Preserving a Tradition
There is something homely and hearty about the idea of pickling, it’s the actual getting on with it that may be holding some of us back. So, if your apron has remained faithful to its post behind the kitchen door for several months, you will be glad to hear that pickling is actually a simple matter, or can be….
Pickling, curing, salting even preserving by immersion in lard was something of a necessity in the past before refrigeration and freezers to preserve gluts and make food last through the scarcer months of the year. Traditions and methods were passed down through generations with different cultures developing their own recipes and favourites.
Sailors, first circumnavigating the globe, survived with salted meats and preserved vegetables. Often these supplies were not only sustenance but also essential doses of vitamins to ensure a lack of scurvy and digestion problems.
There has been a fondness for a strong acidic flavoured food in England since medieval times – preserving in brine or vinegar and was a common fixture on pub menus for centuries. Pickles, Chutneys and Relishes are a very British accompaniment to our meals be it with a ploughmans or a curry.
There has been a fondness for a strong acidic flavoured food in England since medieval times
Vinegar is the important factor when pickling and using one with acidity at least 5 per cent is crucial for superior flavour with spices and salt added to create your individual style. Rather than the overpowering malt vinegar lighter versions such as cyder vinegar and white wine vinegar are incredibly versatile and can be used for more delicate vegetables. Sugar or honey can also be added to give sweetness to the finished product. Many people associate pickling with onions or gherkins, which are still popular in the UK but reach for the more unusual such as samphire or beetroot. It isn’t solely limited to vegetables of course.
Great Yarmouth, once at the heart of the thriving British Herring industry, produced pickled herring as a local speciality. Now with the decline of this industry this is today perhaps more widely associated with Scandinavia. The Japanese too use pickles with most of their meals, delicate in flavour, these tend to cleanse the palate or temper the pungent wasabi. Eggs have also traditionally been preserved in vinegar to be used during the winter when hens were not laying. Perhaps now associated with pubs and fish and chip shops, pickled eggs are more of a delicacy than many might imagine.
Aspall celebrates the pickled egg annually by hosting the World Pickled Egg Championships at the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival. Each year we receive entries from all over the UK and a few from the United States and eggs range in size (from quail to ostrich) and colour from golden brown to beetroot purple. With so many recipes and variations, there really are no fixed rules when it comes to flavour combinations. Nowadays preserving can mean ridding yourself of a glut crop from the garden but it can also be a satisfying way to be in touch with the seasons. We all hear so much about what lurks in processed foods so perhaps we all want a bit of the good life… We have a few suggestions of our own for pickling onions and pickled eggs so be brave and you will be rewarded with your own family favourites for the future.
Image courtesy of Kilner Jars