A low, sprawling annual plant, the nasturtium can enliven your salads all summer with its tender, round leaves and orange edible flowers. But don’t forget to pick the seeds. If they’re already brown, save them to plant next year. If they’re still green, plunk them into vinegar, so you can enjoy them in sauces and salads all winter. Pickled nasturtium seeds (or pods, or buds, as they are variously called) taste much like pickled capers, but they’re crunchier and a little peppery. As Euell Gibbons said, “Nasturtium buds make better capers than capers do.”
This year I had just a single pot of nasturtiums, and they were plagued by aphids both in spring and in late summer. But the plants flowered and produced seeds, and when I walked by the pot I’d pick the fat green ones. In The Joy of Pickling, I provide a variant of Eliza Smith’s rather complex recipe for pickled nasturtium pods, from her 1727 cookbook The Compleat Housewife. This year I decided to do something simpler: In early July, I combined 1/2 cup cider vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small jar, and stirred to dissolve the salt. I covered the jar tightly and set it on a cupboard shelf. And then I added nasturtium pods, a few at a time over the next three months, until aphids and cold weather did in the plants.
That’s all you need for pickling nasturtium pods: vinegar and a little salt. Refrigeration isn’t necessary. If I don’t eat them all sooner, my pickled nasturtium pods will last in the cupboard until next summer, when the nasturtiums will be blooming again.
My new favorite pickling cucumber has a name that’s a mouthful: ‘Vorgebirgstrauben’. It’s a European type, with abundant little prickles instead of scanty warts. This cucumber is thicker than skinny French cornichon types, but unlike most American pickling cucumbers it doesn’t tend to bloat; it makes an attractive pickle at any length from one inch to five inches. Although the fruits from my plants have been slightly bitter, the bitterness is lost in pickling, and the mostly dark green color is retained. The plants are very productive and, in comparison with the other varieties I planted this year, disease-resistant.
I bought Vorgebirgstrauben seeds from Harvest Moon Seed Company. I hope other U.S. seed companies will begin stocking this outstanding variety.
Here are cucumbers that have been in their brine for one day (left) and about one week (right). You can see that, in the jar on the right, the colors have changed and the brine has gotten cloudy. This is just what is supposed to happen. Fermentation is well under way.
In the past couple of weeks two people have told me that they never see little bubbles rising in their containers of fermenting cucumbers. Usually bubbles start appearing after three or four days of brining. I explained that the bubbles may be hard to see because they’re very small. Their movement is most noticeable if the pickles are in a clear glass jar and the jar is moved. The bubbles are usually easy to see at the top of the brine, where they collect. If the brine spills over the top of the jar, you know it’s because gas has bubbled up inside and expanded the volume of the brine.
In the picture above, the cucumbers have been brining for about four days. You can see the bubbles at the top of the brine and a little further down in the gallon jar, just above the point where the jar begins narrowing.
Notice that I’m not using a plastic brine bag to hold down the cucumbers; instead I’ve laid the biggest cucumbers crosswise across the top to hold down the rest. Some of the dry spices are floating; that’s okay. But the brine is pushing grapes leaves too close to the surface, where they might attract the wrong microbes. After taking this picture, I tucked the grape leaves down around the cucumbers.
Approximately a day after I took this picture, a yeast scum began forming at the top of the jar. The yeast isn’t essential to the brining process, but it’s a sign that all is well. I skim off the scum when it gets heavy.