Events, Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Inspiration For #WorldPicklingWeek 23-29th May 2016



Wisdom in Pickle: “Gather ye Rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying!” – Sang the poet to the maiden. Later, when she becomes a busy housewife, she exchanges rosebuds for the fruits of the earth in season, and gathers her pickling vegetables with wisdom and foresight.

All manner of preserves and pickles are so easy to do, and make a pleasurable and profitable return for labour expended, for months to come. Who does not love to show row upon row of home-made preserves? Who would not rather eat them?

(Perfect Cooking by Parkinson, 1947)

On Monday 23rd May, #WorldPicklingWeek begins. Since 1948, this event has been held, annually, during the last week of May. In its early years this celebration was confined largely to America, taking place over a 10 day period but these days  #WorldPicklingWeek  has a global reach and lasts a week. Now a new, younger generation of cooks are also discovering the fun as well as the health benefits of pickling and fermenting.

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Both these processes of food preservation are nothing new and date back to ancient times, in fact as far back as 2030 BC. Borne out of a necessity to preserve fruit and vegetables so that they could be enjoyed, out of season, all year round. According to the website of heritage glassware brand, Kilner Jars in 850 BC, Aristotle praised the healing effects of cured cucumbers and Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) valued pickles as a vital health asset for his armies.


The Kilner Brothers created Kilner Jars in Castleford, Yorkshire in 1842. Kilner Jars are a common style of pickling and preserving container. Given the current trend for nostalgia and heritage brands, Kilner Jars continue to be popular. Fun fact for you, TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson, is the great-great-great-great-grandson of John Kilner (1792-1857). In America, the pickle and preserve glass jar of choice is the Mason Jar, designed and patented by John Landis Mason (1832-1902) in 1858. In more recent times, Kilner and Mason Jars have also taken on another iconic role, as a hipster drinking vessel!

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Prior to modern refrigeration, pickling preserved perishable foods for months and sometimes years. Herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves all have anti-bacterial properties, perfect for adding to pickling vinegar.


The Romans were particularly skilled when it came to pickling and preserving. They used brine or vinegar for pickling and wine, grape juice, or honey for preserving. The Romans were also partial to a bit of sauerkraut (chopped white cabbage that has been fermented).

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Sauerkraut is a ‘superfood’, high in fibre and full of vitamin C. It has even been credited with saving the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail (1500s-1850s).  Scurvy (extreme vitamin C and B deficiency) had long been a scourge of the Royal Navy. Sailors fell sick and sometimes died whilst on sea voyages which often lasted upwards of a year.

Ships had no on-board refrigeration meaning that the crew’s diet largely consisted of salted/preserved meats (beef or pork), hard biscuits, pease, oatmeal, butter and cheese. All had limited nutritional value and benefited from being able to be stored for long periods. Occasionally, the crew ate fresh fish, fruit and vegetables.

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In 1768, Captain James Cook (1728-1779) set sail from England to the South Pacific on board HM Bark Endeavor. According to the victualing minutes, there was 7,860 lbs of sauerkraut (spelt ‘sour kroutt’) in the hold. Cook read James Lind’s A Treatise of the Scurvy (1753) and as a result implemented dietary and sanitary procedures (such as airing sleeping quarters) to curb an outbreak of scurvy amongst his crew. Cook’s surgeon reported a low number of scurvy cases and no deaths on voyages post the 1760s.

In Asian cultures, pickled cabbages, turnips and carrots were and still are, the basis of popular condiments and side dishes. Fermenting is another one of 2016’s hottest new food trends. One reason for this is the known health benefits that come from eating vegetables which have been prepared using this method. Fermented produce is high in fibre, nutrient rich and packed with plenty of ‘good’ bacteria (lactobacillus). The fermenting process begins by brining vegetables (with a sugar, salt and water solution) then leaving them for up to 2 to 3 weeks at room temperature (ideally 35F to 45F). The brine draws out excess water, softens vegetables and activates the bacteria.

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South Korean kitchen cupboard staple, kimchi, is now one of the most popular western cross-over recipes in the Asian fermentation canon. Kimchi is the Asian equivalent of sauerkraut and dates back to the middle of the Koryeo Period (918-1392). Kimchi was used by the Koreans to save-off vitamin deficiencies during the winter months.

In 2013, First Lady Michelle Obama shared, on Twitter, her own version of a kimchi recipe, having grown the main ingredient, Napa/Chinese cabbage, in her own garden. Michelle’s recipe included spring onions, white radish, Korean chili powder, ginger, sugar, salt and water. However, traditional South Korean Kimchi should also contain ginger, salted shrimp, carrots, garlic, fish sauce and Korean chilli flakes rather than powder.

My Simple Tips For Pickling & Preserving

  • Always use fresh fruit and vegetables for pickling, from an allotment/garden, farmer’s market or a farm shop. Try to avoid using supermarket produce;
  • Supermarket produce is fine for making preserves/jams/jellies/chutneys;
  • Wash all produce well before you begin;
  • Pickling salt is better than table salt for pickling;
  • Use white distilled or cider vinegars that have 5% acidity;
  • Always sterilize empty jars and use new lids on recycled jars to obtain an airtight seal;
  • Use a jam funnel for decanting hot liquid into jars (trust me you will struggle without one and are likely to get burned from the molten liquid!). Do not use a large plastic funnel. The liquid’s high temperature will melt it;
  • After filling your jar(s), wipe rim clean of any residual filling;
  • Label every jar with date of production and contents;
  • Most pickles need 3 weeks and jams 1 week for flavour to develop.

For anyone new to pickling, Kilner Jars have a great section on their website where you can learn more about:

High & Low Pectin Fruits in Jam & Chutney-Making

Use preserving sugar for fruits that are low in pectin, such as:

  • Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apricots, blueberries, cherries, pears, peaches, rhubarb and loganberries.

Use castor sugar for fruits that are high in pectin, such as:

  • Blackcurrants, redcurrants, cooking apples, damsons, quinces, gooseberries, some varieties of plums.

For recipes that contain a mix of high and low pectin fruit, I opt for preserving sugar.

Pickled Cucumbers (1940s Recipe)

(Perfect Cooking by Parkinson, 1947)

  1. Rub gherkins and cucumbers well with salt. Keep them covered with salt for two days, turning over occasionally;
  2. Rinse and drain thoroughly;
  3. Boil together one pint of vinegar and 3 pints of water, and pour over the cucumbers;
  4. A few hours later boil together 1 pint of vinegar and 2 pints of water. Having poured off the first lot, pour this hot weak vinegar solution over the cucumbers. Cover and leave to cool;
  5. Next day pack the cucumbers in jars that have been lined with vine leaves. Boil some fresh vinegar with a little garlic, some allspice berries, peppercorns, bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, and mace, and a little sugar, if liked;
  6. Cool and pour over the cucumbers;
  7. Cover top of jar with vine leaves and cork down [or use a Kilner/Mason Jar].
  8. If liked, cucumbers may be packed in sweet spiced vinegars.

Pickled Beetroot (1940s Recipe)

(Perfect Cooking by Parkinson, 1947)

  1. This is an excellent stand-by for salads when good beetroot is not obtainable. Choose young dark-coloured beetroots, and wash, being careful not to bruise the skins in any way;
  2. Do not cut off the rootlets, and leave on a few inches of the stalks. Drop into boiling water and cook until almost tender. Allow to cool and remove skins and roots. Either cut into slices or leave whole as required, and pack into jars;
  3. Boil together the following: – 1 quart of vinegar, or enough to cover the beetroots; a little whole pepper; a few allspice berries; some bruised whole ginger; a few cloves; a blade of mace; and 1 tablespoonful of sugar;
  4. Allow to cool, add 1 tablespoonful of grated horseradish, if liked, and cover the beets;
  5. Scrape a little horseradish on top of each jar and seal down;
  6. The beets may be flavoured with ½ oz of coriander seeds instead of the spice.
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Piccalilli (1950s Recipe)

(Preserves For All Occasions by Alice Crang,  4th ed. 1953)

Ingredients: 3 lbs of mixed vegetables; 1 pint of spiced vinegar; 3 to 6 ozs sugar; 3/4 oz mustard; 2 quarts water; 8 ozs salt; 2  1/5 teaspoonfuls turmeric; 1 heaped teaspoonful plain flour.

  1. Onions and cauliflower are two of the vegetables usually included in piccalilli, and a selection from French or runner beans, cabbage, cucumber, marrow, and green tomatoes used for the remainder;
  2. Prepare and cut the vegetables into even sized pieces, leaving small onions or very small tomatoes, and breaking the cauliflower into florets;
  3. Steep these overnight in a brine made from the salt and water;
  4. The next day cook the drained vegetables in most of the vinegar and sugar for 20 minutes;
  5. Make a paste from the mustard, turmeric, and flour mixed with the remaining vinegar;
  6. Drain off the vegetables and boil the spices in the vinegar for 1 minute;
  7. Mix the vegetables and pour into warmed jars and cover.

Vinegar Pickles and Pickled Lemons (1960s recipes)

(Marguerite Patten’s Recipe Cards, Hamlyn, 1967)

Ingredients: For spiced vinegar mix 1 pint of pure malt (white or brown) vinegar with 1 tablespoon of pickling spice. Vegetables to choose: tiny pickling (silverskin) onions or shallots, red cabbage, green tomatoes, mixed vegetables (cauliflower, marrow, etc), cucumbers or gherkins. For pickled lemons: 12 lemons, 2 level tablespoons salt, 1 level tablespoons paprika, 2-3 bay leaves, peppercorns, 1/2 pint olive oil.

  1. Boil vinegar and pickling spices together for a few minutes, strain and use the vinegar. This can be varied by adding less or more pickling spices – by leaving chilli pods, bay leaves, etc. in the pickle;
  2. Methods of preparing vegetables include leaving them in either salt (dry brine) or a wet brine;
  3. Wet brine is made with 2 oz pickling salt to 1 pint cold water. Leave onions for 48 hours. Cucumbers (cut in pieces) or whole gherkins leave for 12 hours. Other vegetables and mixed vegetables, 12 hours. Pour off surplus brine after soaking and rinse in cold water then drain;
  4. Dry brine is made by sprinkling salt between layers and leaving for 24 hours (shredded cabbage). Cucumbers need to be left for 12 hours;
  5. Pack the vegetables in the jars, then pour over the cold spiced vinegar and seal the jar down;
  6. For pickled lemons, quarter and boil lemons for 20 minutes. Pack in jars with salt and paprika. Add bay leaves, peppercorns, olive oil. Cover. Keep for 6 weeks before using;


My Adventures in Preserve and Chutney-Making

Last year, I was lucky enough to be given lots of fruit from a family member’s allotment. I received gooseberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, apples and courgettes. I also had a lot of green tomatoes in my own garden that were failing to ripen due to poor weather.

At the time of receiving this wonderful fruit and veg harvest, I wasn’t ready to undertake a mammoth pickle and preserve session. I decided to freeze all the produce (save for the green tomatoes, onions and apples). I sliced and par-boiled the courgettes, leaving them to cool before popping into the freezer.

Using frozen produce for preserves/chutneys does present its own set of unique challenges. One tip I would give is to weigh produce before you freeze it and make a note of amount on the container. This will enable you better gauge the sugar/fruit weight ratio when the produce has been defrosted. Any excess water/juice left after defrosting, just add to pan before you begin to boil mixture.

Below are some of my simple recipes for making jam and chutney. I recommend using a large preserving pan, a jam funnel and a sweet thermometer. A few notes on using various fruits in jam-making:

  • Berry fruits, such as raspberry, loganberry, black berry etc, require a rapid boiling in order to secure a good flavour and bright colour;
  • Apricots and plums require a quick boiling;
  • Quinces, pears and apples should be cooked gently to develop the attractive pink colour.

Blackberry and Apple Jam

Ingredients: 2 lbs blackberries; 1  1/2lbs apples (cored and chopped into quarters); juice and zest of 1 large orange; 3 lbs preserving sugar; 1 pint of water.

  1. Simmer blackberries, apples, orange juice and zest in a large preserving pan with a 1/4 pint of water for 5 to 10 minutes until softened. Set aside;
  2. In a separate pan, dissolve sugar in rest of water, slowly and over a low heat. Set aside;
  3. Place preserving pan, with softened fruit in, back onto the stove. Add dissolved sugar and bring combined mixture to a rapid, rolling boil (10 minutes). Mixture will begin to thicken;
  4. If you are using a sweet thermometre, jam reaches the ‘soft ball’ stage at 230F. If you don’t have a sweet thermometre then perform the drop test;
  5. To perform the drop test, spoon a small sample of the jam into a cold glass of water. If the mixture forms a soft ball then the jam is ready;
  6. Using a jam funnel, carefully pour the boiling liquid into your sterilized jar(s). Cover jar(s) with a disk of greaseproof paper. When cooled, secure lid on jar(s).

Courgette, Onion and Green Tomato Chutney

Ingredients: 3 lbs courgettes; 3 lbs castor sugar or soft-brown sugar or a mix of both; 1 lb green tomatoes; 2 large, chopped, Spanish onions; 4/5 apples (I used windfalls) or 2 cooking apples (cored and quartered); 1 cup of raisins and mixed peel; 1 tablespoon of ground ginger; butter for frying (1-2 tablespoons); 1/2 pint cold water and 1/2 pint boiling water.

  1. Pour 1/2 pint of boiling water over raisin and peel mix. Leave for 2 hours enabling fruit to plump-up. Drain liquid and set-aside raisin and peel mix;
  2. Using a large pan, soften onions and green tomatoes in butter;
  3. Add to pan courgettes, apples, raisin and peel mix, ground ginger, sugar and  1/2 a pint cold water;
  4. Bring mixture to a gentle boil, keep stirring until the mixture thickens;
  5. I find that this process can take quite a bit of time, 30 minutes plus. Unlike fruit-based jams which contain preserving sugar and thicken quite quickly. Keep an eye on the mixture and stir at regular intervals;
  6. Using jam funnel pour hot liquid into jam jar(s). Cover jar(s) with a disk of greaseproof paper. Leave to cool and secure with lid(s).

Gooseberry and Blueberry Jam

Ingredients: 2 cups gooseberries; 2 cups blueberries; 2 cups of preserving sugar; zest and juice of 1 lemon; 3-4 tablespoons water; 2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg.

  1. In a pan (off the heat), add lemon zest and juice to water;
  2. Add sugar, slowly, whisking until sugar/water mixture is smooth. Add more water if needed;
  3. Gently heat smooth mixture until all sugar has dissolved;
  4. Add gooseberries, blueberries and ground nutmeg;
  5. Thicken mixture by bringing it to a rolling boil lasting about 10 minutes;
  6. Use the drop test to see if the jam is ready;
  7. Using a jam funnel, pour liquid into jar(s). Place a disk of greaseproof paper on top of each jar. When cooled, secure lid(s).

Blackcurrant and Orange Jam

Ingredients: 2  1/2lbs blackcurrants; 3lbs castor sugar; mixed peel and raisins; 1 to 2 pints cold water and 1/2 pint of boiling water; zest and juice of 2 large oranges.

  1. Pour 1/2 pint of boiling water over raisin and peel mix. Leave for 2 hours enabling fruit to plump-up. Drain liquid and set-aside raisin and peel mix;
  2. Add orange juice and zest, blackcurrants, raisin and peel mix to a pan with 1 pint of cold water. Simmer on a low heat for 20-30 minutes until fruit softens. Add more water if you need to;
  3. Stir-in sugar. When sugar is dissolved, boil jam quickly without letting it froth over;
  4. Keep the mixture on a rolling boil for approximately 10 minutes until it thickens;
  5. Use the drop test to see if the jam is ready;
  6. Using a jam funnel, transfer liquid into jar(s). Place a disk of greaseproof paper to each jar(s). Leave to cool. Secure lid(s) on jar(s).
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