THE age-old skills of preserving produce were a way of keeping
fruits and vegetables edible during the scarcities of winter. This
was done by drying and salting, adding sugar, vinegar, or alcohol,
and storing in containers.
Today, good-quality seasonal produce is available all year
round, and by cooking pickles and relishes yourself, artificial
colourings or flavourings are avoided. Coupled with the pleasure of
making something, it is a satisfying and fulfilling way to spend an
afternoon, and it is exciting when opening a jar for the first
time, after it has matured for a few months.
My first taste of a home-made pickle was piccalilli, made by my
mother for the cold-meat-and-cheese buffet on Boxing Day. It was
planned three months ahead, and cooked in a large aluminium
preserving pan, using fresh ingredients.
My first venture into cooking pickles started with my passion
for cooking curries. I was not happy simply to cook mild dishes; so
I started experimenting with Indian pickle recipes, so that meals
could be spiced up. This was very successful, and I still stick to
the same recipes that I found years ago. (Take notes each time you
cook a pickle or chutney for the first time, in case you need to
tweak it later to your own taste.)
I then branched out and began cooking many other pickles and
chutneys. Gradually, autumn afternoons have become a conveyor belt
of sterilising, dating, and filling jars. I use cleaned, labelled,
and sterilised jars, which are returned or collected from a circle
of friends and family who are willing to try my creations. Kilner
preserving-jars, which have rubber seals, come in different sizes
and are good for larger produce such as pickled onions. As long as
the storage temperature does not get too high, the jars can be left
for at least a month to allow the flavours to develop.
Labels carry important information on content, and eat-by dates;
so use clear handwriting. Sticky labels can be bought from
supermarkets or hardware stores for a few pounds. A large
jam-making pan is useful, but a large saucepan would be suitable
for smaller quantities.
Cooking pickles indoors comes with its problems: complaints from
my family about smells, stinging eyes, and runny noses prompted a
change in venue. I was banished to cooking under an open garage
door, on a 15-year-old camping cooker (which I am still using).
I have had a few disasters: the first was when I hurriedly
cooked a batch of piccalilli to be given away, and got two
tablespoons of sugar mixed up with one teaspoon of salt. Strangely,
I had only two complaints, and to this day I wonder what the some
of the recipients did with their gifts. And, last year, my tomato
chutney ended up like soup, and will be destined for a fruity
addition to a stew.
Other than recipes that have been handed down to me, I have been
working my way through Pickles, Relishes & Chutneys,
by Catherine Atkinson (Anness, 2013), which has been very