Citizens! The Viceroy of Vinegars, the Potentate of Pickling – YOUR TFD! – is excited to share with you today a simple, yet supremely delicious recipe I recently enjoyed in the Nordic region for Swedish cucumber pickles, known as smörgåsgurka!
Few things better accompany a hearty Scandinavian feast than these pickles combining sweet, sharp and hot at once! They have a delightfully different flavor profile than the classic dill half-sour pickle you’re used to – and are a necessity at any Swedish smörgåsbord, upon which I shall now expound before sharing My recipe of repute! 🙂
Smörgåsbord is a type of Scandinavian meal, originating in Sweden, served buffet-style with multiple hot and cold dishes of various foods on a table.
Smörgåsbord became internationally known at the 1939 New York World’s Fair when it was offered at the Swedish Pavilion “Three Crowns Restaurant”. It is typically a celebratory meal and guests can help themselves from a range of dishes laid out for their choice.
In a restaurant the term refers to a buffet-style table laid out with many small dishes from which, for a fixed amount of money, one is allowed to choose as many as one wishes.
In an extended sense, the word is also used today to refer to any situation which invites patrons to select whatever they wish from an abundant selection, such as the smorgasbord of university courses, books in a bookstore, etc.
A traditional Swedish smörgåsbord consists of both hot and cold dishes. Bread, butter, and cheese are always part of the smörgåsbord. It is customary to begin with the cold fish dishes which are generally various forms of herring, salmon, and eel.
After eating the first portion, people usually continue with the second course (other cold dishes), and round off with hot dishes. Dessert may or may not be included in a smörgåsbord.
The Swedish word smörgåsbord consists of the words smörgås (‘sandwich’, usually open-faced) and bord (‘table’). Smörgås in turn consists of the words smör (‘butter’, cognate with English smear) and gås (literally ‘goose’, but later referred to the small pieces of butter that formed and floated to the surface of cream while it was churned).
The small butter pieces were just the right size to be placed and flattened out on bread, so smörgås came to mean “buttered bread”. In Sweden, the term att bre(da) smörgåsar (“to spread butter on open-faced sandwiches”) has been used since at least the 16th century.
In English the word smorgasbord refers loosely to any buffet with a variety of dishes — not necessarily with any connection to Swedish Christmas traditions. In Sweden, smörgåsbord instead refers to a buffet consisting mainly of traditional dishes.
From an historical perspective, the members of the Swedish merchant and upper class in sixteenth-century Sweden and Finland served schnapps table (brännvinsbord), a small buffet presented on a side table offering a variety of hors d’oeuvres served prior to a meal before sitting at the dinner table.
The most simple brännvinsbord was bread, butter, cheese, herring and several types of liqueurs; but smoked salmon, sausages and cold cuts were also served.
The brännvinsbord was served as an appetizer for a gathering of people and eaten while standing before a dinner or supper, often two to five hours before dinner, sometimes with the men and women in separate rooms.
The smörgåsbord became popular in the mid-seventeenth century, when the food moved from the side table to the main table and service began containing both warm and cold dishes. Smörgåsbord was also served as an appetizer in hotels and later at railway stations, before the dining cars time for the guests.
During the 1912 Olympic Games, restaurants in Stockholm stopped serving smörgåsbord as an appetizer and started serving them instead as a main course. Since March 2020, many smörgåsbords were suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as there are restaurants offering take-away or delivery though that is now finally changing!
The history of pickling cucumbers is quite ancient indeed, as noted in this excerpted article I found on atlasobscura.com:
Cucumbers reportedly experienced their first dip in the brine in 2030 BC, according to PBS’ The History Kitchen. They are believed to have come from India, though the name of the process came from either the Dutch or German words for “salt” or “brine.”
These days we eat pickles because we like them, but in the pre-refrigeration days, pickling was an essential way to preserve food for storage. The process is closely associated with Jewish food due pickled foods being used by Eastern European Jews to get flavorful food during the cold winter months. (They sure beat bread and potatoes.)
These days, pickles have become less necessary and more novel.
They have plenty of reason to exist, of course. For one thing, pickles are one of the most calorie-light foods that you can buy in the store. A single dill pickle spear has just four calories—something largely due to the fact that cucumbers are generally considered to be incredibly low-calorie.
The brine doesn’t add any calories, but it does add a lot of sodium, which makes it a bit of a wash as a healthy nutrition source. (On the other hand, some athletic trainers swear by pickle juice as a way to prevent cramps, so it has that going for it.)
My smörgåsgurka follow the classic Swedish pickling ratio of 3-2-1 – 3 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of pickling vinegar – but being TFD, authenticity is critical to Me and all of TFD Nation! As such, I call for the TRUE pickling vinegar of Sweden, not the easiest-to-find in this country but absolutely vital to achieving the right flavor profile.
Thankfully, you can purchase the correct vinegar to make smörgåsgurka at eBay here – be advised, it is sold at 24% strength, whereas you need 12% strength for this recipe.
All this means is you are basically buying a vinegar concentrate that will actually go twice as far – just remember to dilute it by ½ before using it in My smörgåsgurka recipe!
You will also need so-called ‘Dill Crowns’ for smörgåsgurka, which are the flowering heads of dill plants – either grow your own, ask your local grocer to start stocking them or purchase them in season from here. Failing availability, you can effectively substitute dill fronds with some lightly-crushed dill seeds for an equivalent flavor.
Please do follow My counsel and use only white peppercorns in smörgåsgurka, as the Swedes do – their flavor is more refined and ‘Scandinavian’ than black peppercorns and top-quality peppercorns are easily purchased from here.
Citizens, this smörgåsgurka recipe is basically foolproof and one that I guarantee you and your family will enjoy on anything from a hamburger to just eating straight from the jar – enjoy!
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