Many moons ago, when I was young and carefree, I travelled halfway around the world to experience what it was like to live in England. Because that is what young kiwis do. It is almost like a rite of passage to head off on your OE (Overseas Experience) and see what the great big world has to offer before heading home and starting your grown up life glittered with the jewels of experience that living in such a small country can’t offer. The beauty of it all is you come home to realise there is no place like home and there are things here that only this wonderful place can offer, and you settle down grateful and satisfied with where life has planted you.
Every now and then something stirs deep in your memory and you get a hankering to reminisce over some obscure event long forgotten. And surprisingly, while staring at my many marrows, accidentally created through negligence and failure to check the zucchini plant often enough, I began to get an inkling. A glimmer of a memory of a taste from so long ago, finding its way across my taste buds like it was yesterday.
As I explored the thought it took me back to an old English pub garden, with the well-worn wooden tables, supporting umbrellas emblazoned with the brewery logo, to protect the patrons from the blazing midday sun. The grass was worn with the constant traffic, and rightly so as it was such an idyllic place to linger. The borders were lined in a blousy cottage garden style and hanging baskets festooned any place along the wall that was able to hold the summery embellishment.
The glass before me was a slighty murky cider, and ice cold, the perfect thing for the heat of an English summer. The heat actually took me a little by surprise to be honest as I had grown up with the misconception that England was perpetually cold, wet and miserable and gloomy and bleak in outlook the whole time. I was not expecting to need my flowery pink summer dress at any stage during my time as a traveller in this land. Then the bar staff wandered into the garden with my lunch order and set it down beside my drink. A ploughman’s lunch.
Tradition has it that a lunch of bread, cheese and pickles was the kind of fare served up to hard working farmers in days gone by. A beer often went hand in hand with this meal, but to be honest I don’t really like beer all that much. The only time I really enjoy a cold beer is immediately after hard graft in the garden on a hot day as it does something no other beverage can to quench that thirst. Other than that I’m a fruity bubbly sort of a girl. So in this instance I am fine with cider to complement my ploughman’s lunch.
In the pubs of the 1990’s alongside the cold meat, chunky bread, tomatoes and pickled onions, was a condiment that almost seemed standard, and that would be the Branston Pickle. This rich brown pickle was warm and spicy and dressed small cubes of vegetables that elevated the contents of the meal to something more than ordinary. And it was this my taste buds were remembering. And I began to wonder how I would recreate it.
I searched the great big internet for recipes that would reveal the trade secrets behind this old memory and I found many – each claiming to be the closest to the real thing. With so many years since I’d enjoyed the real thing I had to take their word for it and did a bit of mixing and matching to suit my tastes. The key vegetables were swede, carrots, onions, cauliflower and gherkins all diced into small pieces. Now I had carrots, onions and gherkins, however was lacking in cauliflower and swede. What I did have was an overgrown kohlrabi which would satisfy the brassica taste element and marrow, which would chop up nicely and would bulk it out.
The spices were all rather varied so I decided to go with a teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of allspice, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of whole grain mustard and half a dozen cloves of garlic – not mine, but we won’t go there because I’m still quite bitter about the crop failure.
Other ingredients that contributed to this concoction were 3 apples, peeled and chopped into tiny chunks, brown sugar, about 200g grams – maybe more for a sweet tooth, and half a litre of vinegar. I used malt vinegar in an attempt to recreate the brownness of the pickle, the juice of a lemon and a tomato, with no skin or pips. I had seen something on the great big internet of a tomato being sliced in half and rubbed on a grater to remove the flesh from the skin. I was a tad sceptical as I had seen it on one of those sites where they give you a hint as to what is going on with the temptation to click with the leading phrase “ you won’t believe what happened next…” But it worked well enough for someone in a hurry and so over chopping and fiddling about with getting veggies perfect. After the grater I sent the tomato through a sieve and job done – easy as.
The final bit of the recipe couldn’t have been more simple and it what initially drew me, if you overlooked the fact that pretty much all of the ingredients needed chopping into tiny little cubes, it seemed too good to be true. “put all the ingredients into a large pot, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours. Put into sterile jars.”
This pickle is supposed to improve on keeping. One month will give a great result, but two will be even better. We couldn’t help ourselves and cracked open a jar after a day of keeping. It was still very good. I’m unsure if it is anything like the original as my memory is dodgy at the best of times, but I’m happy to say it was pretty wonderful and the family loved it. New memories were created sitting around the lunch table today!
Come again soon – I’m wondering what pressing task the garden will spring on me next.
Sarah the Gardener : o)