Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Ploughmans Pickle (lucky Ploughman!)

Harvest time is pretty much over here in North Lincolnshire. The fields that were full of wheat & barley so recently are now brown & bare (though soon there will be a haze of green as the winter wheat starts sprouting).
I've always had a soft spot for the Ploughmans lunch* (a cold meal of bread, cheese, pickle and maybe an apple or a pickled onion), though North Lincolnshire Ploughmen seem to run on a diet of Fosters & Red Bull.

Moving swiftly on, here's a recipe for a Branston-style pickle, and a bit of a change for me, as I usually make fruit-based chutneys**, but the garden is crammed full of veg right now, so it seems like the best time to give it a try!

Ploughmans Pickle

The recipe here is a guideline, use whatever veg you have in abundance. Swede, cauliflower & gherkins all go well in this. You can add a few handfuls of raisins too, if you fancy.

285g carrots, chopped
285g turnips, chopped
285g courgettes, chopped
225g onions, chopped
225g apples, chopped
150g dates
250g demerara sugar
500ml malt vinegar (I usually suggest cider or white wine vinegar, but pale vinegar can make pickles look a bit muddy and unappetising, where you ideally want it to be so dark & dense that light cannot escape it. Kind of like a black hole but with carrots)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp mustard seeds (you can bash them in a pestle & mortar, or leave them whole for a little bite)
2 tsp allspice, ground
1 tsp cayenne pepper

In the words of Dinosaur Jr – start choppin! Seriously, most of the time you’ll be spending on this is getting the veg all cup into ½ cm dice. It will take ages. You’ll regret ever taking up preserving, but it will all be worth it in the end, when you have all the neatly diced veg in a thick, rich, lip-prickling sauce. Promise.

Tip everything into a large pan & slowly bring to the boil. Reduce the heat & simmer until the veg is tender & the sauce has thickened. This can take anywhere between half an hour & two hours.

When it’s (finally) thickened up, spoon into clean, sterilised jars & seal. Then come up with a name for your pickle, label it & store it for 3 months (if you can wait that long). If there’s something left in the pan, scrape it up with a bit of crusty bread & blow on until it’s cool enough to gulp down without scalding yourself. Pickle hot from the pan is face-scrunchingly sharp, but worth every wincing mouthful.

*Despite sounding like something as bucolic and traditionally English as marmalade & casual racism, the Ploughmans was an advertising campaign conjured up by the Milk Marketing Board in the 1960's to make people buy more cheese.

**There is a lot of debate out there about the difference between a chutney and a pickle. As far as I can tell, a chutney is a sweeter, fruit-based preserve (but still with the addition of vinegar, otherwise it would just be jam) and pickles are vegetable-based and with a more pronounced vinegar flavour.

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