Cornichons, also known as gherkins, start with a fresh cumber-like vegetable that is then pickled while they are still small. These little guys are served with pates in France or strips of fried fish in other European countries.
They’re basically baby pickles. Cornichons are the French version. They’re more tart and not as salty as regular pickles. Because they’re less salty, the sweetness is a little more pronounced.
The genuine article will be packed with white vinegar, mixed with tiny, peeled silver skin onions and spiced, generally with whole peppercorns and/or mustard seed.
In Jacksonville you can find them at specialty markets such as Olives & Oils, near the corner of Park and King.
If you have the patience to grow gherkins, you can also pickle them at home, a process that is not all that difficult. You’ll find a ton of varying recipes on the internet.
It might be a French classic, but because it is, there’s as much argument over what the “true” technique should be. It’s a bit like Americans and barbecue. We get somewhat passionate over what “real” barbeque should be like, but then we resign ourselves to the differences in regional techniques, though even those can have variations.
The spices in the mix can be almost anything that might hold up to the vinegar. Thyme, cloves, garlic, allspice, coriander and even cinnamon might be part of the spice mix. Even the vinegar base can be something other than white vinegar. Red wine vinegar is sometimes used, although that can discolor the pickle and make for a rather homely pickle. As long as the pickles are tiny and packed with some sort of onion and a variety of spices, they’re still considered cornichons.