6-11-15: For whatever reason, this is one of my most popular posts. I think it’s because so many people search on Ballymaloe House and the cooking school. The recipe is fantastic. I keep a tub of these pickles in the refrigerator most of the time. I found small Persian cucumbers on sale this week and am going to make more today. See below. Note that Myrtle Allen is now well past 90 years of age.
POSTED MAY 7, 2012:
On a drive along the south coast of Ireland to Ballymaloe House in April, there were many stops at designated scenic viewing spots as well as stops where there was just a wide place in the road. March/April is the time when the gorse blooms all over Ireland, and sometimes it’s just a few bushes along side the road, and sometimes it’s an entire field or hillside. Here it was blooms overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, which you can see peaking through the top of the flowers. It was a cloudy day.
Arriving at Ballymaloe House a little while after taking this photo, I promptly ordered a pot of tea and a ham and cheese sandwich–something to tide me over until dinner. Could they serve it in the drawing room? Of course! At Ballymaloe House, you can get pretty much whatever you want, wherever you want it! What came from the kitchen was a slice of brown bread, slathered with butter and topped with a thick slice of local free range ham and local farmhouse cheddar cheese. There was also a leaf of lettuce which I’m sure was from the home gardens at Kinoith Farm, where Tim and Darina Allen live and where the Ballymaloe Cookery School is located. Accompanying the sandwich were two little dishes–one containing the now famous Ballymaloe country relish and the other thinly sliced cucumbers. I tried the cucumbers first and what a surprise! Lovely pickled, tangy-sweet cucumbers! I made a mental note to go home and look for the recipe in the Ballymaloe cookbooks.
That night at dinner, a Friday, the evening fare featured a seafood hors d’oeurves buffet that was a meal in itself–crab vol au vents, lobster mayonnaise, deviled eggs, mussels, smoked salmon and trout, lovely baked breads and much much more. It covered an entire dining room table and all the diners were helping themselves. As I worked my way through the various delicacies, all made with fresh, local ingredients, I spotted a large dish of the pickled cucumber and added a nice serving to my plate.
Midway through dinner, a diminutive elderly woman stopped by the table to make sure everything was all right. I took one look at her and realized that the iconic Myrtle Allen was standing before me–all 88 years of her. We struck up a conversation, and I commented on the pickled cucumbers! In retrospect, it seems a relatively insignificant thing to talk about in the presence of Irish culinary royalty, but I no more than mentioned how wonderful the dish was and she was off to the kitchen! A few minutes later, she returned with a print out of the recipe….the one where you start with 12 quarts of sliced cucumbers! She smiled and said that I would, of course, need to pare it down for a smaller batch at home. She also went on to say that she had gotten the recipe from “America” years before but she thought it had originated somewhere in Europe. Before she departed, she said she was glad to be “sending it back to America,” and I was certainly glad to be taking it home with me.
The dinner was devine, served by attentive and efficient staff, at whatever pace you desired. It included many courses, including cheese before dessert, several scrumptous choices for dessert (and yes, you could taste a little bit of several if you wanted), home made fudge (non-chocolate) with your coffee…it went on and on.
Breakfast the next morning was another meal to remember, but that’s for another blog post….
When I got home later in the month, I immediately went to my Myrtle Allen/Ballymaloe cookbooks, and found her recipe for Quick Cucumber Pickle. She says there, “This is a recipe that has traveled the world. It came to me from America in a collection of family recipes gathered by home economists. I gave it to Finnish friends who told me that it is typically Polish or Russian.” I had overlooked this recipe in Mrs. Allen’s cookbook for years but tried it very soon after I arrived home!
NOTES: The original cookbook recipe says to use unpeeled cucumbers, though I think it probably depends on the size and type used. In my first attempt, I used small Persian cucumbers, unpeeled. In a later batch, I used larger American (thick skinned) cucumbers and I peeled them. Persian and English cucumbers have fewer seeds than their American cousins though you can always halve the cucumbers and scrap the seeds from the middle beofre slicing thinly. Here is the recipe.
MYRTLE ALLEN’s QUICK CUCUMBER PICKLE
6 cups unpeeled cucumber, thinly sliced
3 small onions, thinly sliced
1-3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup cider vinegar
Combine cucumber and onion slices in a large bowl. Mix sugar, salt and vinegar and pour over the cucumbers and onions. Cover the bowl and refrigerate. The pickle will be ready to eat in an hour, it will keep more than a week in the refrigerator, but will soon lose its green color. Yields about 7-l/2 cups. (Adapted from a recipe by Mary Petersen in Cooking in Minnesota).
Additional Notes: The recipe given to me by Mrs. Allen last month states that the pickles will be ready in 3 to 4 hours, rather than one hour, and if kept in the refrigerator in a sealed container, will keep up to 3 months. My latest batch has been in the fridge for three weeks in a sealed plastic container and it’s doing just fine. You can tweak this recipe to taste. I added a little more vinegar and a little less onion. Note also that “three small onions” in Ireland are like one medium yellow/brown onion in California. As long as you check your ingredients label on the cider vinegar, this recipe should be gluten free.
They are wonderful on sandwiches or grilled turkey burgers, or served as a side dish with just about everything. Never have I been so enthusiastic about cucumbers!