My Citizens! To Russians, the art of preservation is far more than just a way to extend the life of fruits and vegetables beyond their allotted lifespan – no, it is a ritual fraught with memory, tradition and history that is to be treated with utmost respect and gravitas. I for one salute this perspective and being of Eastern European descent, the enjoyment of pickles is practically hard-wired into my DNA and few make a better version than the people of the Rus‘!
As outlined in an excellent article on russia-ic.com:
For centuries people have had to store food and stock up for the cold Russian winter. Our ancestors fermented, brined, soused and pickled some of the harvested vegetables. Modern pickle recipes present the tradition of the national Russian cuisine.
The concept of canning was inherent not only to the Eastern Slavs, but to many of the peoples who lived in Europe and Asia. The Russian cuisine stood out for the fact that national pickles were vinegar-free, as vegetables and fruits were fermented and soused. Moreover, no other country but Russia had the tradition of brined vegetables.There are some evidences preserved that in the territory of our state, the Slavs soured cabbage and brined cucumbers as far back as the XII century.
In the XII-XIV centuries, pickling veggies and fruit for the winter time turned into a real family celebration. As soon as a family got to making sauerkraut, all girls from the village would put on festive sundresses and get together in that particular house. They would chop cabbage and sing songs all together. In the evening, guys would come and bring gifts for the hostess and all the girls.
After completing the ritual of pickling, the hostess would offer a large cabbage pie for all her assistants. After eating it, everyone would walk around the fire and sing songs. In that way, the ancestors cajoled the nature powers so that the products were preserved for the whole winter.
Nowadays three-liter glass jars are the most common vessels for Russian pickles, whereas in the past, those were wooden barrels, tubs, earthen pots, and birch bark containers. Stored for up to several months in such traditional homemade vessels, pickles preserved their strong and hearty taste perfectly.
The recipes of modern Russian pickles were not invented every time anew. Long time ago, they were handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, until published in the Russian Domostroy, aka the Household Management Code in the era of Ivan IV the Terrible. Lots of Russian families have inherited and preserved their ancestors’ recipes, which cannot be found in any book or on the Web. These secrets make an integral part of the family heritage.
In Russian cuisine, the procedure of canning vegetables falls into four types: fermenting, brining, sousing and marinating. Each type has its major components. A similar approach has come down to us. The most typical Russian pickles are sauerkraut, brined cucumbers, pickled tomatoes, soused apples, and marinated mushrooms. Our homemade pickles are usually served as appetizers or vodka chasers.
TFD has listed other pickled Russian fruit and vegetable recipes before, including watermelon and tomatoes, but it is now time to list a recipe for the ‘ne plus ultra’ of Russian pickles – the cucumber! Having sampled the full-spectral glory of Russian pickles when I was in Moscow 2 years ago, I can personally attest to their superiority!
Now, for these cukes, first realize that this is a ‘quick pickle’ – they only ferment for a day or two (up to 5 maximum) before being refrigerated to stop the fermentation process – in American terms, they are ‘½ sours’. Second, there is no vinegar in a true Russian pickle – this is a lactic acid ferment, meaning the natural lactobacillus in the air will cause fermentation via the acetic acid production of these good bacteria.
The other things differentiating a true Russian pickle from a pretender is the fact they are very spicy (from horseradish leaves + root, chiles, pepper and garlic) and they are pickled with the leaves of certain trees high in tannic acid, which helps keep the pickle crunchy and contributes their own flavors. These leaves are traditionally oak, black currant and cherry, but I recognize these aren’t the easiest to obtain. As such, I recommend either canned/rinsed grape leaves or a seemingly strange addition – ASPIRIN.
Why, you might ask – and with good reason! No, it’s not to prevent hangovers – in olden times, aspirin was used to help pickle many ingredients when supplies were low and this recipe holds on to that tradition! Read more about it here in this article from 1942. This technique is also used in my recipe for Georgian pickled grapes.
The cukes best suited for this type of pickling are very bumpy and small – the picture gives you a good idea what they look like. Do NOT use Persian cucumbers, however, as they are spiny. The ends are traditionally cut off as the end where the fruit was attached to the vine can contain an enzyme that causes the cukes to go soft. This step is, however, optional.
Now, I know it is very difficult if not impossible to find fresh horseradish leaves – but it’s not hard at all if you grow it yourself! You can buy horseradish starter roots for growing here and instructions for growing them are here. You can substitute fresh wasabi leaves if you’re so inclined – plants can be purchased here.
Citizens, these are delicious and truly good for you, thanks to the natural probiotic nature of the pickle making. I hope you see fit to unleash your inner Russian and try these forthwith! 🙂
Battle on – the Generalissimo