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Homemade Hungarian Pickles

August 5, 2011

Imagine you are a freelancer, running to a business meeting, just able to squeeze through the door in the last second and all you got as excuse is “I had to pickle cucumbers!”

Pretty lame, he? But oh so true.

Having sown heaps of gherkins ‘Vorgebirgstrauben’ this year, I simply do not know where to put them all. Cucumis sativus ‘Vorgebirgstrauben’  is listed sometimes as cucumber, sometimes as gherkin (the difference between the two, anyone?!?). The Net is straight forward on how to use them: pickle, pickle, pickle. – Having never done that it took me a while and one and a half friends from Eastern Europe to find the method I like best:

Hungarian Pickled Cucumbers

The hight of summer is apparently called in Hungarian uborkaszezon – cucumber season. People put kovászos uborka – summer cucumbers for pickling – in a jar outside in the sun and wait for the magic to happen…lactic acid fermentation

  • 1 jar large enough to fit the cucumbers you’d like to pickle
  • cucumbers/gherkins for pickling (smallish&often with rough skin – 4-10cm/1,5-2,5 inches long)
  • water
  • salt
  • herbs and spices
  • one slice of bread

Sterilize jars in boiling water.  Take out. Let dry and cool. Cut each cucumber from the top in half, stopping short before the end. Do the same from the bottom, this time 90 degrees to your first cut. You got now a gherkin split twice but still intact. The herbs and spices infuse this way better. No time? The recipe works ok without cutting.

Bring fresh water to boil. Stir and add salt until it does not dissolve any more. Now the water is saturated with salt. Let cool.
Stack your spices, herbs and cucumbers in to the jars.

Start with leaves such as dill, cilantro/coriander/bay leaf/borage or vine leaves.
Put in the cucumbers, depending on size they can stand upright or lie.
Add spices such as garlic cloves, chilli pods, large chunks of onion, peppercorn, mustard seed or for the more adventurous ones even clove, anis or cardamom.
Top of with one more layer of leaves or thick slices of onion.

Make sure nothing sticks out of the jar. After the salt water has fully cooled down, pour it over the cucumbers, filling the jar entirely. With a clean spoon, squeeze all contents well under water.

Almost done. curtains up for: The Eastern European part.
Add a slice of bread on top of your last layer. It can be dark of white bread – my friends started fighting about this. But: it must definitely be sourdough or yeast bread.- The Hungarian word kovászos uborka  for summer gherkins originates from Hungarian Kovász for sourdough – cucumbers preserved not with heat and vinegar, but with a mild lactic acid fermentation, ready to eat in as soon as a week.

Place the jar on your window seal or another warm spot. Best put a plate underneath, during fermentation the liquid spills quite a lot.

Do not twist on the lids. The jars might explode. You can loosely place them on top, but I prefer to ‘seal’ my jars: Throughout fermentation process place a small muesli bowl on top of your jar. It should press down the bread make sure all stays under water. Add a weight in the bowl for stronger pressure if needed.

The liquid will turn from clear to milky. That’s normal and a good thing. After fermentation the pickles should last 4-6 weeks in the fridge. But: we are eating them much faster than that!


You can use left over liquid as a super-delicious salad-sauce if you like. Ah! Next year again in my garden!

(You figured already I love cooking but do not post recipes to often…I did share however some cookies and Mozartkugel tricks as well as some Indian-German Cuisine recipe sharing cook-off I had in Assam.

Do you actually prefer to look at images, check out the food photography section in my stills portfolio.)

PS. As you can see in the images: this recipe works with all slightly harder vegetables. Courgettes/zucchini/squash/beans/pumpkin…Famously Kimchi and Sauerkraut are made following the same principles.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2012 21:05

    I am going to Budapest in July and I would like to sample traditional pickles. I’m going to Nagy Vasarcsarnok. What would you recommend? Will I find your pickles there? Please email me at aitkenhb@gmail.com. I’m also a freelance writer and want to do a piece on pickles. Any suggestions or perhaps someone I could meet there? Thank you. Helen Aitken

    • June 19, 2012 00:35

      Hey Helen, and thank you for your comment. I mailed you.
      Cheers, Sanne

  2. Remy Sage permalink
    October 20, 2012 01:27

    Thank you for the lowdown on Hungarian Pickles. Having been born in that region (& also a DP) and growing up with these tasty pickles my dad made many years ago, I have bought gherkin seeds and will pickle them when grown. My dad also put bread on top. Simply cool, juicy & delicious for those hot summer days. Great with schnizl, sausages or cold cuts and some crusty bread and glass of beer or wine. Ah, memories resurrected – the good old days. Love cooking, baking & pickling. regards Remy at remysage@hotmail.com

    • October 21, 2012 14:23

      Heya Remy, thanks for your message!
      Youc childhood with a cooking dad sounds fun! My father was a master-chef too!
      Do you live in the southern hemisphere? We here in Europe sadly will have to wait for a long 6 month now until we can think again about sawing and planting…
      Envious on your spring days but enjoying today a very golden October day is
      Sanne

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