- Food & Drink
Back in September a PR got in touch about a campaign Aspall Vinegar were going to run called Pickle With Pride. Simple idea: they send out some pickling kits, everyone pickles things, hashtags it #PickleWithPride and society at large realises how brilliant pickling is and buys more vinegar. Job done.
Now, I know nothing about pickling. For the past 18 years I’ve mostly lived in flats in South East London with not so much as a window ledge to grow anything on, let alone suffer a glut that requires pickling. And I’m not inclined to go to the supermarket to buy extra food in order to make pickles. That seems like a perverse pantomime of domesticity. Forcing a fake glut into existence so I can waft about in miasma of vinegar and salt feeling like a survivalist, when there’s a 24 hour shop down the road that will sell me instant noodles and Mars Bars any time I like is not for me.
I thought I’d start with a classic: piccalilli. I’ve never knowingly eaten piccalilli, but James Herriot making his way through slab of cold bacon thanks to a jar of the yellow stuff has lived in my memory for decades. I consulted The Good Housekeeping Complete Guide to Preserving, which told me I needed to brine the motley of cauliflower, marrow, onions, green beans, shallots and carrots I’d gathered from my veg box before I pickled them.
So I chucked the veg in a bowl of brine, covered it with a tea towel and put it on top of my wardrobe. Five days later I wondered what that bowl on top of my wardrobe was. Inside it, frothing and seething, was the beginnings of a quite promising batch of allotment rum. No piccalilli for me.
I also thought I’d try pickling a bunch of purple carrots I had in my veg box, but I’d smoke them first so they’d kept their purple colour and have an intriguing smokey flavour. I thought I’d add chipotle flakes to the pickling brine as well, to carry that smokiness through the pickle. The end result was a jar of rock hard carrots balefully bobbing about in a liquid so hot there was a risk it would spontaneously combust. Disposing of it required a steady hand and protective overalls.
The remains of the pickling kit reproached me. I must pickle something.
The answer came in the form of an over-order of quinces and this Nigel Slater recipe for pickled quinces, which was pleasingly simple. So I took the ingredients that I had, the method I could follow and I made some pickled quinces that will cheer up the remains of the cheeseboard and the Christmas ham on Boxing Day.
Pickled Quinces For Christmas
Makes shedloads (you can easily halve this recipe if you don’t want shedloads)
1.25 ltrs Aspall’s Classic Cyder Vinegar
800g caster sugar
1 heaped tbsp Bart’s Pickling Spice
2 bay leaves
A strip of lemon zest pared from a lemon with a peeler
6 quinces, weighing approximately 1.6kg
1 Pour the vinegar into a large pan and add the sugar, pickling spice, bay leaves and lemon zest. Cover and set over a medium heat to bring it to the boil.
2 Peel the quinces and halve them (you are going to need a sharp knife and a strong arm for this because they can be like little yellow rocks). Slice them into quarters and slice out the cores. Slice each quarter in half, so you have 8 wedges per quince. They will go brown, but don’t worry – you’re about to submerge them in brown pickling juice.
3 When the pickling mixture is just bubbling, add the quinces. Let it gently bubble away for around 15 minutes. You should be able to easily slide a skewer into a piece of quince. Keep cooking them till you get to that.
4 Lift the quinces out of the pan with a slotted spoon and pop them into sterilised jars (I used two 1-litre Kilner jars). Ladle in the pickling juice. Seal and cool. They should keep for a few weeks. Very good with pungent blue cheese or slices of ham, and the pickling liquid would be good in salad dressings in place of vinegar.