Chaos Queer Cooking: Ploughman’s Pickle/Piccalilli/Chutney

Hi all! It’s been forever since I did a cooking column and I’m glad to be doing another one. Quick primer for those who are new to Chaos Queer Cooking; I don’t give a lot of measurements or ingredient lists, because a lot of these are recipes I come up with on the fly. I cook the way your grandmother does, and I want to show people how to cook that way too. (Frankly, it’s easier, once you get into the swing of it!) But if you’re scrolling down to find the “real recipe”, you won’t find it. I haven’t the foggiest idea how much turmeric I actually put in this.

Today, I’m gonna talk about chutney, “ploughman’s pickle”, and piccalilli. To North American readers – at least white ones – two or even all three of these words probably sound bizarre. Luckily, the secret is: they’re pretty much the same thing!

(At my English and Indian readers: shush. They are. Keep your bickering to yourselves and let me explain.)

Chutney is a very general term, and an Anglicized/colonizer version of the Hindi term chatni. It’s the same concept as relish (pickle relish, corn relish, you name it), except that chutneys are usually fruit-based. You might have run into mango chutney at the store, tamarind chutney at your local Indian restaurant, or mint chutney in various places.

Ploughman’s pickle is sold as Branston pickle in a lot of places – it’s a malt-vinegar based “pickle” – pickled relish – made up of various vegetables, dates, apples, vinegar and sugar. The Branston version is heavy on sodium and other preservatives, but on the other hand, it’s really good. Unfortunately, it’s just about impossible to find on the North American side of the ocean short of special order.

Piccalilli is a bit of a combination of both of these. While piccalilli’s exact origins are unknown, it is a mix of the ingredients of ploughman’s pickle (most commonly cauliflower, pearl onions, carrots, celery, etc.) and Indian spices like turmeric and cumin.

So all three ARE different. Why do I say they’re pretty much the same? Because I’m poor, queer, and I’m not teaching you how to cook any of these three. If you want to cook any of these three to specific instructions, you can google them – but instead, I want to share the fine art of the Make-It-Up-As-You-Go.

SO. How do you make a chutney/English-style pickle?

  1. Pick your fruits and vegetables. At least to start, you want firmer vegetables. No spinach or kale or anything leafy for this type of dish. Instead, look at cauliflower, cucumber, carrots, white/pearl onion, rutabaga, squash, parsnip, zucchini, daikon (Japanese radish), green beans, bell peppers, etc. I suppose you could include red radishes, but you have to really like the taste; mushrooms are too delicate, and broccoli gets its florets everywhere. Potato would probably work, but I haven’t personally tried it. You also want some FRUITS. You can make this with no fruits at all, but fruits add that tangy extra sweetness. You’ll usually see apples and/or dates, but I often use apricots, prunes, mango, and/or raisins. Pick any number of these vegetables and fruits, thinking about how they’ll taste together.
  2. Pick your vinegar. There are all types of vinegars, but not all of them are appropriate for all type of pickles. Balsamic vinegar is (in my opinion, and most people’s) too strong for pickling; rice and rice wine vinegar is good for more Asian-inspired pickles, but is a bit delicate in other types of recipes. White vinegar is strong and kind of boring, but will work if you spice it right. For this type of pickle, I find that the best kinds are white wine vinegar, malt vinegar and/or apple cider vinegar. I usually use half-and-half of malt and apple cider, but it depends on your personal taste preferences and what you have on hand. You can also half-and-half any other vinegar with white vinegar if you don’t have enough. Take whatever vinegar(s) you’re using and set them aside.
  3. Pick your spices. Different spices go best with different fruits and vegetables and different vinegars. Overall, here are some recommendations from me:

Cauliflower/cucumber/carrot/onion/apricot/apple/raisin + 1/2 malt, 1/2 apple cider vinegar + spiced with TURMERIC, GROUND MUSTARD, CINNAMON, CUMIN, GINGER, CHILI PEPPER, SALT, BLACK PEPPER

Cauliflower/cucumber/rutabaga/parsnip/zucchini/apple/date + malt vinegar + spiced with GROUND MUSTARD, ALLSPICE, CLOVE, CORIANDER, CINNAMON, NUTMEG, CAYENNE PEPPER, SALT, BLACK PEPPER

Cauliflower/green beans/onions/parsnip/mango/apricot/date + white wine vinegar + spiced with TURMERIC, MUSTARD, GARLIC, GINGER, CUMIN, CHILI PEPPER, SALT, BLACK PEPPER

Once you’ve picked all of these, you’re ready to actually start!

  1. Chop up the vegetables (not the fruits!) into small pieces (think 1-2 inches max), and put them in a big bowl of salted water. Weigh them down with a plate so that they stay submerged, and put in the fridge for 24 hours/overnight. (Psych. Yeah, this takes a bit.) For two mason jars of pickle, you want about two cups of chopped veg.
  2. THE NEXT DAY: Chop your fruits – apples, dates, mangoes, apricots, prunes, whatever else you’re using – into small pieces. You only want about a cup of these if you’re aiming for two mason jars. Get out a medium or large pot and mix your vinegar of choice with sugar, in a 1:1 ratio. One cup total of vinegar to one cup of sugar is enough, and dissolve it over medium heat, adding your chopped fruit and raisins. Add a spritz of lemon juice, and the spices you want to use – 1-2 teaspoons each is good to start, and you can always add more as you cook. Bring this to boil, then simmer on low heat while you do the rest. You want the fruits falling apart into a delicious, mushy jam, but give it a stir every now and again to make sure it isn’t sticking, and add water if you need to.
  3. Take your veg out of the fridge, drain them, rinse them, and bring them to a boil on the stove, simmering for 5-10 minutes. Then drain them (again, yes) and add them to your fruit mixture, mix well, and simmer for another 30 minutes or however long it takes until everything has blended together. Taste as you go and adjust spices as necessary – if it’s not as sweet as you want, add sugar, if it’s not tangy enough, add a splash of vinegar, if you want a little more sourness, add a touch more lemon juice, etc.
  4. Depending on a number of factors – the sugar you use, the vegetables, etc. – your pickle may or may not thicken up. If as it’s simmering, the liquid is still very thin, use a ladle or spoon to take some of the liquid out and put it into a cap. Add about a tablespoon of flour, mix til thick, then pour back into the chutney, mixing well. Do this a few times until the pickle starts thickening up a little. It’ll thicken more as it cools, too – just make sure the flour doesn’t clump up.
  5. Sterilize two (or more) mason jars (you can look this up online, but i generally pour boiling water into them and let them sit, or put them into the oven at low heat for a few minutes). While the pickle is still hot, pour it into the jars and seal them, and let them sit out on the counter to cool.

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS:

-Splash of Worcestershire sauce. Highly recommended especially if you’re doing a more sour pickle.

-Crystallized ginger for sweeter pickles Nom nom.

-Full cloves of garlic.

-Honey for a different taste and consistency rather than sugar.

-Dried chilies rather than chili powder. Slice them up real small, and you can use the seeds too, if you’re like me and love spice. Be careful, though, chili pepper seeds are evil. Also, PLEASE wash your hands right after cutting them.

-Tomatoes. Okay, I have no idea how this would actually taste, but tomato chutney/relish is a thing, so if somebody tries it, do let me know, I’m curious.

EXTRA NOTES:

-Pickles can last a while in the fridge, but for shelf or freezer storage, you’ll want an extra seal! There’s a few ways of doing this; look up water bath canning or pressure canning if you’re looking to do this a lot. However, a great way to add a little extra seal is to melt plain paraffin wax and pour it on top of the chutney, and then screw the mason jar lid on top. This works for jams as well, and helps with freezer storage in particular. When you want to pop the wax seal off, just poke one side of it with the handle of a spoon or a fork.

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