Pickles and relishes are a great way of preserving fruit and vegetables, to be enjoyed long after their season is over. Most Indians ( including Arundhati Roy. Remember 'Paradise Preserves and Pickles '"too thin for jelly too thick for jam" in "The God of Small Things" ) must have a collective memory of large scale pickling going on, involving a fair number of the women of the house. I have always liked the idea of pickles even if I have not undertaken the task too often. It smacks of thrift and househusbandry, and, by association, pickle makers must have had all the characteristics of The Good Housewife.
Actually if the family is involved it can now be fun as well.
- Use only fruit and vegetable which are in the best condition. Avoid bruised or over ripe produce.
- Scrub the fruit or vegetables to be used. You can use a brush if necessary.
- Drain and wipe it dry with a clean dish cloth.
I have had a lot of enquiries for Piccalilli , which is the name of a relish made by the pound by British Memsahibs in India. It is not as spicy as Indian achaar and is a nice accompaniment to any bland food. A bit like kimchi but without the chilli.
1 kg green tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups onions, chopped..
1 cup red, sweet peppers, chopped ( Nice colour but you can use carrots instead)
1 cup Simla Mirch, sweet green peppers, chopped.
5 cups of cabbage, chopped.
1/3 cup salt
3 cups white vinegar.
2 tablespoons whole mixed spices.(*Do not use powdered spices)
1 cup honey.
Other vegetables you can use, seperately or in a mix, are french beans, horse radish, button onions, cauliflowers and cucumber.
How to prepare your vegetables
Chop all vegetables about the same size. Mix with salt and let them stand in a ceramic bowl overnight. Drain through a sieve, or muslin cloth, the next morning.
Tie the spices ( you can use whole white pepper, mustard seeds,cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, cardamom , dried allspice leaves, Kashmiri Lal Mirchi, ) in a muslin bag or put into a stainless steel tea leaf holder. Add the bag of spices to the vinegar in a thick bottomed stainless steel pan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Now add the honey. Add the drained vegetables and bring the mixture to a boil again.Turn heat to low and simmer for half an hour.The liquid should have reduced and should just about moisten the vegetables.
Take out the bag of spices. (If you use garlic, ginger or any other fresh herb, blanch for 2 minutes in hot water before adding to bag of spices). Do not leave the whole spices in the bottled pickle as they can adversely affect the colour and taste of the pickle.
How to prepare your containers:
Since we do not have pickling jars with seals here, and I think bharnis are not very practical nowadays I reuse ordinary large glass jam bottles. Put a trivet at the bottom of a pressure cooker or other large heavy bottomed pan. On top of the trivet place cleaned jars filled to the brim with water . Fill the pan with water, keep uncovered and bring to the boil. Let jars boil in water for at least 15 minutes. Balance well scrubbed lids on jars so they get steamed as well . Remove and let cool. Then cover the inside of the lids with rounds of butter paper. Fill the hot piccalilli into sterilised glass jars leaving a space of 1/4" on top. Cover tightly with lids lined with butter paper, or better still rubber seals, Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath in the same pan for 5 minutes.
By the way, taste the liquid before putting it into the jars as spices can vary in intensity and you can correct it if one or two turn out to be too strong by adding a few more of the other spices.
Signs of spoilage:
Slimy or slippery pickles-Do not eat. Using mouldy spices or too little salt can result in spoilage.
Darkening of pickles - result sfrom using too much spice or iodized salt or overcooking but this does not mean your pickles are ruined.
Added advantage- a colourful array of pickled vegetables makes an artful display in your kitchen.