In search of the elusive asier — pickling cucumbers with a difference

Fermentation is absolutely my favourite food process. Not just for bread, beer and yoghurt, but also for proper pickled cucumbers.1 So when a bread-baking blog I follow wrote about recreating a long-ago taste of pickled cucumbers, my heart went pitter-pat. I read Joanna’s story, and skipped on over to the recipe itself. Alas, these are not proper pickles. Indeed at one point the author insists “Be sure that when you boil the vinegar for the second time that it’s a good full, rolling boil to kill any bacteria”. Not my kind of thing at all. I could have just called it a day, except that there’s another aspect to the story that got me going. The cucumbers themselves seem to be rather special. Not easy to search online for, because most search engines seem to think you’re interested in Asia, so I went all social and put a call out to my friends in places where they might know about these things.2

Ah yes, said Ove:

They are a group of cucumbers with thicker “flesh” than ordinary cucumbers. “The ‘Nordic Encyclopedia of Horticulture’ (5th edition 1945) names four varieties: ‘Dansk Asie’, ‘Langelands Asie’, ‘Middellang’ and ‘Ideal’”.

And he helpfully provided a photo.

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Though there’s something to be said for pickled cucumber seed cavity, it isn’t much, so now I was very intrigued. I turned, first, to the USDA’s descriptors for Cucumis. That offers two characteristics of interest: cavitydiam, measured in mm at the thickest part of the fruit, and frtdia_a, measured likewise in cm. A quick download and mashup, and I’d have a seed cavity to fruit diameter ratio for all the cucumber accessions! Unfortunately, although they are listed as characteristic descriptors for Cucumis species, I couldn’t find a way actually to search for them. Agriculture and Agrifood Canada was even less helpful.3 A document from ECP/GR mentioned flesh thickness and seed hull (which could be cavity or testa, I suppose) but was no more helpful.

Ah but … I had names! USDA knows nothing about the names from the Nordic Encyclopedia of Horticulture. The Garden Seed Inventory (6th edition) from Seed Savers Exchange does however list Langelang Giant4 and says it has “white flesh with excel. texture, small core”. Langelands Kæmpe (Langelands Giant) is still available in Europe and a similar variety called Fatum in Germany. The Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook for 2012, which lists all varieties offered by members, doesn’t seem to have any of the named varieties, although there are several that have larger or smaller cores than normal.

Most interesting, for me, was an entry for Danish Pickling in Vegetables of New York, Vol I Part IV, The Cucurbits.

This is a comparatively new variety which was introduced in 1912 by L. Daehnfeldt of Odense, Denmark … The variety produces fruits which are extremely large and long and thickly covered with fine spines. … Flesh medium thick, very fine texture, white in color, rather tart. Seed mass small and solid, with few seeds formed.

It is hard to tell how spiny Joanna’s Langelands is, but I think I see quite a few.

I couldn’t find much trace of any of the others in the Internet, with no useful sign of Ideal, probably because the word is just too common, even in conjunction with cucumber. However, the 1975 European Common Catalogue lists Ideal as a synonym of Delikateß added at that date, while Middellang was deleted from the common catalogue.

And there I came almost to an end. The name “asier” remained a puzzle. Were these Scandinavian favoured cucumbers originally from Asia? No, said Ove. “Asie (singular, asier is the plural) comes from Indian/Persian achár, originally meaning ‘bamboo shoots pickled in vinegar and spices’.” To which Stephen added “Wonder if it’s related to the as- in asparagus which also means shoot, also from west Asia..?” Over to you, philologists.

And what have I learned? That it remains incredibly difficult to find varieties with specific characteristics, even when you know what you’re looking for. That a cucumber with a small seed core is probably a great idea, even if you’re not planning to ferment it. That I would quite like to try growing it (hint, hint).

Oh, and that not everyone is as keen on fermentation as I am. If you want to get a bit deeper into it, can I recommend this very introductory podcast, in which, among other gems, Sandor Katz – fermentation revivalist – expressly compares the value of diverse microbes in fermentation and diverse varieties on farms?

  1. And by proper, I mean actually fermented, not merely soused in vinegar etc. []
  2. Sincere thanks to all who answered the call. []
  3. In my browser there was no way to insert the character I wanted to search for. []
  4. That second g is surely a typo, as it also lists Giant of Langeland as a synonym. []

11 Replies to “In search of the elusive asier — pickling cucumbers with a difference”

  1. i, too, love fermentation. in terms of cucumbers, i’ve found the “little leaf” variety the best so far for my yummy dill pickles. i get them from fedco seed co. in maine. they are firm a good 9 months after putting them up. hopefully i’ve made enough this year to see how they are after a year.

  2. Great essay, Jeremy! Very useful link about Cucumis accession traits. We’ve had great luck this summer with pickling by fermentation: dilly green beans, a radish kimchee, saurkraut, and cucumber pickles. The cukes, though, were just random slicing cucumber starts I took pity on outside a grocery store–didn’t even have a label save “cucumber.” Although a welcome and prolific addition to the garden, they made a decent but not amazing pickle. My Scandinavian husband will love the idea of tracking down asier seeds. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks Jeanne. An attempt at kimchee is high on my list of priorities for when the weather gets a bit cooler. I did a very good turnip and beet pickle earlier this year.

      I hope your husband can find seed. Langelands used to be available from Heirloom seeds and Western Hybrid Seeds in Hamilton City CA.

  3. I have no idea what the recipe for the pickles would have been that my old relative used, but I know it was sweet and I doubt somehow that lacto fermented pickles are sweet, but I haven’t made them either way as yet. The asie(r) look just like that black and white photo when sliced. As to spines, having never grown cucumbers of any sort before I have no base reference to compare to, there are a few small spines, but they rub away when you pass your hand along the fruit. Just picked two that grew in the last week, the larger weighs just under 500 g. Thanks for the mention Jeremy and I enjoyed your write up

    1. Thanks Joanna. I’m not mad keen on sweeter pickles myself (which is why I make my own) but I expect it is possible to make them with sugar as well as salt. Still waiting for my fermentation bible to arrive.

      You might want to think about leaving one of your cucumbers to ripen fully on the vine, to save seeds for next year. You might not get too many, but it would be fun to maintain the variety as well as the tradition. If, that is, there is nobody else growing cucumbers nearby.

  4. I stumbled upon your site in my absolutely obsessive quest to find seeds to grow the infamous (and apparently non-existent) asier. Lovely article about my newest gardening obsession ;)

  5. I would like to talk to you about asier and if you made any. Could you email your recipe. Please. I have loved asier since i met my danish lady/wife now and wanted to make my own as I do with everything including ketchup and mustard. So i searched and found you!

    My phone number is 757-647-5970
    Christopher Stankus
    Vs beach, VA 23456

    1. Thanks for getting in touch. Funnily enough, I was talking to a Danish friend just last week, and she has agreed to try and find me some seeds so that I can try to grow them next year. She has warned me that it is quite a vigorous plant, so I hope there will be room. We shall see.

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