The Musette: part one – what a pickle!

As a child I loathed most pickles, including Branston, though bizarrely I loved my grandmother’s home-made pickled shallots, picallili  and pickled red cabbage. It’s only as I’ve matured that I’ve come to appreciate chutnies and all manner of other pickles – preferably home-made.

Now the top two shelves of my fridge are a shrine to them. There are glistening rows of ruby, purple and emerald vinegars, chutneys and relishes to go with cheese, cold cuts, frittatas, quiches, savoury pies and so on………

Danya Kukafka says it best:

There is a reason we have pickles, and it is the same reason we crave good art: we are in it for the pleasure … we are in it for the rush of salt, the crunch and satisfaction, that perfect bite.

While I’ll happily buy my jars of perfect bites, I enjoy making them, too – although, as much as I like the idea of a fridge filled with rows of jars, I typically only make small batches of preserves. It feels manageable, both in the making and the storing, because if something does go awry then it doesn’t really matter.

As a rough guide, 1kg (2lb) vegetables, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces, needs 750ml (3 cups) pickling liquid made by mixing 550ml (2 cups) vinegar (sometimes my home-made vinegar) with 200ml (3/4 – 1 cup) water in a pan, then adding a heaped tablespoon each of fine salt and sugar, and whatever you fancy of the following: a crushed red chilli, peeled or crushed garlic, bay, dill, peppercorns, juniper berries or coriander seeds etc etc Try to pick flavours that will complement the vegetable. Then heat it slowly. Once at boiling point, add all the vegetables, stir, cover the pan and leave on the heat for a minute or two before bottling in sterlised jars.

Here’s a couple of easy recipes:-

Quick Pickled Red Cabbage (makes one jar)

  • 1/2 small/medium head red cabbage
  • 250ml (1 cup) filtered  water
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) apple cider vinegar
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons muscovado sugar (or coconut sugar, brown sugar, pure cane sugar)
  • a piece of licorice stick (optional)
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Slice cabbage in half. Slice one half in half again. Remove the core. Shred cabbage finely with a mandolin slicer or very sharp knife. Place in a large glass bowl or jar.

2. Place water, vinegars, salt and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar and salt has dissolved. Stir in the spices and then pour over the cabbage.

3. Seal or tightly cover the jar/bowl and let sit on the counter for 3-4 hours. Stir then seal and place in the fridge until chilled (at least 1 hour).

4. At first the liquid will not cover all of the cabbage but as it starts to soften it will be fully covered after just a few hours. Best served at least a day after making. Keeps for about 2 weeks in the fridge – rarely lasts that long!

Now for pickled cucumbers:-

Ingredients (makes one jar)

  • 6 pickling cucumbers , or 2 regular-sized cucumbers
  • 2 banana shallots
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 star anise
  • 75 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
  • 150 ml vinegar

Method

1. Cut the pickling cucumbers in half lengthways, and slice regular ones through the middle, then into fingers. Peel and finely slice the shallots.

2. Put the cucumbers and shallots in a colander. Sprinkle over 2 teaspoons of sea salt. After 45 minutes, rinse well.

3. Combine all the other ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

4. Fit the cucumbers snugly into a Kilner jar, then pour over the liquid. Seal and leave for at least 24 hours. And that’s pretty much it!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Sterilise your preserving jars with boiling water and let them drain, or bake them at a low temperature in the oven for at least 10 minutes.

2. The pickles can be eaten the following day, but they’ll be even better if you wait. I keep my pickles in my preserves fridge. They taste better when cold anyway: brighter somehow, the sweet and sour and taste even more pronounced.