Pickle lovers will attest that when it comes to the perfect fusion of sweet, salty and sour, it doesn’t get much better than this. The Spreewald, an area of ancient forest, swampy fields and small towns an hour south-east of Berlin by train, is known for its wet, mineral-rich soil, ideal for growing cucumbers. Spreewald gherkins are EU-protected and one of the biggest exports from Brandenburg state.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, almost all of East Germany’s communist-era products disappeared into obscurity. One that did manage to survive is the legendary Spreewald gherkin.
They are harvested in July and August, and during this time, the emerald crops can be seen all along the Gurkenradweg (gherkin cycle path), a 260km trail through the Spreewald.
Rabe, a family business in Lübbenau, Spreewald’s most-visited town, has been making gherkins for more than 100 years. Every year, over 2,000 tonnes of cucumbers come in and out of its small factory.
Preserved according to a secret family recipe, Rabe’s dill pickles – the most traditional Spreewald assortment – are made with sugar, vinegar and herbs including fennel and thyme, which are grown in the company’s garden.
Other typical variations include salty sour (lacto-fermented and pickled in brine with no sugar and vinegar) and mustard. Rabe has also recently come out with newfangled (though still delicious) flavours such as sweet chilli and curry.
In Lübbenau, gherkins are on sale everywhere, also just a chomp away at most restaurants as a side for traditional dishes such as potatoes heaped in quark or – the classic Spreewald snack – sliced across black bread slathered with pork-fat.