Wednesday, August 10, 2011


A funny name for a pretty normal pickle. I found this recipe in The Victory Garden Cookbook, a cookbook from 1982 based on the PBS show "The Victory Garden." It's a great cookbook for gardeners, because the chapters are organized by vegetable: all about bean, cucumbers, eggplants, and so on. So when you have a lot of something, you know where to go.

The cucumber chapter is revelatory. Did you know that you can saute cucumbers? Maybe you have done it secretly in your own kitchen (as Julia says, "When you're alone in the kitchen, who's to know?"), but you didn't know that Chef Marian Morash does it in her restaurant. Also from this chapter I learned that a cucumber salad tastes better if you lightly salt the cucumbers ahead of time and let them "macerate," as they say in canning books, for at least half an hour before rinsing and dressing them. There are also recipes for braised and stuffed cucumbers, which Chef Marian says are common in Germany and France.

Like my neighbors on Brangus Lane, Chef Marian is never one to waste food. (I threw a tomato at a neighbor the other day, when he made a remark that I considered borderline sexual harassment. It bounced off his belly and hit the ground. His only comment was, "You're wasting food." So I picked it up and ate it.) You know those big yellow cucumbers that are lurking under leaves in the garden this time of year? Don't compost them! Make senfgurken!

Chef Marian says that senfgurken is "the German answer to watermelon rind pickle." What was the question? Anyway, you peel and seed the cucumbers (saving the seed, of course, if it is not a hybrid cuke), cut them into 1" pieces, make a brine of salt and water, cover the cukes for 24 hours, and then make another brine of straight vinegar and spices. You simmer the drained, rinsed cukes in the brine for a few minutes and pack them into jars with the brine. Ok, I'll write out the recipe, since it's an old (sort of) cookbook:

Senfgurken (Adapted from The Victory Garden Cookbook)

4 large yellow cucumbers, 1# each
1/2 cup pickling salt
3 cups water

1 qt vinegar (I used cider vinegar, but Marian Morash calls for white vinegar)
1-2 cups sugar
3 T pickling spices
4-5 tsp mustard seeds

Peel cucumbers, halve, and scoop out the seeds. Cut into wide strips or chunks like watermelon rind pickle. Dissolve salt in water and pour over cukes. Soak 24 hours, drain, and pat dry. Combine vinegar, sugar, and pickling spices and boil 1 minute. Then drop the cuke pieces in the brine. When the brine returns to a boil, remove cukes with slotted spoon and fit them into sterilized jars, filling to within 1/2 inch of the top. Divide mustard seeds among jars. Cover with the boiling liquid to within 1/4 inch of the top and seal the jars. Process for ten minutes.


To save seeds from cucumbers:
Let the cucumber get very yellow. Leave it on the vine as long as possible, preferably until the vine is dead, but before it starts to rot. Then you can bring it inside and leave it on the shelf a while longer, until it really is beginning to rot. Cut it open and scoop out the seeds. Put them and all the liquid attached to them in a jar. Allow this mixture to ferment for five days. Rinse this fermented mess in a sieve, and dump the seeds out onto a paper plate. Let them dry on the paper plate until crispy, and store in a ziploc bag or a jar in the refrigerator.

It's best to get seed from at least five different plants if possible. Mark the ones you intend to save with a plastic ribbon so that they won't get picked or eaten.


  1. I agree, cider vinegar is nice, but I like white vinegar, too. An alternative that works well is quarter of a pint (imperial measurement) of white wine mixed with half a pint of white vinegar, then the usual spices.

  2. I'm German and LOVE Senfgurken! But I've never heard of making them from overripe cucumbers; all the recipes I know use normal cucumbers. Anyway, here's the recipe I use. You don't need to drain the cucumbers at all, so you'll save time.
    4 lbs cucumbers
    500 ml white wine vinegar
    500 ml water
    500 g sugar (about 17 ounces)
    1 TB mustard seeds
    1 TB pickling spices
    3 tsp salt
    1 onion, thinly sliced
    1 bunch dill, divided in sprigs
    Peel and cut cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds. Cut the cucumber halves in 1-2 inch chunks. Put the water, vinegar and spices in a pot and boil for 3 minutes. If you want firm pickles put the chunks in the jars and add the hot brine on top. If you want softer chunks cook the cucumbers with the brine.