Pickled cucumbers from the Oeconomia

When Rumpolt mentions pickled cucumbers in 1581, it is rather annoying he doesn’t explain how it’s done. Here is a slightly later record:

[…] But cucumbers are pickled thus: You take dill and vine leaves, or where you do not have vine leaves, you take peach leaves (Pfirschkenlaub) in its stead, together, and lay them into a cask or a pot. 1. a layer of leaves (kraut), then a layer of cucumbers, then another layer of leaves, then another layer of cucumbers, and so forth until the vessel is full. Then you add a little salt to fresh water, as though you meant to salt (absalzen) a piece of meat by the fire, and pour that same water in from above so that it covers (the cucumbers). You weight them with a stone or two, like kraut, and they turn out well in four or more days.

Another way, and better

Firstly you lay them in a cask, sprinkle or spray them with a little vinegar and let them stand overnight. The next day, place them in an oak cask , but you must first smear some sourdough on the bottom, then lay dill and anise on the bottom in one layer, and you may also take vine leaves in with them. Then lay on a layer of cucumbers and again one of herbs and then of cucmbers as before, until the cask is full. Afterward, make a brine (Saltzwasser), pour it on and weigh them down, this way they will ferment. In three or four days, they will turn out good. Some also steep the cucumbers in fresh water for a day and a night first, that draws out their graßentzen (fatness?). And they say you must not add sourdough because that makes them slimy.

How they pickle cucumbers in France

First lay in a layer of vine leaves or peach leaves or, lacking that, cherry leaves and mix thyme, pepperwort (Pfefferkraut) and a little coriander, but mostly dill. Then lay in a layer of cucumbers, nicely placed together. Then lay in another layer of herbs and a layer of cucumbers again and so forth, and pour in a brine that is neither too strong nor too weak, as though one wanted to salt (absalzen) a fish. Never let the cucumbers stand without brine, but always let them be covered or they will spoil. And weigh them down with a stone, but not too heavy.

(p. 235)

Again, this is very close to the same recipe three times. Coler writes like he is paid by the line sometimes. Still, it is an interesting recipe (including the use of sourdough and the controversy around it). I would not mind trying it out this summer.

Some more research might help clarify the strength of the brine intended. Again, we are victim to the curse of “everyone knows that”. Note that absalzen is not the same as einsalzen and the author is most likely referring to a salted cooking liquid or marinade, not a pickling brine. The reference to anise is to the fresh herb, not the seeds, and it remains unclear what exactly pfefferkraut is, though lepidium latifolium seems likely. As to what steeping the cucumbers is supposed to draw out, my guess would be bitterness, but the word graßentzen is obscure to me.

Johann Coler’s Oeconomia ruralis et domestica was a popular book on the topic of managing a wealthy household. It is based largely on previous writings by Coler and first appeared between 1596 and 1601. Repeatedly reprinted for decades, it became one of the most influential early works of Hausväterliteratur. I am working from a 1645 edition.

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