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Cottage Garden Pickle

The preserved Cottage Garden Pickle based on the recipe for Branston Pickle

The preserved Cottage Garden Pickle based on the recipe for Branston Pickle

Two minor inspirations can sometimes come together to form a major one.  I’m an unashamed anglophile and a ploughman’s lunch is one of my favourite pub meals.  Earlier in September a tweet by @ScottCanCook gave me the idea of making homemade Branston Pickle–the most typical savoury accompaniment to the bread, cheese, and onion (sometimes pickled, sometimes an apple or pear instead) that makes up a ploughman’s.  Recipes for Branston Pickle are a laundry list of vegetables especially those like swede, courgettes, and beetroot that the British have charmingly decided to call by a different name (that’s rutabaga, zucchini, and beets in North America).

Zucchini, carrots, beets, and apples all came from the garden at the cottage

Zucchini, carrots, beets, and apples all came from the garden at the cottage

This is one of those prepared products where a very decent commercial version has obliterated (most) memories of the earlier recipes that inspired it (see also ketchup, worchesterchire sauce, and just all types of salad dressing) and therefore internet recipes are somewhat inconsistent attempts to mimic the store-bought stuff.  These factors allowed me to feel little need for strict adherence to any particular recipe and instead I let myself be guided by what was available in the vegetable garden at the cottage.  I don’t think I’ll ever find the space to grow rutabaga and cauliflower needs more attention to protect it from cabbage fly than a weekend garden gets.  Both of these filler vegetables provide bulk and allow the sauce and the more colourful and strongly flavoured vegetables to shine.  Zucchini, beets, and even carrots have done well in the garden this summer and I also included some foraged apples and finely diced homemade dill pickles (substituting for the gherkins in most recipes).

Rutabaga, dried apricots, onions, and cauliflower all came from the grocery store or farmers market

Rutabaga, dried apricots, onions, and cauliflower all came from the grocery store or farmers' market

Unlike the prep for the spiced apples this process is rather long and needs to be done manually with a knife (texture and flavour contrast are important and a food processor would obliterate the distinctions) so I think it’s worthwhile to make a large batch.  In fact there is so much fine chopping of hard root vegetables that I managed to work up quite the knife callous on my right index finger. Also, unless you want to have to find a use for half a rutabaga and half a cauliflower the “unit size” of some of these ingredients will naturally produce a fairly large quantity.

After lots of reducing it looks like there might be enough liquid

After lots of reducing it looks like there might be enough liquid

Midway through the process I felt like the recipe couldn’t possibly include enough vinegar to sauce all of these vegetables.  They do cook down and release some water but it still didn’t seem like enough. I guess the best suggestions I can offer are to make sure that the pot of vegetables is covered for the whole cooking time (thereby retaining moisture) and be diligent about getting all of the air out of the Mason jars and make sure they are packed tightly to the called for head space  because there won’t be much liquid in the bottom of the pot to top up each jar.

Flavours mellow and fade with time but at least for now this pickle tastes simultaneously of the sweet flavours of summer produce, the savoury tang of vinegar, and the spices that make me wish Marks and Spencer still had stores in Toronto.  Don’t think that Ploughman’s Lunches and grilled cheese sandwiches are the only use for this preserve.  I can see it  going well with charcuterie, a cheese plate (which really is just a more formal ploughman’s lunch for a crowd), or with a quick dinner omelette.  We tend to preserve one or two vegetables at a time and that’s fine but this pickle does a better job of capturing all of the flavours and colours that represent the joy of summer gardening.

Cottage Garden Pickle

Adapted from the recipes for Branston pickle from here and here.

  • 700 g, about 1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut in small to medium dice
  • 250 g carrots, peeled if necessary and cut into small to medium dice
  • 400 g, 10 small or 1 large beets, small to medium dice
  • 3 small or 2 medium zucchini, small to medium dice
  • 1 medium head, about 700 g cauliflower, trimmed and cut into very small pieces
  • 2 medium,  about 100 g homemade dill pickles, small dice (substitute the original 10 – 15 gherkins or good store-bought dill pickles)
  • 4 small apples, small dice (tart are better than sweet)
  • 1 cup dried apricots, small dice
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 285 g brown sugar
  • 5 g, about 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp whole mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp freshly ground allspice
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 500 ml, 1 C malt or apple cider vinegar (or a 50/50 combination of both)
  • 125 ml, 1/4 C lemon juice
The spices measured and ready

The spices measured and ready

The amounts given for the vegetables may seem exact but I have only stated them like this because, especially when dealing with garden produce, their size can vary widely. Use your judgment as well as your kitchen scale.

All the vegetables combined in a stockpot

All the vegetables combined in a stockpot

Combine all of the vegetables in a medium to large stockpot, add the spices, and the liquid and boil (this is a British recipe, remember) for 1.5 to 2 hours over low to medium heat with a cover on the pot.  The rutabaga, cauliflower, and beets should be softened but still firm enough to remain distinct.  Stir occasionally to evenly distribute but not so much that the texture is damaged.

Pack tightly into scalded Mason jars and hot-water process for fifteen to twenty minutes.  Check that all the lids have sealed properly (absolutely no give in the lids when pressed down) and store in a cool, dark place for 3 to 4 weeks so that the flavour can mature.

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  1. Caitlin says:

    yummmmm…….. this was sooo good…. I ate it on a not soo good muffin which made the muffin a lot better!

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    See, muffins are another (unconventional) delivery vehicle for this flexible condiment. Thanks for commenting, Cait.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Ha! I would never have guessed that dill pickle would be one of the ingredients in Branston pickle!

    Now I’m dreaming of aged Cheddar and Pickle sandwiches.

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  6. John Robins says:

    In the UK we call rutabaga swede or turnip. It is one of our cheapest vegetables and was traditionally grown as winter fodder for sheep. I think you will find that it is listed as rutabaga on the label of the branded pickles to make it sound far more exotic than it is!

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