It’s December and I’m coming for air. I’ve missed being here and talking about food – we love it after all.
I’m glad 2013 is drawing to an end. I never want to be one to wish time away but I knew in January that this year was going to be messy and busy and I’m a little bit smug to report in December that 2013 was indeed messy and busy and a little bit tiring. I think I’ve written enough here about assignments and university, which largely explains my absence – I didn’t want to bore you with the mundane details of student life.
But this year has shown me time keeps moving. Like being a kid and counting down the days until Christmas or a birthday and then comes the Big Day, time passes just as it did the day before and you realise that your one special day doesn’t last as long as you feel it should. Maybe this is the adult version – wishing October to just be over already – and then it is, and so is November and so soon will the year. Every last assignment is handed in, summer has officially arrived and I have a great new job (!!). Time has passed so quickly and busily recently that I forgot to share the piccalilli recipe I mentioned months ago.
I remember once as a child eating piccalilli and chowchow, the fluorescent yellow supermarket brand stuff that was more sweet than sprightly and acidic. The vegetable to sauce ratio was out of whack, in the sauce’s favour, and I remember bits of green (Bean? Cucumber? Celery? Who knows) and whole corn kernels. I know I have eaten better piccalilli or vegetable chutney and pickles since then – our family friend, Nic, made a great one a few years ago – but for many years I still thought of the sweet, bright yellow sauce.
But Nic’s piccalilli was a game changer – a far more moderate and natural colour, predictably turmeric and mustard powder instead of E440 or whatever chemical produces such a harsh yellow. There were discernible pieces of vegetable – cauliflower and pepper and carrot and cucumber – each one toothsome and packing just the right acidic punch. Nic’s piccalilli broke the spell – no longer do I think of the poor imitation of piccalilli I had many years ago.
Around the time we made our piccalilli Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen wrote about the addictive, brightening qualities of a good pickle. There’s no going back, she says, once your taste buds cross to the vinegar side. I’m with her. A generous spoonful of relish or pickle or chutney improves just about everything; salads, sandwiches, fried eggs, a wedge of cheese, a plain cracker, and without it, your salad or fried eggs or slice of feta seems lacking.
Making piccalilli is good – one of those kitchen processes that reminds you of the simplicity of food and the history of modern cooking. As you dice the vegetables, each one a different shape, a different colour and texture with a different scent, and it seems there is no such thing as the humble vegetable. In piccalilli each vegetable holds its own, delivering oomph or finesse or spice.
So, in pursuit of occasionally slowing time to appreciate the good stuff and the bright spots and the vibrancy of fresh produce, this piccalilli is a darn good thing to make.
This recipe comes from the same book as the Beetroot relish featured a few months ago here, Jams and Preserves. One thing we have noticed with this cookbook is seasoning tends to err on the side of caution. I wouldn’t change the salt and sugar quantities but the spices could be marginally increased, particularly the chilli if you like a bit of heat.
400 grams cauliflower, cut into florets
1 small cucumber, chopped
200 grams green beans, cut into 2 cm lengths
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
100 grams salt
250 grams sugar
1 tablespoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 or 2 fresh red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 litre white vinegar
60 grams plain flour
Combine the cauliflower, cucumber, beans, onion, carrot, celery and salt in a large bowl. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and top with a small upturned plate to keep the vegetables submerged. Leave to soak overnight in the fridge.
Drain the vegetables well and rinse under cold running water. Drain the vegetables again. Combine the vegetable mixture with the sugar, mustard, turmeric, ginger, chilli and all but 185 ml of the vinegar in a large pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove any scum from the surface with a skimmer or a slotted spoon.
Stir the flour into the remaining vinegar until smooth and stir into the vegetables. Continue to stir until the mixture boils and thickens. Spoon immediately into clean, warm jars and seal. Turn the jars upside down for 2 minutes then invert. Leave for 1 month before opening to allow flavours to develop.
Store in a cool dark place for up to 12 months. Refrigerate after opening for up to 6 weeks.