Piccalilli crisis

IMG_0737 (600 x 450).jpgIt’s true. We’ve scraped out the last jar of piccalilli. At the beginning of the winter, I made a Piccallilli mountain so vast that it probably qualified for some kind of EU subsidy. It is just the thing to perk up our cheese butties when we go out walking – I used to hate it, but  have gradually acquired a taste for it after years of making it for Robin. I still don’t like the bits of cauliflower, but I’m in charge of making the packed lunches, so I just sneak those into Robin’s sarnies.

Although the hands-on bit only takes a few minutes, you do need to need to start this several hours ahead, in order to give the veggies a good salty soaking – overnight is even better. Don’t skip this step or you will end up with a horrid bright yellow watery mess (to give you an idea, my veggies emitted about 150ml of liquid).

I have tried several piccalilli recipes, but this one is my favourite – it is one of those wonderful  handed-down family recipes given to me by our lovely friend and neighbour along the road, Barbara Smith.

Do not wear your best clothes to make this – you will inevitably get splashed with turmeric somewhere along the process. If you do get turmeric on your clothes, wash in detergent and then hang in direct sunlight while still wet – the stain should magically disappear. I realise that in England the sun cannot be guaranteed to make an appearance, but I can’t think of a solution to that.

Barbara Smith’s Piccalilli

This quantity makes 2 x 600ml jars and 2 x 500ml jars (or about 8 normal sized jam jars)

You will need jars for potting, sterilised by washing in hot soapy water, then rinsed and put on a baking tray into a cool oven (100C) for 10 minutes. Pot the Piccalilli while the jars are still hot to avoid any possibility of the glass jars breaking on contact with the hot liquid. I find wide-mouthed large jars are best for this – the type that you would buy pickled onions or mayonnaise in, though ordinary jam jars are fine – they are just a bit more fiddly to fill. You could buy proper pickling jars, of course – Ikea do excellent ones at very reasonable prices – but I prefer to recycle the free ones that come with my pickles!

I also have one of those very useful jam jar funnels, which basically stops the entire kitchen and most of your clothes ending up turmeric-coloured, as well as saving you from third degree burns while you’re trying to wrestle something a bit like volcanic lava into a jar – not essential, but they only cost a couple of pounds and are definitely worth acquiring if you make jams and pickles on a regular basis.

1 English cucumber (or 2 to 3 small ones if they are Turkish style)
2 courgettes
2 medium onions
Half a head of a medium cauliflower
250g runner beans or French beans
3 rounded tablespoons salt
150g sugar
1 litre vinegar (I used grape because that’s what we get here, but malt is fine)
1tsp chilli flakes or 2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
30g English mustard powder
60g plain flour
15g turmeric powder
15g ground ginger


I find the easiest way to manage this is to chuck all of the chopped veggies into a very large bowl (I use my washing up bowl), then add the salt and give it a really good mix with your hands, before putting into a large colander or sieve to drain.

Cut the cauliflower into florets and then snap little pieces off with your fingers, so that you end up with lots of miniature florets – discard the stalk. Cut the courgettes in half lengthways, then cut each half into four long strips, then chop widthways – you should be left with pieces about the size of a pea.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds – a teaspoon is easiest for this. Cut the cucumber into approximately the same sized pieces as the courgettes.

Top and tail the beans, then cut into small pieces roughly the same size as the other vegetables. Repeat with the onions.

Put everything into a very large bowl, sprinkle over the salt, then give it all a really good mix with your hands. Tip into a colander or sieve which is standing over a bowl or jug – make sure the bottom of the sieve has plenty of clearance so that the liquid can drip away from it. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for at least 3 -4 hours, but overnight is even better.

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In a small bowl, mix together the flour, mustard powder, turmeric and ginger, and add about 100ml of the vinegar – just enough so that you can mix it into a smooth pourable paste. Add a little more vinegar if necessary.

Put the vegetables into a large saucepan and discard the liquid that has drained from them. Do not be tempted to rinse the vegetables or you will undo all your good work – nearly all the salt will have drained off with the water, so the vegetables will not taste overly salty. (If you dip your finger into the waste liquid and taste it, you will find it incredibly salty.)

Add the remaining vinegar, sugar and chilli, place over a medium to high heat, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and add the flour/mustard mixture, stirring all the time to prevent lumps forming. Bring back to a simmer and cook for about five minutes, just long enough to cook out the flour but still retaining the crunch in the vegetables. If you prefer your vegetables softer, just cook for another minute or two. (The sauce will thicken perceptibly once it has returned to boiling point and the Piccalilli will also thicken further as it cools.)

Pot straight away in warm sterilised jars. You can eat this pretty much straight away (we always do!) but it does mellow with keeping. Providing you hide it from your friends and family, it will keep for several months in a cool place.

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