Once upon a time there was a little girl whose Great Aunt Gerda lived in a wood far away across the dark North Sea. It took a night and a day to get there on a big ferry boat. When the child visited her great aunt and other relatives she ate all sorts of exciting things that she didn’t eat at home, lots of the foods were fishy and salty, or smoky or pickled with herbs and vinegar and sugar.
One of the foods she thought of often but never tasted again till almost half a century had passed by was a delicious white firm pickle that her Great Aunt had made. The little girl thought it was a special snow-white cucumber or maybe a marrow and that only her Great Aunt grew them – she didn’t know much about pickles or growing vegetables and as far as I remember she thought that vegetables only grew on farms like the pictures in her books.
She didn’t know what the vegetable was exactly because the relatives called it asier. It was crunchy, golden-white, sweet and fragrant and she remembered it with longing for many years.
At home there were imported Polish gherkins with exotic names like Krakus and Globus which were also very good, but not the same and all the time she carried in her taste memory the flavour and the texture of the white asier, the sort her Great Aunt Gerda had made and given her in the house in the woods all those years ago.
Many years later the internet arrived and online shopping arrived fast in its wake, amongst the sites that sprang up to take advantage of this brave new world were many food sites. The woman found that she could order pickled asier from one of these sites and ordered several jars, but even though the taste was close, it wasn’t quite right and she was a little bit sad and downcast.
Then one day she mentioned the asier to her friend Misky the Poet, who knew about these things on account of being married to Peder the Dane and Misky knew all about the asier and wrote an Asier Pickle Post especially for her old chum about how to make the pickle and advised her on how to nurture the plant.
Kind Misky sent her special asier seed and asier pickling spices from the country of the Great Aunt, so that she could not only make the pickle but grow her own asier. She sowed the seeds as instructed and waited patiently for the asier to grow. It was a very cold and long winter and an even colder and longer spring and only one of the seeds germinated.
The asier grew and grew and got put into a bigger pot. She watered and waited and watered and waited and soon the asier grew flowers and tendrils and the bumble bees visited the bright yellow flowers and hummed and hawed and left again and then one day there was a Baby Asier!
The weather got hotter and hotter and the asier got bigger and bigger…
…until it was nearly the size of one of Peder the Dane’s shoes and she took it off the mother plant.
She ate the first asier just as it was because she was over-excited and wanted to see what it tasted like and it was So Much Better than the watery hydroponically grown idenitikt cucumbers from the shop. This asier had firm white flesh, very few seeds and was crunchy and just delicious!
Now she is waiting for the four new babies that have appeared on the plant to grow and hopefully she will finally make the pickle just like her Great Aunt made all those years ago. If not this year, then next year – when she will grow more than one asier – she is very patient.
The moral of this story is (with apologies to James Thurber)
Don’t pick your asier before they are size 42 as one asier on its own will never make a jar of pickle!
Have you ever grown anything just for the sake of a memory ?
NB: To read all about the fascinating history of the cucumber, one of ‘the ancient foods of Ur’ you could do worse than start with Wikipeda whence originate all the factoids you could possibly want.
I came across this Danish article about growing cucumbers for making this variety of pickle and put it into Google Translate and they suggested a variety called Fatum, which I see is sold by Marshalls in the UK as another alternative which is apparently less prone to mildew than the Langelands Kaempe variety. I do like growing these big cucumbers !
Just THE BEST POST OF YOUR SITE EVER!
You took me on a delicious ride, and I cannot even begin to tell you how much I needed that today…
Childhood memories do escape onto our food blogs from time to time, have read some wonderful posts on yours too – glad you enjoyed it xx
Being in Italy, in the heat, and just longing for asiagurka as they are called. Do you know exactly how to prepare then . Since i have some australian apple cucumbers who are so crisp that they should do .
Your blog posts are a joy to read, I love them even if I don’t usually tell you so.
Hi Barbara, I have heard Italy is very very hot right now, phew! Misky has written me out two versions of how to prepare them on her blog which I link to in the post, so hopefully I can have a go in a few weeks time xx
Just overlooked the link in your post! Sorry.
Not at all, if you have a different recipe do let me know when you get home xx
awesome tale today – thank you for the fun
Thanks for reading and commenting !
Not quite as exotic, but if you want fresh Swiss Chard you have to grow it yourself! I missed it until I got an allotment.
I think it is very exotic! I don’t think I ever tasted chard as a child, but we squeeze some plants into the garden most years now. I have the one called Bright Lights growing in the raised bed. I love it :)
I haven’t had to grow my memories, I just have to bake them. Or once I found the chicken soup from my childhood in a small Slovak diner in Brooklyn, New York.
This has been a great year for cucumbers- and yours look fantastic. Aiser- never heard of it before, but I might try growing it next year if I can find the seed in the catalog.
Growing and baking are just the best things! Did you identify what was so unique about the soup or did you just sigh with recognition ?
Sounds silly but I have never grown cucumber before in any form, so that is another reason why I am so pleased! I am also growing a curcurbit called achocha ‘Fat Baby’ in a couple of bags on the patio. No fruit on them yet, though lots of leaves.
Such a beautiful curl and story!
Thanks, I have so many photos of that curl until it finally unspiralled one day :)
You know stories like this speak to my heart Joanna.
Just sitting here pondering on how smells, tastes and memories are so beautifully intertwined.
I hope you get a wonderfully big crop next year so you make jars and jars of your pickles to go lining the shelves in your garage.
I think I would have to borrow some allotment space from someone or a greenhouse to grow at least three or four plants, they all get quite big. I am glad you enjoyed the story Brydie.
Love the post Joanna. Isnt it amazing when you can link the past and the present together with food and at the same time create some memories for the future!
Can you possibly give me the botanical name of your seeds? I would like to see if I can source them in NZ and with a bit of luck give the pickles ago myself. I love making jams/jellies/marmalades etc and am always on the lookout for something new to try. The beloved pickled lemons and limes last month, as we have had a great crop this winter, and we are looking forward to trying them.
I will try to find out for you Maree. If you read Misky’s post you can see she suggests alternatives to the asier. Maybe as Barbara suggests the Australian apple cucumber would work? You need a dense firm vegetable without too many voids inside. The pickle juice itself is a sweet and sour taste with dill and spice, is the best way to describe it. I think about salt preserving lemons sometimes, but they are easy to buy in jars here and we rarely get the right sort of small lemons in the shops and without an orangery it would be very hard to grow them here. I hope yours are fabulous when you get to try them :)
update : The variety is called Langelands Kaempe – it is a cucumuis sativus – what the Danish sites call an asier type
The thing from my childhood I have not managed to replicate is my Mum’s lamb gravy to go with the Sunday roast and mint sauce. I used to be sent to the lady across the road who had a huge mint patch to cut fresh mint and the chop it with salt and sugar before adding it to the vinegar but the way it mingled perfectly with Mum’s lamb gravy lifted it to a totally new level.
Thanks for sharing that story it made me explore my food memory lane.
Now you are talking, I am drooling in an unseemly way. Mint sauce and lamb gravy, wow wow wow… I have no idea what went in your Mum’s lamb gravy, would she have used wine in there, a bit of red or rose even is good to darken and make it rich or dried mushrooms maybe? I have a bottle of a dark condiment like sauce made from elderberries that is good in gravy, or maybe she added redcurrant jelly? Drools some more thinking about a roast dinner… xx
Achocha flowers are just too beautiful for words. The fruits are good too, but you need to pick them very small or the seeds get in the way.
As to the asier, do you — or your friend — have any idea whether that is a specific variety name, or simply a generic term for a kind of cucumber?
I’ve been doing ordinary lacto-fermented dill pickles here is sweltering Rome for a couple of years, and they are so good.
Maree has asked me this too and I have just looked at the packet I have which is from a seed company called Weibulls
Cucumis sativus Langelands Kæmpe No 8023 the a and the e are joined together…
I imagine Langelands Kæmpe is the variety ? If you search on that term you will find other sources.
Thanks. The Garden Seed Invetory (6th end) lists one called Langelang Giant. I think that final g is a typo, because in parentheses it says Langelands Giant. Described as having a “small core,” which seems to be a defining feature of asier. That variety is available from two seed companies in the US. There are others that are also described as having a small core. Others that have come to light are Fatum. A friend tells me that “The “Nordic Encyclopedia of Horticulture” (5th edition 1945) names four varieties: ‘Dansk Asie’, ‘Langelands Asie’, ‘Middellang’ and ‘Ideal’.”
I’m now in hot pursuit.
Good luck with your quest. I had a search on your Langelang Giant lead and there are several heirloom seed companies in the US who have those. I don’t know for sure which sort my Great Aunt grew back in the 1960s. I have heard it translated as marrow too and remember being told it was more of a marrow than a cucumber but maybe they were referring to size and girth? Small core, no voids, dense flesh is my best guess. Langelands is a Danish island.
Langeland is also a town in southern Norway.
I doubt we’ll ever get fully to the bottom of this, but it is fun trying. I hope to finish my write up today.
What a lovely story. I do hope you grow many more of these so we can all see what you do with them. I will have to see if this sort of pickle is available in Oz xx
There is a brand called Beauvais which seems to be widely exported around the world :)
Thanks for the info Joanna. I have read Miskys post as well (thankyou for the link) and I will see what I can come up with.
I made some lovely little mini savoury loaves today topped with caramelised onion and a small wedge of blue cheese…they rocketed out the door. I am presently “the baker” at my favourite coffee house while the owner is away in Europe. Oh the joy!! Its wonderful!! Im getting to try out all the recipes I have been wanting to do for years, and getting paid to do it!!
That is so exciting! I hope you wow them with your baking Maree and have huge fun too xx
That’s such a lovely memory/story Joanna. When stories start like that I’m hooked in straight away. How lovely to have that memory of your Great Aunt in the house in the woods across the dark North Sea. I can imagine that as a child your senses would have been as wide as your eyes. One of my favourite opening sentences is from The Surgeon of Crowthorne. Your opening photo reminded me of Michael Leunig’s Mr Curly – a gentle , childlike little character. My own favourite memories are of the aromas from my paternal grandmother’s kitchen and garden in Tankerton, Kent and – oddly – the smell of the chicken mash my grandpa mixed every morning for their egg and meat chickens – oh, and the smell of steam trains. I’m glad you’ve got the Asier growing in your garden with fruits as big as Peder the Dane’s shoes!
Morning Jan! The moment I wrote the words ‘once upon a time’ I felt that I had moved into a different frame of reference.. Maybe that is the point of having memory and getting older – to allow us to tell stories? I don’t know what chicken mash smells like, but I can imagine hot steamy dishes being set out and chickens squawking as they run towards you. I do know the smell and the heat and the sound of the steam trains, and the watering eyes squinting into the firebox at the red hot coals – . I read that there are technical ‘brain wiring’ reasons why smells, memories and emotions are so strongly linked, ‘olfactory-evoked recall’ – a bit of a mouthful. Scientists love to take the story out of everything :)
PS Am going to get a copy of The Surgeon of Crowthorne, just reading about it. Sounds great! And thank you for the introduction to Mr Curly, just had a peek at leunig.com.au and found one of him in bed with a stack of books and a duck on top. He is very lovely xx
I’m so glad you met Mr Curly and the duck – and I hope you enjoy The surgeon of Crowthorne, I read it several years ago but it has stuck with me.
Pingback: In search of the elusive asier — pickling cucumbers with a difference
I adore Mr Curly and his sense of adventure whilst taking his teapot along and a duck under his elbow…why bother to leave the pleasures of this world behind you when you set forth on a new adventure? Mr Leunig is my hero :). Love the asier and am going to have to see if we can’t get something asier like to grow here on Serendipity Farm. My very first crop of cukes (Lebanese and a little bit boring compared to your exotic fellow) went nuclear here and we ended up with so many we gave most of them away to my cuke shovelling daughter who could eat cucumbers for the queen (and most possibly does…). Cheers for the story, it certainly added piquancy to a rainy Tasmanian day :) I am off to tinge my sunday with Mr Curly and Mr Leunig…sans duck, I have my own!
Lebanese cukes sound pretty exotic to me :) I am sure the asier would grow for you, Brian loves cucumbers so would love to have nuclear growth, maybe next year we will abandon our tomato attempts and just go for the cuke :) Hope all’s well xx
Steve loves cucumbers as well and this year he was proud as punch to actually make thin sliced fermented cucumber pickles himself :). We still have a few and they are delicious and still crisp. The cucumbers just kept on keeping on and made the everready bunny look like a quitter. We do well with tomatoes here but we don’t have a very long season so I tend to stick with small to medium varieties to cater for the length of time they take to ripen. I tried chillies this year and aside from looking lovely I got too many leaves and the jalapenos were so mild as to be mistaken for capsicum (peppers)! I will try hotter chillies this year as when you think “chilli” a bit of heat at least factors into the equation, you could eat our ripe red jalapenos off the vine and they were sweet with no heat ;). I hit 50 yesterday and have woken up with my senses intact (even after imbibing liberally in the demon drink), all of my bits still seem to be functioning and I don’t seem to have lost my senses quite yet so it looks like crossing over that invisible line to “senior” hasn’t hit me too hard…yet… ;)
I reckon we won’t get enough fruit off this one plant all at one point to make pickling worth it, so will just have to enjoy them fresh. i only grow outdoors so the tomatoes usually go from nowish to mid September or so. I don’t keep a growing diary so have to look at photos for clues. Hope you had s good birthday and your head is better ! We have one fiendish kitchen chilli and we cut it back and it is growing new leaves and flowers, it thinks it’s a perennial. …
A friend who works in a small nursery in town gave me seeds for a perennial chilli tree (Mexican) that I am going to attempt to grow this year. They apparently love cooler climates so hopefully they grow and are happy here. I would imagine that they are somewhat weedy in nature a bit like the cape gooseberries that keep popping up everywhere around here thanks to the chooks and their love of the berries but if food just pops up around the place I can’t say that I am too upset about it ;). We managed to get most of our tomatoes ripened over the summer but the problem that we have is that I keep forgetting to stake them till it is too late and we end up with a tomato forest! I managed to make lots of gorgeous tomato and capsicum sauce that I froze in bags and we worked our way through it till it was all gone. Gorgeous stuff :). Nothing like home grown veg to get you to eat your greens :)
My first outdoor tomatoes are reddening at last :) Good luck with the chill tree!
I don’t know how I missed this one! I’m so happy that Misky helped you to find something that matched your happy food memories! I’m heading off to read Misky’s post now! :)
I have (shhh) made a first trial of a pickle, adapting Misky’s recipe slightly as I found myself doing a lot of reading around in the end. I can’t believe I can grow cucumbers outdoors to be honest, I thought they always had to be grown under glass :) The growing part has made me terribly happy – two huge asier so far and a new one is hanging there right now, about a size 39 !