a plate and some sort of weight on top of the cucumbers. My grandfather used a brick on top of a plate if I can remember correctly.
I don’t have a spare brick laying around. The heaviest item I can find that would fit in my pot is my small Le Creuset pot. Grandpa’s directions say to place your pot of cucumbers into the refrigerator for 24 hours. We prefer 48 hours. The longer time frame allows more water to be excreted.
Stage 2: Pickling
When you are ready to pickle the cucumbers drain the extracted water from the pot. The cucumbers will need to be dried off by placing them onto paper towels. Pat the cucumbers dry with an additional towel.
Our Senfgurken recipe uses only mustard seed, dill, and onion to flavor the pickles. Some recipes may use prepared mustard and/or pickling spices.
Filling the Jars
First, place onion in the bottom of your jar. I divide the onion slices evenly among my jars. You may not use all the onion that is sliced, but better to have extra.
Place cucumber slices in the jars leaving some wiggle room.
Add 1 teaspoon of mustard seed.
Add a few sprigs of fresh dill.
The hot pickling liquid is added last and divided among the jars. Let the jars cool down before adding the lids and transferring the jars to the refrigerator. The pickles will keep in the refrigerator for a while. We have found jars that were a year old and the pickles were still good. The only time we have pickles that long is after we made a huge batch.
German Pickles - Senfgurken
- 4 large cucumbers
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 1/2 cups vinegar (I use white vinegar)
- 4 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 4 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- Mustard seed - 1 tsp per jar
- Fresh dill - 2-3 sprig per jar
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 4 mason jars
- Peel cucumber and remove seeds with a spoon.
- Cut cucumber into 1/4-1/2 inch strips.
- Layer cucumber slices in a large pot.
- Salt each layer.
- Cover with a plate and something heavy for weight.
- Refrigerate 24-48 hours.
- When ready to pickle, pour off water, dry with a paper towel.
- Pack into jars onion, cucumber, mustard seed, and dill.
- Juice: bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil.
- Pour hot juice into packed jars.
- Let jar cool completely and then place into refrigerator.
- Can be stored in the refrigerator for a few months.