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.
Makes 3 x 340g jars
1kg washed, peeled vegetables (I used Romanesco cauliflower; green beans; cucumbers; courgettes; tomatillos; shallots; green peppers)
50g fine salt
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
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)