Jefferson’s President’s House in Washington included a pickle barrel for guests. The “gerkin,” Cucumis anguiria, was a surprisingly common crop in the late summer Monticello vegetable garden, planted in six seasons between 1812 and 1824, sometimes in July. Jefferson recommended it to his brother, Randolph, in 1813: “the season being over for planting everything but the Gerkin. It is that by which we distinguish the very small pickling cucumber.” This was likely the West Indian gherkin, a native of Africa brought to the Caribbean through the slave trade, then reputedly introduced from Jamaica by Minton Collins in his Richmond store in 1792.
The West Indian gherkin is an aggressive vine with smallish leaves that are lobed like a miniature watermelon leaf. The short, three-inch, plump fruit are round, firm, and covered with blunt spines. Sow the seeds two feet apart in hills or rows from late spring until mid-summer. Harvest the fruits when 1” – 2” around, dress with salt for 24 hours, and then pack them into glass jars. Cover with warm malt vinegar and add ½ teaspoon of dill seed. Secure jars with air-tight lids: the pickled gherkins will be ready in about two months.
Approximately 25 seeds per pack.