Taste of Russia: pickled with honey

What is the prevailing taste of Russian cuisine? This is certainly the sour taste of fermentation – sour cabbage (sauerkraut), sourdough rye bread, roasted apples, and, of course, sour cucumbers (sauerkraut). Real barrel-fermented pickles are delicious as an appetizer and as ingredients for many dishes. Soups such as rassolnik and solyanka and the classic salad “vinegar” would not be possible without these mouth-watering pickles.

Everyone knows the basics of pickling: put cucumbers in the barrel, add dill, cherry leaves, salt and garlic. The option made in a barrel is considered exotic today. But in the past, there was no home without them. The main problem was where to put the barrels. Cucumber is more delicate than cabbage. If it freezes, it loses all its flavor, but heat can destroy it as well.

Cucumbers were stored in a hayloft, in the cellar, or even placed in pits dug in the garden. Cucumber barrels were covered with snow and pine branches. But outdoor storage methods were used with caution, since a sudden cold can destroy everything.

To protect pickles from temperatures below freezing, the “Holynya cucumber” was invented. The village of Holynya in the Novgorod province gave its name to this clever way of preserving cucumbers: barrels filled with pickles were lowered into the river under the ice. Under the ice the temperature is constant – about 2-3 degrees Celsius (about 35-37 degrees Fahrenheit). The only problem with this method? Sometimes homeowners can’t get their barrels out until the ice breaks in the river in the spring. But in March, the pickles were perfect!

Barrel for cabbage and cucumbers in Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, the residence of Tsar Ivan the Terrible
Pavel and Olga Syutkin

Cucumbers were stored in sealed barrels under the ice in Moscow, too. At the beginning of the 20th century, barrels were placed on the Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin. Each merchant had his own place near his own section of the bridge. Barrels tied to the bridge were pulled out when needed to replenish supplies in stores.

But that’s not the only surprise when you look at the history of pickling cucumbers. For example, this is an advertisement in an old magazine: “Moskvorets cucumbers: especially tasty, pickled in pumpkin.”

An advertisement for the Moskvorets option in the Ogonyok magazine, 1912 Pavel and Olga Syutkin
An advertisement for the Moskvorets option in Ogonyok magazine, 1912
Pavel and Olga Syutkin

This was not a false advertisement. For centuries people have known and loved this method – in fact, two ways. In one way, a large squash will be scraped, cucumbers placed inside and then brine poured over them. In the second method, several pumpkins filled with cucumbers are placed in a barrel and dipped in brine.

Pumpkin has been said to add freshness and sweetness to cucumbers. By the way, in the traditions of Russian cuisine cucumber It is often paired with sweet flavors, whether fresh or salted. In “The Writer’s Notes” (1877) Dostoevsky notes: “No matter how long they live among the common people, people like Levin will never be one of them, even if he knows that fresh cucumbers are served with honey.”

A similar way of serving cucumbers seems very strange to people today: sprinkle sugar on pickles. This still happens in many places, including the Vladimir region.

Pavel and Olga Syutkin
Pavel and Olga Syutkin

“When I was a child, we used to wear a headscarf,” Natalia Doronina, a grandmother and a farmer in Suzdal told us. “It was very tasty. Today, before our meeting, I ate a cucumber, sprinkled it with sugar and ate it. At the time it was a real treat for us kids. We were waiting for them to cut it into slices, sprinkle sugar on top and take it out to us. There was nothing more than that.”

When was this? The sixties – not so long ago.

Today you can only dream of cucumbers in barrels unless you have a large cellar. But that’s fine – we can still put pickles in jars. They will be almost the same, only without the characteristic “barrel” flavor.

Pavel and Olga Syutkin
Pavel and Olga Syutkin

Pickles in jars

To fill a 10-liter (2.6 gallon) container (jars or crockery)


  • 6.5 kg (14.3 lbs) of cucumber
  • 3.5 liters (less than a gallon) water
  • 250-280 grams (about 8.8-9.9 ounces) salt (depending on the size of the cucumber)
  • 12-16 garlic cloves, halved
  • tops and stems of ripe dill with seeds; Leaves of currant, cherry, oak and horseradish – enough for 2 batches of pickling
  • Optional: 2-3 hot peppers


  • Wash the cucumbers, put them in a large bowl, pour cold water over them and let them soak for 2-3 hours.
  • Wash the pickling “bouquet”, cut the stem of dill, peel the garlic.
  • After soaking, rinse the cucumbers again, cut off the ends and put in the container(s). Place the pickling leaves on the bottom of the pot and sprinkle the spices and garlic over the cucumbers. Top with pickling leaves.

Tip: do not fill from above – leave a space of 10-15 cm for weighing and fermentation.

  • Prepare the saline solution. Dissolve the salt in the water and let the brine come to a boil. Try the brine: it shouldn’t be too salty or not salty enough. Remember that salt is not a preservative, but a flavor additive.
  • Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers and weigh them so that they don’t float. Put it in a dark place at room temperature to ferment. The higher the volume, the faster the fermentation process. The saline solution will become cloudy.
  • By the end of the second day or the beginning of the third, taste the cucumbers: they should have a pleasant salty-sour taste. Fermentation time depends on room temperature.
  • Drain the brine, pour half of it into a saucepan, add new water and salt to taste. Allow it to boil while peeling off any foam that may form.
  • Transfer the cucumbers to jars with fresh garlic and pickled “bouquets”. Pour the hot brine and close it with lids.

Cucumbers are ready to eat as soon as they cool, but after a month they taste better.

For lovers of “Russian spirits” – pickles are, of course, the perfect appetizer for vodka. But there was also cucumber-flavored vodka and cucumber-flavored vodka. Everything about this recipe is perfect.

From "A practical guide for flight attendants." Kyiv, 1873 Pavel and Olga Syutkin
From a practical guide for flight attendants. Kyiv, 1873
Pavel and Olga Syutkin

spiced cucumber

For marinated pickles, use a small, green, firm cucumber. Put them in a saucepan, cover with cherry leaves, pour vodka on them and put in the oven on low heat. The cucumber will turn yellow in the oven. Take them out and put them in a sieve. When completely cooled, put in a jar and pour cold vinegar boiled with salt, cinnamon, pepper and bay leaf. At the bottom of the jar we put red pepper, close it tightly and put in a cool place. (When making marinated cucumbers, boil vinegar without sugar).

This is a marinated cucumber, which is part of Russian home cooking, although the word “marinade” was not known to Russian peasants in the middle of the 19th century.

Vinegar was a popular product in medieval Russian society. The first book of housewives, “Domostroi” (1550s) mentions cutlery: “ladders, vinegar pots, and pepper shakers.” Vinegar was made from beer wort (the liquid that is extracted from the mashing process during beer fermentation). It was fermented and acquired a rich color with a straw yellow or light brown color and a pleasant, mild taste. Like other types of vinegar, the acidity was around 5-6%.

Barley vinegar is not an exclusively Russian find – it was made in many parts of the world where grapes cannot be grown. Barley vinegar was so popular in medieval England that it was added to many dishes. In the 19th century in Scotland it was served with the newly popular fish and chips. It appears to have also been used in canning, giving the seasonings a light brown tinge.

The famous Suzdal Cucumber Festival welcomes guests.  Pavel and Olga Syutkin
The famous Suzdal Cucumber Festival welcomes guests.
Pavel and Olga Syutkin

Not everyone likes slightly sweet pickles. This is a recipe without added sugar – sour and salty, flavored with garlic and dill. This option is great with steak, soup, roasted and boiled potatoes.

Pickled cucumber with garlic and dill

For 2 1 liter pots (2 1 liter jars) – the jar contains about 10-11 medium cucumbers weighing a total of about 1.3 pounds (550-560 grams)


  • 1 kg 200 g cucumber (2.6 lbs)
  • 240 ml (1 cup) apple cider vinegar
  • 240 ml water
  • 2.5 tablespoons of salt
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper
  • 4 teaspoons dill seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper


  • Prepare sterilized jars and lids.
  • Wash the cucumbers, shake off the water, cut off the ends and soak them in cold water for 2-3 hours. Garlic peel.
  • If the cucumber is large, you can cut it into circles or wedges
  • Mix vinegar, water, and salt in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Pack the cucumbers tightly in jars. Divide the spices evenly and add to each jar.
  • Pour the hot marinade over the cucumbers, leaving a distance of 1 cm.
  • Wipe the edges of the jar, and close the lid. Store in a cool place.
  • For room temperature storage, place airtight jars in canning, cover with an inch of water, and sterilize for 10 minutes.

The sliced ​​cucumber will be ready to eat in 10 days. The full option will take a little longer.

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