No Big Dill – the humble pickle

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No Big Dill – the humble pickle

Are pickled cucumbers part of everyday life in your house?

There’s always at least one jar of cucumbers on the go in my fridge -often more than one of the same type, which is SO annoying. Why do Gen Z-ers do that?

But it’s not just pickles now. When I make a tuna or egg roll for my packed lunch, which are an art form by the way, I deem it incomplete without added capers, sliced olives and jalapenos. I love the saltiness, the spiciness and the contrast it gives to the main filling. On a Friday night, there’s always a jar of Mrs Elswoods on the table, one of its many qualities being that it counts as one of your five-a-day. (I do occasionally buy a can of Beit Hashita, but my son and I are the only ones that eat them and they don’t come in a jar, so I invariably scoff too many, resulting in a sorry repercussion of their unfortunate name).

If you were asked to name the nation’s most famous pickle, you would be correct in saying it’s Mrs Elswood. They are stocked in all UK supermarkets, with six jars being sold every minute. They are – and have always been – KLBD certified and are sold whole, in spears or in sandwich slices. Mrs Elswood doesn’t only make cucumbers, but also pickles beetroots and onions. Alas though, there is no actual Mrs Elswood. The name is a combination of the two areas where the founders grew up – Elstree and St John’s Wood.

There are some seriously strong contenders to Mrs Elswood in this country now. Nick Vadasz, founder and owner of the Vadasz pickle empire, told me that after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, the Vadasz family fled their native country and eventually made their home in Kent, where Nick was born. The story goes that all they took was the family silver and a jar of pickles to sustain them on their journey to Austria. Nick started off with a pickle stall at Brockley market and has grown his business to now supplying Waitrose, M & S and Co-op. I had a tasting session with my 21-year-old son, Ethan. We put veggie sausages in pitta bread and filled the rest of the pouch with raw kimchi, super-beet kimchi, garlic and dill pickles, sauerkraut and red onion pickles. We munched and crunched with my previously kimchi-loving son choosing the sauerkraut as his favourite. I told Nick that he’d done the impossible of making sauerkraut sexy and said he could use that line. We loved them all, but to be honest our breath was not great afterwards.

Nick had talked about the importance of food – in this case pickles – to a family’s culture and My New York pickle correspondent, Seth Kamil, cofounder of Big Onion Walking Tours reiterated this theory, stating that the Lower East Side is the heart of the historic Jewish pickle neighbourhood. The Pickle Guys is the last remaining pickle store on Essex Street, which used to be home to loads of them. Here they sell pickles the old fashioned way – in barrels (plastic as they are more sanitary than wood) – and you purchase them by the container (different sizes). The place is a veritable haven of pickle delight.

I’ve been looking for a new hobby for a while and have struggled to find something that I’m genuinely interested in that doesn’t result in weight gain or a headache the next morning. Pickling seemed as good an idea as any and I turned to food writer and shadchan Denise Phillips. She promptly sent me an easy recipe and asked if I knew anyone single aged 30 – 40 who would like to join her Date on a Plate that Sunday evening. I didn’t but had instant FOMO (for the food, obviously). Denise says that Sephardis like their pickles salty and sharp, while. Ashkenazis prefer them sweeter and crunchy. But as is so often the case with Jews, there are so ,any opinions- some like them sweet and sour, or dill, or new green.. then there’s garlic, sweet, slices, whole pickles, spears, chunks, crunchy, soft, hot or mild. The best thing about them, according to Denise, is that they go with everything from salt beef and schnitzel to cream cheese and roast chicken.

Denise’s recipe was really easy to follow – no big dill. (Be thankful I didn’t do the full spiel about how we’ve been gherkin from home during the pandemic.) For the want of something else to put them in, once boiled I deposited my slices of pickled cucumber along with the rest of the ingredients into a Mrs Elswood jar and put it on the table on Friday night. “Ooh, these ones are crunchy,” stated my daughter, which is as near as one gets to a compliment in this house.

RECIPE: Quick Pickled Cucumbers

By Denise Phillips

1 large 30cm / 12 inch unpeeled cucumber – or 2 smaller

2 cloves garlic – peeled and sliced

340ml cider or white wine vinegar

120ml cold water

3 tablespoons sugar

5 bay leaves – fresh or dry

2 teaspoons salt

10 whole black peppercorns


1)         Wipe the sides of the cucumbers with a damp cloth.

2)         Cut into ½ cm / ¼ inch slices.

3)         Boil together the vinegar, salt, water, sugar and peppercorns and simmer for 2 minutes or until the sugar had dissolved.

4)         Allow this liquor to cool. Add the sliced garlic and bay leaves.

5)         Pour the cooled liquid over the cucumbers and place in a two-litre / eight-cup sterilised jar.

6)         Leave in the refrigerator for 2 days before using and serve at room temperature.

Variation: Pickle sliced baby carrots, radishes, and sliced fennel. Add 1 tablespoon of capers to the pickling liquor and garnish with sprigs of coriander.

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