Thursday, February 4, 2010

More Salt, Less Salt? Horseradish or Currant Leaves? The Quest for the Perfect Pickle

What makes a great Ukrainian pickle?  It's complicated--and different for every family.  Irina Leonenko was good enough to share her mother's quest for the perfect pickle.  Here's her family story.
I asked my mom and dad, "I have a serious question for you! What does pickle mean to you?"  My mom said it's the beginning of fall and winter times; it's a tradition in our family, all our grandmother had their own recipes for pickles, but my dad likes my mom's recipe best.

In fact there is a "pickle" story in our family. My dad loved his mother's pickles and for many years my mom tried to learn the recipe from her mother-in-law but they never turned out the way my dad liked. My mom tried everything: black currant leaves;  garlic before boiling water and after boiling water; less salt, more salt;  horse radish, and simply horse radish leaves; she even used to send me and my brother in early September to find cherry trees in the area and pick some leaves. We also had to always go to the market in fall to buy dried dill and dried horseradish leaves from an old babushka (for whom it was the main product to sell in September). 
After many years, my mom spoke to somebody in her office and is sure she found the "secret ingredient" that was missing in her mother-in-law's recipe. Even today my mom still believes my grandmother (her mother-in-law) did that on purpose because she wanted her pickles taste better and she wanted to please her son (my dad).

My mom's pickles before turned out to be soft, but now they are crispy and have the right balance of salt and necessary herbs that pickles require. My mom never uses vinegar, not anyone in our family used vinegar for pickles. That's why we never buy Supermarket pickles, because they have a strong taste of vinegar (quick and cheap), just like Greeks would never eat canned olives, instead they first dry them in the sun and then marinate for a long time in good olive oil. 
My dad had nothing to add to the pickle story, he simply can't live without them, especially in winter. By now, my mom by knows exactly how many 3 liter  jars of pickles she has to have per winter for only my dad.

So, this is our family pickle story.  I think Ukrainians never really think what pickles mean for us. We simply grow up with them.  They are present even at the wedding tables and nobody ever thinks that there won't be any.  Another thing, at any party, if there is Vodka there is definitely a Pickle. 
And, Irina added, "My mom is a modern Ukrainian woman, but still doing pickles, so that's also good!"   We want to hear your stories about traditional Ukrainian pickles and other foods in Ukraine or around the world.  Send us pictures, stories or questions.

Photos:  Gala Leonenko making pickles, fall, 2009.  By Irina Leonenko


  1. I am intrigued by your mother's persistence to the perfect pickle. What was that "secret" ingredient she used as suggested by her co-worker?

    mrhoagie in Ohio, USA

  2. PLEASE share the recipe