Sunday, 23 August 2009


I can safely declare it mid-chutney season. When I returned from holiday I immediately began dealing with the glut of courgettes, cucumbers and gherkins. Gherkins are thankfully easy to deal with. The small ones can be pickled whole and the large ones can be sliced and pickled either plain or with extra flavourings as dill pickle. I had left instructions for Sue for making pickled gherkins whilst we were away and she handed me a jar of "science experiment gone wrong" when I saw her in the week. She's clearly not a fan of pickled gherkins. I have to admit they do look a bit ugly in the jar but I know a man with a seemlessly endless appetite for them... guess what my dad will be getting for Christmas... well, it's better than socks!

Pickled Gherkins

Malt or pickling vinegar

Wash the gherkins to remove any residual soil and the spines. If small enough, keep the gherkins whole; if larger then slice into discs. Pack into a suitable sized jar, sprinkling on salt as you go. Be generous with the salt and don’t worry about the taste, as it will be washed off. Pour in the water and seal the jar overnight. Drain the gherkins, rinse well under running water and dry on kitchen paper. Also rinse and dry the lid and jar. Pack the gherkins back into the jar and fill to the top with vinegar. Place a ball of greaseproof paper in the neck of the jar to keep the gherkins submerged then seal and label the jar.

Dill Pickle

6 small cucumbers or large gherkins or 12 small gherkins
16 fl oz (475 ml) water
1¾ pints (1 litre) white wine vinegar
4 oz (115 g) salt
3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons dill seed
2 garlic cloves, sliced

Wash the cucumbers to remove soil and spines. Cut the cucumbers into slices or leave small gherkins whole. In a saucepan, heat the water, vinegar and salt to boiling then immediately remove from the heat. In suitable jars, layer the sliced cucumbers with the garlic, dill and bay until the jar is well packed. Pour the warm liquid into the jars and seal immediately.

When faced with large quantities of courgettes and cucumber my mind automatically thinks picalilli. Then a quick flick through the recipe confirms that now is the ideal time for making picalilli because I'm also on the verge of a glut of calebrese and French bean - both of which can be added to picalilli. One of the great things about making it is that it is predictably quick. When a chutney needs to simmer to reduce until thick it is difficult to know how long you might end up tied to the kitchen. It can be a bit like waiting for the gas man to turn up and it's certainly not the sort of thing you should start an hour before the school run. With picalilli you know that once you start cooking it the whole lot will be neatly lined up in jars within half an hour. The time consuming bit is all the chopping at the beginning but even this can be lessened with the use of a food processor. Did I mention I have just bought a new food processor? It cost me £172 and it came in 38 separate bits. It took half a day to unpack and repack into the designated cupboard shelf. Still, at least I shouldn't find random pieces of plastic in my chutney like I used to as the old food processor gradually fell to bits.


3 lb (1350g) of vegetables – roughly: 1 lb 12 oz (790g) courgette and/or marrow, 14 oz (400g) cucumber, 3 oz (85g) calabrese (or cauliflower) florets, 2 oz (55g) climbing beans, 2 oz (55g) very small onions or shallots.
1 oz (25g) mustard powder
1 oz (25g) ground ginger
1 small piece root ginger
3 oz (85g) caster sugar
1 pint (660 ml) malt vinegar
1 dessert spoon cornflour
1 dessert spoon turmeric

Wash and chop the vegetables to the size you would like them to be in the final chutney then place them in a bowl, layered with salt. Peel, top and tail the small onions/shallots leaving them whole then add them to the bowl with salt. Place a small plate over the top and weight it down so that it is pressing on the vegetables. Leave for several hours or overnight. Drain off any water, rinse the vegetables under cold running water and dry thoroughly. Add most of the vinegar to the preserving pan, reserving about 3 fl oz (85ml). Add the mustard, both gingers and the sugar. Heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the vinegar begins to steam, start adding the vegetables. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Combine the cornflour and turmeric with the reserved vinegar then add it to the pan. Boil for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to thicken. Remove from the heat and ladle into warmed jars and seal immediately.

It's such a brilliantly easy chutney to make and uses such a perfect combination of ingredients just right for this time of year that after a trip to the supermarket to stock up on vinegar, ground ginger and turmeric I made another batch.

Another good chutney for this time of year is my salad and sandwich pickle. This is a homemade version of a rather famous brown pickle. Again it requires a set of vegetables that just happen to be available on the plot at this time of year. In fact, my desire to make this pickle is the main reason I grow swede. Unlike many chutneys this one does not require the vegetables to be left overnight in salt. This can be handy because it can be started and finished on the same day. Mind you, I often find the break between preparing the vegetables and making the chutney useful as it means I'm not spending hours on any particular day involved in chutney making.

Salad and Sandwich Pickle

1 medium swede, peeled and diced
9 oz (255g) carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
5 oz (145g) dates, finely chopped
2 medium apples, peeled and finely chopped
1 large courgette, peeled and finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
10 oz (285g) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (60ml) lemon juice
1½ pints (1 litre) malt vinegar
2 dashes of balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a preserving pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for one and half to two hours until thick. Ladle into warmed jars and seal immediately.

Having spent so much time in the kitchen this week I had somewhat neglected the allotment. I was pleased, however, that by Friday I had purged my kitchen of courgettes and cucumbers and had only a sensible quantity of calebrese and French beans in the fridge. Then at 5 o'clock on Friday I decided it was time for some fresh air and I went for a stroll round to the allotment. I came back with a carrier bag of courgettes, a bag of cucumbers, half a bag of beans and a punnet of ripe tomatoes. So now the plums are beginning to fall of the tree, the apples are very nearly ripe and tomato season is here. Oh... and did I mention the three beautiful heads of cabbage? Can you guess what I'll be doing next week?

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