When I think of summers at my grandparents’ house, the predominant food memory is of strawberries, but a close second is the fresh-pickled cucumbers my aunt made almost every day: my beloved gurka. The recipe for these marinated cukes is so simple, but so good– slice cucumbers into a very basic brine with as much fresh dill as you can pack into the bowl and you have a flavorful way to keep up with your summer garden bounty. Growing up, we had a never-empty container of gurka in the fridge; as new cucumbers were picked, they would be peeled, sliced and added to the bowl. Over time, the water from the cukes diluted the brine enough that it needed additional vinegar; once a week or so, a new batch would be started. The day after the fresh batch was always my favorite. I often worried that I was eating more than my fair share. When I make gurka now, the smell that wafts up as I take the lid off the container of a fresh batch is better than a time machine; I am thirteen years old, sitting around the table with my grandparents, aunt and various cousins, eating lunch before heading back to the strawberry field.
I swear I could make a meal of just gurka! Piled onto fresh Swedish rye with a smear of butter or cream cheese, it’s about the best summer lunch I can think of. It’s great alongside chicken, boiled potatoes, egg salad sandwiches, shrimp salad, burgers, cottage cheese with tomato– I really can’t think of something I *wouldn’t* eat with gurka. I love the simplicity of my aunt’s recipe, but you can customize it as you please. Sometimes celery seed or sliced onion is added to the brine, lemon juice can be substituted for some or all of the vinegar, and white or white wine vinegar can be used instead of apple cider vinegar, my favorite. Don’t take out the sugar– it won’t be the same– but do try subbing in some honey, preferably a local honey.
It is exciting to share such a beloved family recipe with you– my hope is that it will remind you of one of your own special food traditions, or that it will be a dish you make and share with your own loved ones. Enjoy!
Gurka (Swedish Marinated Cucumbers)
- 2 large or 4 small cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin
- 1 tsp. salt
- freshly ground black pepper, or 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
- 1/4 – 1/3 c. sugar*
- 1 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 c. water
- a large bunch of fresh dill
Place the sliced cucumbers in a large bowl with a snug-fitting lid; sprinkle with salt, pepper & sugar. Pour the vinegar over the top and then the water; add the dill to the bowl. Cover the bowl tightly and shake to combine. Remove the lid and taste to adjust seasoning; truthfully, it’s a good idea to wait a few hours or overnight to do so, as the water coming out of the cucumbers can adjust the seasoning for you. Use as you would other pickles. Gurka should keep in the fridge for up to 10 days.
*If your cucumbers are at all bitter, you may need the greater amount of sugar; otherwise, 1/4 c. almost always suffices.