Updated: Feb 26, 2019
I love pickles; all pickles (except perhaps eggs which I have never had the desire to make or eat!!)
A good pickle can elevate so many different things to a completely new dimension. We all know pickles and meat are the perfect match and can turn an otherwise mediocre sandwich into something a bit special. A creamy stroganoff is a completely different thing with a few sweet pickled onions scattered over the top (thanks Jamie Oliver) and the beautiful little salty and sour bursts from a handful of capers transforms a lemon butter sauce over a simple white piece of fish into a restaurant worthy plate.
Capers are also exceptional on a pizza with a few pine nuts black olives and sultanas. It sounds strange but is my absolute favourite pizza topping - trust me, it works!
Often our house is filled with the eyewatering aroma of boiling vinegar of varying types, but it is well worth it. We just have to open all the windows for a bit! Instant pickles are so quick and easy and can be made the same day you want to eat them, unlike the more traditional types where you need to salt or brine your ingredients and then leave the finished product for a couple of months before eating. Heat up some sugar and vinegar with a few mixed spices, and then submerge some thinly sliced crisp young vegetables such as carrots, radishes, onions, shallots, small cauliflower florets and hey presto! You have a jar of delicious sweet crunchiness in just a couple of hours.
Pickling is an invaluable way to use our bounty of fruit or vegetables right through the seasons. I love making sunshine yellow mustardy piccalilli to inject some bright crunchy summer vegetables to the table in the depths of winter. Our ancient little Damson tree always gives us a huge harvest each year, used to make Damson liqueurs just in time to be cracked open at Christmas, delicious pickled Damsons which are an unusual addition to a cheese board or a lovely set ruby red jelly which is perfect with red meats or even on toast. Their high level of pectin makes them the ideal ingredient to start with if you are new to making jelly.
We have our first Quince harvest this year too, which I am impatiently waiting to ripen. I am planning to make some beautiful rosy Quince jelly and chutney, as well as my first try at some Spanish style Membrillo to add to our cheese plates at our future supper clubs. And if there are any left on our little tree after that, I will get the vinegar out again and make some dark sweet and sour Quince chutney too.
Pickling knows no bounds either with what you pickle, or what you eat them with. As long as you are using immaculately clean and sterilised jars, and you ensure your ingredients are all completely submerged in the vinegary solution, then there is no reason for it to go wrong. Try it and see!
Quick Crunchy Pickles
250ml White Wine Vinegar
100g caster sugar
A bay leaf
A pinch of mixed peppercorns
5 juniper berries
a small chilli chopped into 3 and deseeded
5 carrots peeled and thinly sliced
a small bunch of radishes, thinly sliced
a shallot or a mild onion cut into 8 wedges and then separated into individual 'leaves'
Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil with the spices and the bay leaf.
Pack your vegetables into your clean, sterilised jar and pour over the mixture.