P-Cowcumbers-art - 10/24/16
"Pickled Cowcumbers (Cucumbers)" by Lady Alicia of Cambion.
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Pickled Cowcumbers (Cucumbers)
by Lady Alicia of Cambion
Greetings! Recovered from Pennsic yet? Back home at the Manor, we have finally gotten the last of the trunks put away, the last of the bedding aired out and the last of…well, most of the laundry done. It seems like every time I turn around twice, there's another pile. I didn't think I had packed that much garb! I think it is spawning when I am not looking.
In the meantime, the late summer harvests are upon us and there is much food preservation to be done! The manor gardens have been puttering along in my absence and, while the accursed squirrels seem to have gotten the better of my cucumber plants, there may yet still be enough to put up a couple batches of pickles before the season is through.
Pickling is a period means of food preservation through a highly-acidic storage environment. This keeps bacteria from growing and spoiling the food. You can pickle almost anything but for this recipe we will be pickling cucumbers, or, as you will often see them referred in period, cowcumbers.
In pickling you create a vinegar-based brine that can be flavored by adding herbs or other aromatics to it. Elinor Fettiplace has a recipe for preserving artichokes, which uses hyssop and fennel (she notes you can preserve cowcumbers this way, too). The recipe I personally use is a family recipe, but it is still very similar to the one from Hugh Plat's Delightes for Ladies:
You may take a gallon of faire water, and a pottle of veriuyce, and a pinte of bay salt, and a handfull of greene Fennell or Dill: boile it a little, and when it is cold put it into a barrell, and then put your Cowcumbers into that pickle, and you shall keepe them all the yeere. (Delightes For Ladies, Sir Hugh Plat, 1609)
A pottle is equivalent to a half gallon and "veriuyce" or verjus is the juice of tart or unripe fruits, such as crabapples or immature grapes.  If you cannot find verjus, vinegar will work as well. While both the Plat and Fettiplace recipes are just slightly out of period, they do document an existing in-period process.
To start, add 1 tablespoon of non-iodized salt directly to the containers being used to make the pickles. This could be a mason jar, a plastic deli container or any food-safe container. NOTE: If you are unsure whether a glass container is safe for boiling liquids, do not use it! Boiling liquid can shatter glass and cause serious injury. Better to wait than to hurt yourself.
Next cut up your cucumbers and place into the jar. You can cut them into rounds or spears, however you prefer. You will want to pack the cucumbers in tightly, but not so tightly that the brine and aromatics cannot circulate. Be sure to cut off the blossom end (non-stem end) of the cucumber – the blossom end contains enzymes which will soften the pickle while it is in the brine and nobody likes a floppy pickle.
I like garlic with my pickles, so at this point I will split a couple peeled garlic cloves in half and tuck them in with the cucumbers. While garlic was used as an aromatic in period, this particular recipe doesn't use it, so feel free to leave it out, if you prefer.
While Plat's 2:1 ratio of water to vinegar makes for a good brine, the large quantity that he lists makes a significantly large amount of brine, more so that you will need for a small batch of pickles. 2:1 cups of each yields enough brine for 2 1-quart containers of pickles.
Combine your 2:1 water:vinegar ratio in a saucepan. You can use white vinegar for the brine but I find apple cider vinegar to be a closer approximation of the verjus used in the original period recipe. Bring the mix to a boil, then add some roughly-chopped dill to the brine. You may also use the fennel that both Plat and Fettiplace mention, or explore with other aromatics (such as coriander or bay or mustard seed) as you see fit. Unlike the Plat recipe, do not allow the brine to cool — pour the boiling brine directly into the cucumber jars, covering the cucumbers. Cover the jar and allow it to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.
These cucumbers should marinate for about two weeks before fully infused, though that time may differ, depending on the cut and thickness of your cucumbers. You're just going to have to sample to taste readiness. I have no idea how long these will last in the refrigerator, as I have never had a batch of "preserved cowcumbers" hang around long enough after maturing – they are just that delicious!
Preserved Cowcumbers (Cucumber Pickles)
Adapted from Delightes For Ladies, Sir Hugh Plat (1609) and Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book (1604).
2 Cups Water
1 Cup Apple Cider (or other) Vinegar
2 T Kosher Salt (or so)
1/2 Cup fresh Dill, rough chopped (or other Pickling Spices)
Slice cucumbers in rounds or spears, being sure to remove the blossom end of the cucumber. Put 1T salt into each container and fill with prepared cucumbers. Pack cucumbers in tightly, but not so tight as to prevent the brine from circulating.
Combine water, vinegar and spices in a saucepan and bring to boil. Carefully pour into containers until full. Allow to sit until cooled to room temperature, then keep in refrigerator. Pickles should mature about 2 weeks.
I had to get these cucumbers from the market (accursed squirrels!).
Enjoy! Go forth and cook good food!
Do you have a cookery question you desperately need to have answered? Email Lady Alicia at ofnoimp at yahoo.com. Do you think I could pickle one of those garden-rampaging squirrels? The question really is, how does one coax them into the jar…?
 Verjus is an ingredient that shows up in medieval recipes but it is experiencing its own renaissance as contemporary chefs are rediscovering it as an ingredient and you will see it on menu descriptions in restaurants.
Copyright 2016 by Alicia Fansmith. <ofnoimp at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.