I love vinegar. From the literal mouth-watering crunch of a cheese and pickled onion sandwich, splashed neat over hot chips, through tangy salad dressings to salt and vinegar favoured crisps.
It’s also an amazing anti-bacterial cleaning liquid and does wonders to make windows sparkle.
But I digress.
Pickling is a great way of preserving the plenty of summer to enjoy in winter. Usually this involves allowing the pickles to mature for a while, so that the harshness of the vinegar can mellow. But not always. Here are a couple of recipes that, whilst they CAN be kept to enjoy in the cooler months, you can also enjoy straight away.
The first is a courgette relish. Wonderful on barbecued meats such as burgers and sausages and for using up a glut of produce. I have always found the relish you buy in the shops too gloopy, bordering on a jelly-like consistency and always much, much too sweet. This is a version made to my own, personal tastes; less sugar, more sharpness, bit of heat and the vegetables still crunchy.
Fair warning: it involves a LOT of chopping, because I feel the end result is much more pleasing to behold. You could just put everything through a mincer, but it tends to become a bit of a homogenous mush. Chopping everything by hand means the resulting relish is fine enough to spread and the separate ingredients retain their identity both visually and in terms of flavour. Make yourself comfortable, switch on the radio and before you know it, it will be done.
This makes about 4 x 500ml jars of relish. The amount will, of course, depend on the sizes of the vegetables you start with.
6 large courgettes
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
2 red chillies
2 green chillies
450g light brown sugar
400ml white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons celery seed
1.5 tsp turmeric powder
- Cut the courgettes lengthways and, using a teaspoon, scoop out the soft, spongy centre and seeds. Discard.
- Chop the courgettes into 5mm x 2mm-sized pieces.
- Peel the onions and chop into 5mm x 2mm-sized pieces.
- De-seed and chop the peppers and the chillies and chop into 5mm x 2mm-sized pieces. Add the chilli seeds if you like your relish hot.
- Put all of the vegetables into a large bowl and sprinkle over the salt. Set aside to drain for 1-2 hours.
- Strain the liquid from the vegetables. Rinse the bowl and return the vegetables to it.
- Fill the bowl with water and swish the vegetables around. Drain.
- Rinse and drain the vegetables again. Thoroughly. Then once more for good measure. It is tempting to skip this thorough rinsing, but if you do, the result will be an excessively salty relish. Do you really want to chop another mound of vegetables quite so soon?
- Rinse your jars with hot water and place in the oven, with their lids. Turn the temperature to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
- Put the remaining ingredients into a large pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Taste the sugar/vinegar mixture and decide if it needs adjusting either with a little more sugar or a little more vinegar. You can also add more after the vegetables have cooked, but better to get it close to what you like beforehand.
- When you are happy with the flavour, add the drained, rinsed vegetables and simmer gently until the courgettes become translucent.
- Taste again and adjust sugar/vinegar levels as necessary.
- Spoon into hot jars and seal.
- Can be enjoyed immediately
This recipe comes from the manuscript receipt book of Lady Ann Fanshawe at The Wellcome Library -page 292 by Lady Ann’s numbering. It is very quick and straightforward and not that different to the other pickled cherry recipes around, except for the seasonings.
Lady Ann favours mace and dill which were unusual enough to tempt me to try. The recipe also calls for the very best heart cherries, which are cherries that have a soft and rounded heart shape. A bit of research into old varieties reveals that heart cherries could be both dark or pale. I’ve gone with dark, and used a little red wine in place of the original water, in order to help preserve the colour of the fruit. If you can get pale dessert cherries, then swap the red wine for white.
The original recipe contained no sugar, which was a bit much even for a vinegar-lover like myself, so I have tweaked the recipe and added a little brown sugar to soften the flavour.
2kg dark purple cherries
540ml light fruit vinegar – I used home-made gooseberry, but you could use whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t overpower the flavour of the fruit. A white balsamic, for example
180ml red wine
6tbs dark muscovado sugar
3 blades of mace
1 tbs dried dill
½ tsp salt
- Stone the cherries and arrange them neatly in concentric circles in the bottom of a preserving pan. There should be enough to make a full single layer covering the bottom of the pan.
- Add the sugar, mace, dill and salt.
- Gently pour in the vinegar and red wine. This should just cover the cherries. If you need more liquid add it in the proportion of 3 parts vinegar, 1 part wine.
- Put the pan on medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cook for 10 minutes, until the cherries are just tender but still holding their shape.
- Gently spoon the cherries into sterilised jars and seal.
- Can be enjoyed immediately with ham and terrines, as well as fatty meats such as roast lamb, duck and pork.