How to pickle Cowcumbers, The whole body of cookery dissected; Rabisha, 1661
|How to pickle Cowcumbers, The whole body of cookery dissected; Rabisha, 1661|
The author begins his book in a most humble fashion:
MAny reasons have at last induced me to present the world with this small Tract of my many years study and practice in the Art and Mysterie of Cookery.
Secondly, It hath been the practice of most of the ingenuous men of all Arts and Sciences, to hold forth to Posterity, what light or knowledge they understood to be obscure in their said Art: And the wisest of Philosphers, learned and pious men of old, have highly extolled these principles, who went not out like the snuff of a candle, but have left their Volumes to after-ages, to be their School-master in what they have a mind to practise, which calls back time, and gives life to the dead.
Yet there is an evil amongst most men, when they have learned themselves by other mens light, they would extinguish that light, that none might follow them; and so men monopolize all knowledge therein to themselves, and condemn all those that are a guide and light to the ignorant; there is none other but such will condemn me in what I have done.
I have a confession to make, when attempting to work out vague instructions in earlier books, I often find myself referring to books that are printed just out of period to try to develop an idea of what the flavorings may have been in our period. I have found that the instructions are a little bit more complete and this recipe for a pickled cucumber is no exception. The instructions on the preparation of your cucumbers, and the quantity of the seasonings is very complete. What was surprising was the method used in creating your pickled cucumber. The pickles are first brined and then some of the water is removed and replaced with white wine vinegar. The result is a taste explosion in your mouth; floral from the cucumber, sharp from the vinegar and then the spices; first dill, pepper, and mace, and lastly bay and clove. It is delicious and a must try for anyone who enjoys pickles.
You are first instructed to take your smallest cucumbers "after Bartholmew-tyde". Bartholmew-tyde is August 24th and celebrates the festival of St Bartholomew - patron saint of tanners, plasterers, tailors, leatherworkers, bookbinders, farmers, housepainters, butchers, and glove makers. He is one of the 12 Apostles, and was either decapitated or skinned alive, the stories very. The recipe gives us an idea of when to prepare the pickle. Curious, I researched when cucumbers were in season, specifically in England. I discovered that they are available March through October, but they are at their best in the months of April through September. In preparing pickled cucumbers after the middle August, cucumbers were being pickled when they were at their best, and before the season ended.
It is also interesting to note that the seasonings that are used in the preparation of this recipe; salt, bay leaves, dill leaves, pepper, mace, and cloves, are antibacterial. Cucumbers are layered in a pot or firkin with layers of Bay leaves and dill before a cooled solution of water infused with enough salt to bear an egg and dill as an option are poured over them.
What this recipe seems to lack is an acid. Further research pointed me to something I had discarded in my original attempt at this recipe because I did not understand the purpose of the instructions. Specifically, you are advised to "dip a cloth in beer, and rub them (cucumbers) clean from the dirt". Alcohol, in this case beer, acts as a preservative for the vegetables -- but only if -- the acidity of the alcohol is at least 5%. At less than 5% acidity the opportunity for sugars in the alcohol and bacteria to interact is higher which could lead to illness.Pickling is a method of preserving fruits and vegetables by adding acid which transforms the flavor. There are two ways acid can be added to vegetables. The first and the one most people would think of when you say pickle is the introduction of a vinegar based brine.
Heavily salted water (for each cup of water use 3 tbsp. of kosher salt-this will float an egg)