17 October 2014

A Pickle Odyssey

Ahead of our pickle competition, Cake Shop manager Terry Glover writes about her global pickle inspirations:

Exploring fermentation has taken me half-way round the world and back. You can take that as an over-eager foodie metaphor, but you can also take it as fact: my recent journey to Japan proved to me that just about anything can be pickled.

The Japanese word for pickle is tsukemono, which translates as ‘fragrant dish’. Tsukemono are essential to Japanese cuisine: they’re served as part of the tea ceremony; they’re ordered with drinks as a bar snack; they appear alongside every meal - even breakfast. Every region seems to have its own pickle speciality.

Kyoto in particular is famous for its tsukemono; it’s home to pickle shops established over a century ago. It’s also the home of the Nikishi Market, where I found myself every single morning of my stay. I couldn’t help myself: the anticipation of wandering through the narrow avenues of food stalls had me as excited as a child. The array of pickles on offer was mind-blowing: pickles in bowls, pickles in packets, pickles in vast tubs and mighty buckets, icy-cold pickles on sticks to be eaten as a refreshment in the humidity. Daikon radish, cucumber, eggplant, mulberry leaf, carrots, plums, ginger, fermented in delicate vinegars and pungent brines, made savoury with miso and soy or rich with sake lees and rice bran. Of course, I had to taste everything.

After leaving Japan I stopped in Australia to visit my parents. Here were the roots of my pickle obsession: at the home of the man who had kick-started my love for brine. I’ve been hooked ever since I was two years old, when my dad would feed me pickles to amuse himself. A shock to my tender palate, the tart tangy flavour had me wincing and screwing my face up, but I’d still reach out my hand for more. As a child I’d get caught by the refrigerator door door nipping sips of salty dill cucumber juice - it’s a habit I haven’t fully grown out of.

Now I’m grown up, Dad and I make pickles together with the lemons he grows in his yard. There are Meyers, big, fragrant and fleshy, and Lisbons, the original sour lemon, containing 5-6% citric acid. We pack them in jars with salt, fresh rosemary and bay.

Back home in London, it seems that all of my favourite people are pickling as well. Nigel Slater’s making pickled chard relish. Tim Hayward has a fantastic recipe for brining brisket - pickling meat never looked less intimidating. And Diana Henry has all sorts of mouth-watering ways of incorporating pickles into meals. Her pickled mushroom recipe from the wonderful Salt Sugar Smoke is a particular favourite of mine. It takes me back to visiting Rurbanista mates in County Victoria this summer, where my friend treated me to some Russian-style pine mushrooms she had foraged in the nearby scrub, and pickled with herbs from her garden.

Diana Henry's Pickled Mushrooms

Ingredients: 650g very fresh button mushrooms, the smallest you can find; juice of 3 lemons; 1 tbsp salt; 1 tbsp sugar; 4 tbsp olive oil; 400 ml white wine vinegar; fresh tarragon; fresh dill; 8 peppercorns; 4 garlic cloves, sliced

1. Wipe mushrooms with kitchen towel. Trim the ends and halve any which are larger than the others. Mix with lemon juice and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

2. Put the mushrooms in a pan with enough water to cover them all. Add the salt, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and rinse them under cold water. Reserve 400ml of the cooking water; strain through a fine sieve.

3. Return the cooking water to the saucepan with vinegar, peppercorns and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Leave to cool.

4. Pack the mushrooms into sterilised jars, distributing the garlic and herbs as you go, then pour the cooled liquid on the top. Cover with a layer of olive oil, seal and refrigerate. They'll be ready to eat in about 6 hours, but will keep, chilled, for up to a month.

View a gallery of Terry's pickle pictures, or enter our pickle competition yourself!