Pickles

Pickles both JarsI’ve missed a couple of posts in the last few weeks, and I want to apologise for that. Truth is, the season’s been getting me down. Short, dark, cold, wet days stretching endlessly before me have bummed me out and put me off even cooking, let alone writing about it.

It was in this state of mind that my thoughts turned to alchemy. By which I mean pickling. Which are one and the same thing, as I will explain.

It’s not merely that both the shared paraphernalia of bottles, jars, flames, potions, acids, powders and so on. The two most sought-after goals of the alchemists were to transform base metals into gold, and to create an elixir of everlasting life. On both counts they were legendarily fruitless. But picklers can create a liquor that will preserve a vegetable for long after it’s lifetime should have expired.

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Saving food through the bleak winter times used to be an important and challenging endeavour. For months and months, what little that grew was insufficient to maintain life. Food had to be diligently dried, cured, confited, smoked, fermented, frozen, potted or pickled as a matter of survival. In modern times the imperative for this kind of preservation have largely passed. But the sweetened sharpness of the vinegary pickling liqueur doesn’t merely preserve – it improves and enhances as well.

And so the second goal of the alchemists is achieved, when we turn a humble cucumber (a gourd of base and common flavour) into a repository of gustatory sunlight merely shaped like a vegetable. The difference between picking and alchemy? Success.

Pickles plated closeup

It’s these simple delights that keep you going through a depressing season. Pickling used to be a life-or-death matter for surviving winter. But this winter, it’s been preserving me as well.

Pickled Cucumber and Radishes

  • ~300g of cucumbers and radishes (or onions, celeriac, cauliflower, cabbage etc).
  • 300g Vinegar
  • 200g Water
  • 100g Sugar
  • 3g (1/2 tsp) Salt
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • A few sprigs of dill

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Slice vegetables as per your preference and reserve in sealable containers.
Combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices in a small non-reactive saucepan. Bring to the boil and immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool, whisking briefly to ensure all the sugar has dissolved. Once cool, pour over vegetables, add herbs and keep in the fridge. The pickles will get better as they steep for several days, and should last months in the fridge.

Serve with chicken liver pate, with cheese and crusty bread, or with meaty sandwich.

Ploughman's lunch

Tips for Geeks

Will be going up in a separate post tomorrow – I’m playing around with the format of these posts just a little.

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