The quality of pickles – a brief primer

There are remarkable differences in the taste, texture, mouthfeel, and flavor of pickles available in supermarkets here and in Germany. Here are some of the factors that determine the “quality” of pickled cucumbers and other vegetables.

Shape

The right shape (not too crooked and gourdy looking) is important for appetizing cucumbers (Cucumis Sativa). But entire harvests can produce misshapen varieties caused by a lack of pollinating insects of too little or too much moisture. With too few insects transferring the pollen from the male to female cucumber plants, some plants may bloom, but don’t bear fruits (i.e. cucumbers)

Bitterness

Great cucumbers taste just right, not too bitter or bland, Bitterness can be caused by high temperatures, low moisture, and low fertility or foliage disease. Bitterness is also associated with fruit harvested late in the season from unhealthy, poor-yielding plants.

Type

Quality pickles are made from well-shaped and good tasting pickling cucumber (in German EinlegegurkeThese are shorter and sturdier than slicing cucumbers (for salads, in German Salatgurken). Gherkins (West Indian or Burr cucumbers) are from the pickling type, just more spiny and smaller. They require less space to plant.

Plant Pests and Diseases

Anything from airborne fungi, insect pests like root-knot nematodes, squash vine borers, soil-borne diseases, like Pythium or plant attacking diseases such as anthracnose, or gummy stem blight, can affect the quality of the harvest or taste and shape of pickled cucumbers.

 The pickling process

Pickling cucumbers (in German Konservierung) is done in three different ways: pickling cucumbers are fermented in lactic acid (Salzgurke) or in vinegar and spice brine (Gewürzgurken. In German, the brine is called Lake). Sometimes, slicing cucumbers are also pickled and then called Senfgurke. The best pickles are Gewürzgurken made from white wine vinegar and selected species and herbs.

 A bit of history on the word cucumber

The wild form of cucumbers originated in India and the plant became known in Central Europe and Germany in the 16th century. The English word cucumber stems from the Latin name Cucumis, while the German word “Gurke” stems from the Polish word ogurek.

Sources:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/vegetables/cucumber.html

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurke

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