What's The Deal With Cornichons?

No cheese or charcuterie plate is complete without cornichons for me; I must have these tart, pickled French gherkins with them. I love them with a Ploughman's lunch, and they are a traditional accompaniment to raclette. But I started wondering; are cornichons just pickled baby cucumbers, or are they a specific kind of cucumber that grows very small?

Cornichons are about the size of your pinky finger, about an inch and half in length and less than a quarter inch in diameter. They're nubby and bumpy, tart and crunchy. The French call them cornichons, and they're sold under the same name in the US, but the English call them gherkins. These delicious little pickles are great on an appetizer plate, chopped up in deviled eggs, and added to sandwiches.

Cornichons come from a few types of small-growing gherkin plants that are picked when quite young because as they grow more, the pimply nubbins become sharp spikes. Although they are similar to cucumbers, they are not true cucumbers. It's probably pretty difficult to find this particular type of small cucumber in markets in the US, but if you want to grow your own, these varieties are commonly used in France:

• Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne Cucumbers, at Kitchen Garden Seeds
• Parigno Cornichon pickling cucumbers
• Fin de Meaux, from a French seed company

If you'd like to try your hand at making your own cornichons, here is a recipe.

Related:
Cooking By Feel: French Ingredients And Flavors
Word of Mouth: Remoulade - a classic sauce of mayonnaise with cornichons
Cucumber Primer: Kirby, Gherkin, English, and More...

(Image: Kathryn Hill)