senfgurken: vengeance will be mine!

Senfgurken, mustardy pickled cucumbers popular in Germany, are warriors in the battle of the summer squash.  Vengeance will be mine!

We all know the war — summer squash vs. you.  One day, you’re harvesting tiny cucumbers and zucchini, some even with their blossoms still on the fruit.  You look carefully every day or so, removing the young, tender squash from their vines.

But lurking under the trap doors, hidden down in the tangle of vines just out of reach, is a terrible creature biding its time until it can swell up and take over the garden: a monster zucchini or a yellowing, bloated, misshapen cucumber.

Overgrown zucchini can be used for quick bread, of course, but I’ve always felt slightly ashamed of the bloated cucumbers.  After all, what could I do with them?  Discarded, they are sending the wrong message to the rest of the plants, that one can escape the gardener’s scythe if one just hides long enough.  And then, if composted juuuuuuuust right (i.e., not correctly) your seeds will germinate and you will live again, muwahahahahahahh!

This vegetable revolt went unchecked in my garden until I discovered senfgurken, which magically transforms the yellowing cukes into mustard-spicy sweet pickles similar to watermelon rind pickles.  Indeed, they are less work than watermelon rind pickles, too, and you don’t have to collect a bunch of sticky, hard-to-peel rinds.

This year, I grew quite a few cornichons, which immediately slipped beyond my control.  Cornichons, tiny french cucumbers, do not fare well when let go:

Senfgurken time.

Use very yellow, very bloated, horrible-tasting, late summer cucumbers for this recipe.  My cornichons didn’t yellow beyond this point, but the pickling cucumbers did.  Any yellow-bellied cur of a slicing cucumber will be a marvelous martyr on the battlefield.

Oh, and the seeds?  Save them for planting next year, so the war can continue.  And then you won’t have to fund it with money for schools or public programs!

Senfgurken Mustard Pickles

(Adapted from several recipes, including Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling)

Makes 8-9 half-pints or 4 pints

  • 5 lbs. large yellowed (overripe) cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 3 cups cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spices, separated into two equal piles
  • 2 tablespoons white mustard seeds, separated into two equal piles

Peel cucumbers, halve, and scoop out the seeds (save for next year’s planting). Cut into strips about an inch wide, and cut the largest pieces in half.  Salt slices, and soak overnight on the counter (or for 8-12 hours) until the cucumbers are pliable.

Drain the cucumber slices, but do not rinse.  Bring your water bath canner up to a boil and prepare your jars, lids and rings.  Since you will be boiling them for 10 minutes, you do not need to sterilize the jars, but do wash well.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, and half of the mustard and pickling spices in a medium-sized pot, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, then add about half of the cucumbers to the brine.  Let simmer for one minute.  Then remove the slices with a slotted spoon and place in the jars with the aid of a wide-mouthed canning funnel.  Once all the cucumbers are in the jars, fill to 1/2 inch from the top with the hot brine, including as many of the spices as you can.  Remove air bubbles in each jar with a plastic knife or chopstick, packing the slices down well, and rearrange any slices floating with their tails pointed upward and well out of the brine.  Wipe jar mouths and adjust lids and rings.

Add the remaining spices to the leftover brine, then bring to a boil again and repeat procedure with the rest of the cucumbers.

Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  (Linda Ziedrich suggests low-temperature pasteurization for 30 minutes at 180 to 185 degrees as an alternative to boiling.)

Once cool, check the seal on the jars and refrigerate any that did not seal.  Remove the rings and keep jars in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks before eating your pickles.

Serve with ham or other cured meats, pork roast, sausage, or cheddar cheese.


24 thoughts on “senfgurken: vengeance will be mine!

  1. rcakewalk 13 September 2010 / 11:36 am

    I have a couple such culprits… may have to try this, even though I truly do not really need anymore pickles this year!


  2. Pingback: Culinaria Eugenius
  3. Lorelei Schnabler 23 February 2012 / 11:49 am

    I am wondering if green cucumbers would work just as well. What do you think?


  4. Eugenia 23 February 2012 / 11:52 am

    @Lorelei, do you mean green cucumbers that aren’t overripe and yellowed? Fresh greens don’t work with this recipe, but there are plenty of other sweet-sour pickle recipes to try. Check the Ball Blue Book.


  5. RiRi 21 July 2012 / 8:37 am

    I found this page as I had to Google senfgurken when a friend posted she was canning some. Thank you for the laugh! Your writing is very clever.


  6. Tracy 8 July 2016 / 6:31 pm

    Can white vinegar be used in place of apple cider vinegar?


  7. JBB 9 July 2016 / 6:20 am

    Sure, Tracy. The flavor won’t be as good, though. Just make sure it is at least 5% acidity for canning.


  8. Felicitas Loranger 23 July 2016 / 10:00 am

    Here goes nothing. Just put my very first ever badge in the water bath.Sure hope they will not be mushy !!


  9. JWal 1 August 2016 / 6:28 pm

    So when you say soak overnight, does that mean you are adding water to the salted cucumber slices? or just letting them sit. And also – should you cover them?


  10. JBB 1 August 2016 / 9:16 pm

    @JWAL, no water. The cucumbers will release a lot of liquid. You can cover with a towel to keep out fruit flies, or plastic wrap.


  11. JWal 2 August 2016 / 6:04 pm

    Thanks for the quick reply! Sadly, I added water last night not knowing… oh well… was going to can them tonight. Guess I will start over with a new batch…


  12. JBB 2 August 2016 / 7:26 pm

    Just try it and see, @JWAL. You can always discard them later.


  13. Christine Barrington 2 September 2016 / 10:06 am

    You are so incredibly funny! Thank you from my heart, as I have quite a few monsters calling my name as I write.


  14. jack kanzenbach 20 September 2016 / 5:57 pm

    I remember the neighbor lady making these when I was a kid I could not remember what they were called but when I found this page I did remember she just called them gurkens and I love them but nobody in my family remember the recipe, my parents are gone and so is she. I can’t wait to make some & try them! THANK YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. JWH 3 August 2017 / 7:36 am

    Good Info, just what I was looking for, before I tossed out the big yellow cukes.
    Options are good. Tossing out is bad.

    What is the status of the seeds in yellow cakes? better or worse? Are these seeds worth saving?


  16. culinariaeugenious 3 August 2017 / 8:36 am

    Save for seed, if it’s not a hybrid, which won’t breed true.



  17. Shirl 17 May 2018 / 11:17 am

    Can I use black whole mustard instead of white seed?


  18. JBB 17 May 2018 / 11:36 am

    Hi Shirl, try it! The only risks I see are that the black seed might color the pickling liquid and that black seeds are more pungent. Maybe try a batch with half and half.


  19. Narda Weber 18 July 2018 / 8:24 am

    Can I just put the spices right in the jars, before adding the brine? Seems like it would be more evenly distributed.


  20. Nicole 14 August 2019 / 3:49 pm

    Made these last year and just opened first jar. They are a bit discolored but smell fine other than that. Opened(good seals on both) another jar and same thing. Is this normal? Really don’t want to poison the family.


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