8grapevine leaves (optional)2 kgsmall cucumbers (about 8-10cm each)Leavesfrom 4 celery stalks (optional)1onion, thinly sliced150 gmfresh horseradish, coarsely chopped, plus extra slices to infuse (optional)1 cup (loosely packed)tarragon, plus extra sprigs to infuse (optional)50 gm (¼ cup)yellow mustard seeds, plus extra to infuse125 gm (½ cup)fine sea salt
Lay half the grapevine leaves in a 3-litre sterilised jar or non-reactive container. Top with cucumbers, celery leaves, onion, horseradish, tarragon and mustard seeds, then top with remaining grapevine leaves. Stir salt and 500ml water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until dissolved, add 1.4 litres cold water and stir to combine, then pour over cucumbers to cover. Pour some of the remaining brine into a Ziploc bag, seal tightly and place on top of cucumbers to keep them submerged in the brine. Store in a warm place (about 22-25C) to ferment (2-3 weeks); by day 3 the liquid should be bubbling, and after 2-3 weeks the bubbling should have stopped and the cucumbers should be olive-green.
Drain brine into a large saucepan (reserve cucumbers) and bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low-medium and simmer, occasionally skimming scum from the surface, for 5 minutes. Pack cucumbers into sterilised jars and add extra horseradish, tarragon and mustard seeds to taste. Strain brine over to cover cucumbers, then seal jars and place in a stockpot lined with a tea towel. Add cold water to cover jars completely, bring to the boil and boil for 10-15 minutes. Leave jars in water to cool, then remove and store in a cool, dark place. Tarragon cucumber pickles will keep for a year.
This recipe is from the May 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.
These pickles are soured not by vinegar but by the lactic acid produced through fermentation, which gives them a wonderful earthiness. They are great with roast lamb or pork, or in a juicy hamburger. The grapevine leaves keep the cucumbers firm, but they can be omitted if you have trouble finding them. Boiling the brine and heating the pickles in their jars (step 2) makes them shelf-stable at room temperature, so you can store them in a pantry. Alternatively, if you have room in the fridge, you can omit this step and refrigerate the pickles for four months. You'll need to begin this recipe three weeks ahead.