Winter Pickles

I'm not a big fan of vegetables pickled in vinegar. The taste is far too sharp for me. When I've tried to pickle onions, beetroot or cucumbers at home, my pickle-loving family complain they're too acid for them, too, so I'm guessing that the commercial products they're used to are preserved some other way, using sweetened vinegar for flavour only. What I have found I like - love, even - are vegetables preserved in brine, with just a little vinegar to give them a lift.

I first came across this method of preserving veg as a student, in a book of mezze cookery by Rosamond Man. She recommends pickling small turnips, layered between beetroot slices, in a mixture of brine and vinegar with celery leaves, garlic and dates as flavourings. It makes for a spectacular splash of colour on a winter table, and the unusual flavourings bring out something very special in turnips.

You can preserve any vegetables in this manner. If you only want a mild flavour, you can "quick pickle" them in the fridge. A basic mix of equal parts water and vinegar, salted and heated with herbs or spices is poured hot onto prepared vegetables. The jars are sealed, left to cool and kept in the fridge for a couple of days before opening. They'll keep like that for a month or so, with the flavour becoming deeper with time.

For more long-term preserving and a more robust flavour, you will need to ferment your vegetables in brine. I remember one time finding that my Italian-style pickled cauliflower looked a bit fizzy in the jar. Somewhat alarmed, I went hunting around on the internet and discovered page upon page of home-picklers singing the praises of fermented veg, both from a flavour and a nutritional point of view. Once I'd established my cauliflower would not kill me, I tentatively opened the jar and had a taste. The taste was more delicious than I could have imagined. It was mildly salty, with a burst of sourness that really lifted the now mellowed cauliflower taste. The vegetable had retained its texture but was no longer brilliant white, more of a deep cream colour. Since then, I have done more research and found recipes from all over the world for brine-fermented foods, but my first love is the roots that are plentiful at this time of year.

Brine-Pickled Winter Roots
1.5-2kg of peeled, sliced vegetables (turnips, carrots, celeriac, beetroots)
750ml water
300ml wine or cider vinegar
60g sea salt
Herbs and spices according to taste (I like to use coriander seeds, bay leaf and a little chilli)

Sterilise your preserving jars by washing and rinsing them in hot water, then setting them in a low oven to dry.
Put the water, vinegar, salt and flavouring ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil.
Pack the jars with the vegetables. Any beets will colour the other vegetables, so keep them separate if you don't want hot-pink pickles. 
Pour the pickling liquor over the vegetables in the jars, making sure they are completely covered and without air bubbles among the layers.
Close the jars and leave at room temperature for a week or so, before moving them to a cool dark place for up to six weeks. The longer you leave them, the deeper the flavour. 
Once opened, store in the fridge and use within a month.


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