Pressgurka is a tradition in our family and was the first recipe I learned to prepare as a child. Mom would peel and slice the cucumbers and I would measure out the ingredients for the dressing. When I was very little I would count aloud the five tablespoons of water and sugar as I measured them. (I’ve sometimes wondered if it was Mom’s sneaky way of getting me to practice arithmetic.)
This is a classic Swedish dish and was always part of our Christmas smörgåsbord (literally a “sandwich table,” but in reality it’s much more than sandwiches). The wonderful thing about smörgåsbord is that it is almost infinitely adaptable—you can add just about anything, and as my family is part Swedish but also part Scottish and French Canadian, we added other traditional dishes. Sometimes I’ve made fish balls (fiskbullar in Swedish), as both the Swedish cookbook and my other Grandmother’s Scottish cookbook contain nearly identical recipes. They were, after all, fishing from different sides of the North Sea.
The smörgåsbord is rounded out with meat and fish—herring is a particular favorite—cheeses and other salads. Typically there will be knäckebröd, a crisp bread made in large wheels the size of dinner plates, and limpa, a kind of rye bread.
A couple of years ago I brought some pressgurka to a potluck holiday party. Another guest told me it reminded him of something his Mother makes, which surprised me a little because he’s Chinese. But he sent me a couple of links to recipes similar to the one his Mother makes, and he’s correct. The dressing is different but has a similar sweet-tart flavor. (Let the anthropologists figure that one out!)
(Swedish cucumber salad)
Rinse and pare 1 large cucumber. (You can easily make a larger batch but doubling or tripling all the ingredients.) Score the cucumber by pulling the tines of a fork lengthwise through the cucumber. Cut cucumber into very thin slices. Put into a shallow bowl.
1/3 cup cider vinegar
5 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
dash of white pepper
Pour over the cucumber slices and toss lightly to coat evenly. Cover and put in the refrigerator for several hours to chill and allow flavors to blend.
Garnish cucumbers with a tablespoon fresh parsley or a few very thin slices of onion before serving. It will make about eight to ten servings—or six if real Vikings are attending your holiday party.
The thin onion slices are a Norwegian variation I learned from a college friend’s Mother. My Swedish Grandmother probably wouldn’t have approved, but I think it’s a perfectly acceptable alternative. The Chinese recipes are here: Chinese Cucumber Salad and Cucumber Salad.
Now I have some holiday cooking to do! Enjoy this simple recipe and share your own traditional dishes in the comments.