For the first time in my life, I have started growing food. Earlier this year, I got access to a small roof space at the back of my house in London, where I live on the top floor. As a keen cook, I was very excited about the idea of having my own herb garden, but beyond that, I wasn’t quite sure what to grow. It was at that point, as if by fate, that my good friend Trine Hahnemann – a celebrated chef and author in Denmark – came to visit, bringing with her a jar of asier, a special Danish pickled cucumber that I had never come across before. I took one bite and had one of those food epiphanies that come but rarely: the cucumber was crunchy and tangy, with an intense taste almost like melon and a delicate hint of mustard and dill. I knew at that moment that asierhad to be part of my life, but since they are unavailable in the UK, the answer was obvious – I was going to have to grow them myself.
Since Trine was very busy, her mother Hanne kindly sent me some seeds and her own mother’s recipe, and I set to work. I propagated the seeds under some roof-lights in my bedroom, and then transferred them to some grow bags on the roof, with little idea of what would happen but hoping for the best. Asier normally grow on the ground, Trine had told me, and wouldn’t grow up walls, but since my roof is tiny and has a large south-facing wall, I just hoped that they might make an exception in my case. Luckily for me, they did.
Soon the plants were growing vigorously, with thick, spiny stems and huge, furry dark-green leaves that I called dinosaur salad. By June, small yellow leaves started to appear, and by July, to my delight, these were followed by large, marrow-sized fruits.
My very first – which I measured excitedly – was actually resting on the ground, but later ones higher up the plant needed quite a bit of support – they weighed between one and two kilos each! By late July, the first fruits were looking very edible, and I had my first harvest – and pickling session.
The cucumbers were beautiful, with very firm flesh and fabulous, intense flavour – asier are as delicious fresh and pickled – and I followed Hanne’s instructions, scooping out the seeds and salting them for a couple of hours before briefly boiling in vinegar, sugar, dill flowers, mustard seeds, pepper corns, chilli and bayleaf (the chilli is a modern slant, Hanne told me, but it adds a certain punch).
The operation took over my entire kitchen: I had about 5 kilos of fruit to process, which stretched my supply of baking trays, drying racks and big pans to the limit! Once the mixture was ready, I poured it into sterilised jars, sealed and labelled them and waited for a couple of months before tasting.
The results, if I say so myself, were spectacular! I now have a small but dedicated group of friends all over London who dream of asier – and I am their sole supplier! I may have to double my crop next year…..