One delightful experience I had when I moved to the UK was discovering piccalilli. I had bought it at Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, along with an assortment of delectable cheeses. It was love at first taste and thus began a life-long love affair with this very unique, love-it or hate-it preserve. Piccalilli is a traditional English pickle that consists of a mixture of vegetables (generally cauliflower, peppers, onions, courgettes) known for it’s bright-yellow colour and heady spices. It goes especially well with salted beef, but I like it on toast with slices of cheddar. A real pantry staple, it’s worth taking the time to make just because it tastes so much better than the shop-bought versions.

This was my very first successful attempt at a savoury preserve, other than an epic-fail back in 2006 when after waiting weeks for my home-made chutney to ‘mature’ I found myself throwing out jars of mouldy goulash. Luckily, this time it was a roaring success, proven by my utter greed having just about eaten half the jar all on my own in one sitting! I used Romanesco cauliflower and a mixture of crunchy veg along with tomatillos because they were in season. As long as you have a good mix of vegetables (five or six different kinds) you can really use any combination. The trick to good piccalilli is to use very fresh vegetables (from the garden if you’re lucky enough), which will give you a lovely crunchy pickle.

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Makes 3 x 340g jars

1kg washed, peeled vegetables (I used Romanesco cauliflower; green beans; cucumbers; courgettes; tomatillos; shallots; green peppers)

50g fine salt

30g cornflour

10g ground turmeric

10g English mustard powder

15g yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, roughly crushed

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, roughly crushed

600ml cider vinegar

150g granulated sugar

50g honey

Start the night before you want to start cooking the piccalilli and potting it. Chop all the vegetables into small and evenly sized pieces. Put into a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Mix well and cover the bowl. Leave in a cool place (or in the fridge) for 24 hours. Rinse the vegetables with ice-cold water and drain very well.

In a small bowl, blend the cornflour, turmeric, mustard powder, mustard seeds, cumin and coriander to a smooth paste with a splash of vinegar. Put the remaining vinegar into a preserving pan with the sugar and honey and bring to a boil. Add a little of the hot vinegar over the spice paste, stir together and then return to the pan. Over a low heat, bring the mixture gently to the boil. Boil for 3–4 minutes to allow the spices to release their flavours into the thickening sauce.

Take the pan off the heat and carefully fold in the well-drained vegetables. Pack the pickle into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately with vinegar-proof lids. Leave for 4–6 weeks before opening. Use within one year.

(Recipe from River Cottage Handbook No. 2: Preserves, Pam Corbin, Bloomsbury)

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Damson Jam

Since making Seville orange marmalade at the start of this year I have been looking forward to making more preserves. I’m still very much a novice—learning the rules and regulations and the ‘science’ of preserving. Although I absolutely hate anything scientific, preserve-making draws me in with the promise of a ‘store’ of food, or the possibility of enjoying my favourite fruits at any time of the year, whether they are steeped in vinegar or intensely sweetened by sugar. There really is something that’s utterly rewarding when you make your own preserves and share it with others.

Damsons are my new favourite fruit. I didn’t even know what they were until recently, when I came across these miniature plums at Maltby Street market. They are a bit tart to eat raw, but I love the taste of them when cooked and the deep jewel-toned burgundy they take on when cooked. It is just so torturous having to stone them! It took me over 2 hours to remove the stones from over 1 kilo, but I must admit, it was worth the hideously stained fingertips and nails for this amazingly delicious, delicious, plummy sweet jam.


Damson jam

Makes about 1kg

1kg damsons

750g caster sugar

225ml water

Wash the damsons and pat them dry, getting rid of any that are bruised or badly blemished. Remove the stones.

Place the damsons and sugar into a preserving pan with the water and put over a low heat. Cook for 15 minutes on a gentle heat, stirring often until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and cook for another 10–15 minutes until the fruit is tender and the skins are soft. At this point, use a slotted spoon to skim off any scum that rises to the surface.

Once the jam looks firm, test for setting. As soon as it is ready, take it off the heat and spoon into warm sterilised jars. Cover the surface with a disc of waxed paper and allow to cool, then seal with a lid. This should keep for 1 year if kept in a cool, dark place.

(Recipe from Skye Gyngell’s How I cook, Quadrille, 2010)

Seville Orange Marmalade

Orange-flavoured food is not generally my cup of tea. I don’t like orange cakes, muffins or orange gummy bears. One thing I do have a weakness for is a really good orange marmalade. When it is just the right amount of bitter, sweet, caramelised and citrusy it is beautiful. Since January/February is the time of year we should all be preserving precious in-season fruits, I thought I would have a go at making Seville orange marmalade. This is the third attempt in my culinary life at making a preserve: the last two times have kind of ended up in a bit of a disaster. When I was about 16, I tried to preserve lemons and ended up with a pretty severe burn over my neck! Second time I attempted making a chutney and the jars weren’t sterilised so they tasted mouldy. It was not good, not good at all. This time, I thought it would be an idea to get a kind of production line going in the kitchen with the fiancé, and delegate rather than doing it all on my own. The results were amazing! There isn’t anything quite like homemade jam or marmalade. I would recommend a few things when making marmalade 1) try to cut the pieces as evenly and consistently as possible—it makes a difference to the overall texture and look 2) when the marmalade is boiling rapidly, stir it occasionally but not all the time—this will give a nice deep and golden colour 3) don’t let it over-set!! This is the saddest thing to do to a jam or marmalade. I couldn’t imagine having spent hours chopping and stirring and measuring then having a big solid lump of concrete to clean out of the pot. I was really quite scared of that happening so was pretty obsessive with testing the doneness on a saucer. One other important factor is to use really good quality oranges—in this case, we got ours from Riverford organics.

Check out the recipe here: www.riverford.co.uk/marmalade