These are our signature pickles, the first ones we ever made, and now our bestsellers. They’re a great way to start your pickling adventures. These are classic pickle spices, but you could use whole chillies, garlic cloves, bay leaves, turmeric and strips of lemon zest. Look out for bargain boxes of ‘seconds’ at farmers’ markets – often the only difference is that they’re not straight! Feel free to experiment with spices.
Small cucumbers are best for pickling, as their water content is lower.
- 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) Lebanese (short) cucumbers (the smaller, the better)
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 litre (35 fl oz/4 cups) white wine vinegar
- 220 g (7¾ oz/1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 small brown onions, thinly sliced
- 3 tsp brown mustard seeds
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tsp dill seeds
- 2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
- 12–18 black peppercorns
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Makes 6 x 375 ml jars
Salting time 1-2 hours
Heat-processing time 10 minutes
Slice the cucumbers into rounds about the thickness of a coin. Put into a bowl and sprinkle with the salt, then leave to sit for an hour or two (or overnight). This is to draw out any excess liquid; the bigger the cucumbers, the longer it will take. Transfer to a large colander and leave to drain thoroughly.
Meanwhile, sterilise your jars (see Note).
Make a brine by putting the vinegar, sugar, turmeric and 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) of water into a medium non-reactive saucepan over low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then increase the heat and bring to the boil. Let it bubble for 5 minutes.
Transfer the cucumbers to a large bowl. Add the onions, along with the mustard, fennel and dill seeds, and the chilli flakes, if using. Use your hands to mix everything together well.
When the jars are cool enough to handle, use small tongs or clean hands to carefully pack the cucumbers into the jars, adding 2 or 3 peppercorns to each jar. The jars should be full but not over-packed – the brine needs to cover every slice of cucumber, and if they are packed too tightly the brine won’t be able to get into every nook and cranny.
Carefully fill the jars with the hot brine until the cucumbers are completely covered. Remove any air bubbles by gently tapping each jar on the work surface and sliding a butter knife or chopstick around the inside to release any hidden air pockets. You may need to add more brine or cucumbers after doing this (the liquid should reach about 1 cm/½ in from the top of the jar). Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean cloth or paper towel and seal. Heat-process for 10 minutes (see Note), then store in a cool, dark place. Although these pickles will keep for up to 12 months, they start to lose their crunch after about 6 months.
• Use good-quality jars made of thick glass, such as those available from kitchen supply stores. Cheap jars from discount stores often have thin glass, which tends to become brittle at high temperatures.
• To sterilise jars or bottles, give them a wash in hot soapy water and a good rinse, then place in a cold oven. Heat the oven to 110ºC (225ºF/gas mark ½) and, once it has reached temperature, leave the jars in the oven for about 10 minutes or until completely dry, then remove them carefully.
• Also called water bathing or canning, heat-processing uses heat to stop the growth of bacteria. Treating your preserves in this way has two benefits: it lengthens their shelf life, and it ensures the jars or bottles are sealed correctly.
Get the biggest pan you have, such as a stockpot and put it on the stove pot. Lay a folded tea towel in the bottom of the pan, then sit your jars on the tea towel, taking care not to cram them in and keeping them clear of the sides of the pan. (All these measures are to stop the jars from wobbling around and cracking as the water boils.) Roughly match the water temperature to the temperature of the jars (to help prevent breakages form thermal shock), then pour in enough water to cover the jars, either completely or at least until three-quarters submerged. Bring to the boil over medium heat. The heat-processing time given in the recipe starts from boiling point.
You may expect one or two breakages when you’re starting out – the worst that can happen is that the remaining jars will swim in pickles or jammy water for the rest of the processing time. Just keep going, then take the surviving jars out at the end and give them a wipe down. If they all break, you have our permission to have a gin and a lie-down!
Once the heat-processing time is up, the lids should be puffed up and convex. Carefully remove the hot jars from the water. If you’ve bought some clamps, now is the time to use them, or you can use oven mitts and a thick cloth to protect your hands. Line your jars up on the bench and let them sit overnight. As they cool, a vacuum will form inside each jar and suck down the lid, sealing them securely. In the morning, the lids should be concave: either get down to eye level with the top of the jar to check for the tell-tale dip in the lid, or lay a pencil across each lid to show the cavity below it. If you have concerns about the seal of any of your jars (sometimes a couple of jars fail to seal correctly), store them in the fridge and use their contents within a few weeks.
Recipe and image from Cornersmith: Recipes from the Café and Picklery by Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant (Murdoch Books, $49.99, hbk).
View our Readable feasts review and more recipes from the book here