I had no idea what these were when I saw them in a bowl at the market. Speckled, green and ovoid, they resemble miniature watermelons. Positioned next to the cucumbers, they were labeled West Indian Gherkins, but upon a little Internet research, I believe they’re actually Mexican Sour Gherkins. While the two look rather alike, the West Indian variety is spiny and these were smooth. They were delicious raw, a little lemony, and yes, they did taste like cucumbers although they’re apparently in a different plant family.
What to do with them? Luckily Marissa at Food in Jars had come across them at a Philly farmers market and pickled them, she said, using brine from something else. I looked up how Kevin West treated cornichons in his new preserving book Saving the Season, and used that method. After salting the gherkins for a couple of hours and then rinsing them, he layered them in a jar with white wine vinegar, tarragon, mustard seed, peppercorns and a bay leaf. I left out the bay leaf and added one allspice berry. They cured in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks before being ready to use.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get my hands on any more gherkins, or I would also have pickled them more conventionally, in equal parts vinegar and water brought to a boil and poured over the gherkins layered in a clean jar with aromatics. Since West’s method left the pickles a little crisper and less fully saturated than a normal pickle, I’ll use them with pate, or in any other application where a cornichon would be preferred. The second method would produce a different, more conventional pickle and wouldn’t be so vinegary. I liked leaving the gherkins whole, but pricking them with a trussing needle might allow them to absorb the pickling liquid more easily. No regrets, though. Only a hearty desire to locate some seeds so that I can grow the little darlings on a trellis in my garden next year.