Piccalilli is one of my favourite preserves and making a batch late summer is something of an annual ritual that I always look forward to.
A good piccalilli should have crunchy, identifiable vegetables in a fairly thick sauce. The sauce should be almost velvety in texture with a spicy kick and a touch of sweetness: it should not be so acidic that your mouth feels as if it is about to explode!
Perfect with cheese and great bread, it is also a great addition to bakes such as sausage rolls and pork pies.
Love it or hate it….(but it is a preserve to be loved!)
Piccalilli is not to everyone’s taste, although I suspect your typical commercial piccalilli, which is a far cry from what this marvellous preserve should be, has something to do with this.
All too often with commercial piccalilli, all you can taste is harsh vinegar with little more than a hint of mustard. If the vegetables themselves once had the opportunity to shine, they were murdered by being over-cooked, drenched in flavourless acid and squeezed into the jar with so many other varieties of vegetables that it all becomes something of an unpalatable vinegary mess!
I love using piccalilli in bakes: stilton, pear & piccalilli pork pies are one of my favourites, but adding a spoonful to a the filling for sausage rolls adds a lovely flavour. I have given links to these two recipes at the bottom of the page.
About this recipe
I have been making my version of piccalilli for almost two decades, having adapted a couple of handed down recipes to get the balance between the sweetness, sharpness and spicyness to just how I like it.
The vegetables and spices can be varied: carrots, radishes and green tomatoes are good to use: in total you are aiming for around 2kg prepared vegetables. Crushed coriander seeds, cloves, onion seeds, crushed fennel seeds all work well, too. However, don’t throw in every vegetable and spice you can think of as the piccalilli will lose identity!
The recipe below makes a lot of piccalilli (about 10-12 medium jars, jam jar size), but I always think it is better to make preserves “in bulk”. However, a jar of piccalilli, or indeed any home-made preserve, is a great gift to give someone. You can, of course, half the ingredients.
And don’t worry about the jars not all being the same: one of the quirks of home preserving is using a variety of shapes and sized of jars!
A few words about vinegar
As with many chutneys and pickles, I like to use either cider vinegar or white wine vinegar – or even a mixture of both. But not malt vinegar here at all: it is far too strong and masks the flavours of the vegetables and the spices.
The piccalilli tastes great just after being made, but for the best flavour it needs about 2 months to mature before eating. It will keep well for a year or so in a cool place out of sunlight, but once a jar has been opened, put it in the fridge.
Recipe: piccalilli – makes about 4 litres (12 medium jars)
For the brine
- 120g fine sea salt
- about 1½ litre of cold water
- 500g cauliflowers, cut into small florets
- 500g onions or shallots (or a combination), peeled and chopped into roughly 1cm pieces
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped into roughly 1cm pieces
- about 300g courgette, chopped into roughly 1cm pieces
- 300g french beans, topped, tailed and chopped into roughly 1cm pieces
- 1½ litres cider vinegar
- 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 250g light muscovado sugar
- 100g granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds, roughly crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes, or use 1-2 finely chopped chillies according to taste and strength
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 level tablespoon ground turmeric
- about ½ teaspoon finely grated nutmeg (about a dozen gratings!)
- 60g cornflour
- 50g mustard powder
(1) Put the prepared vegetables, apart from the garlic, in a non-metallic bowl and sprinkle over the salt. Pour over the water and stir well to dissolve it. Cover and leave overnight. Rinse well in several changes of cold water and pat dry.
(2) Put the vinegar, sugars, garlic, mustard seeds, chilli, ginger, turmeric and nutmeg into a large pan and bring to the boil. Add the drained vegetables and let them simmer for just 2-3 minutes.
(3) Put the cornflour and mustard powder into a small bowl and add a little of the hot vinegar to give a smooth paste. Add about a ladleful more vinegar, stirring to loosen it up. Pour this into the pan and return to the boil, stirring all the time. The vinegar mixture should have thickened a little.
(4) Simmer the mixture for about 5 more minutes: you should have a sauce that is thick enough to coat the vegetables. The vegetables will still have some bite to them. You can make the sauce thicker if you prefer by adding more cornflour (mixed to a paste with a little vinegar first) but the piccalilli with thicken as it cools so don’t make it too thick at this stage.
(5) Pour the mixture into hot sterilised jars*, wiping down the rims and sides of the jars with a clean, damp tea towel if there are spillages. Put the lids on immediately.
NB: I find the easiest way to fill the jars is to pour the piccalilli into a clean, sterilised measuring jug: there is then much less scope for pieces of vegetables or the sauce to drip everywhere!
(6) Leave for at least 1 month to mature a little before eating, but it will taste excellent already!
*to sterlise the jars/measuring jug, put cleaned and dried jars, with their lids, onto a baking tray in an oven preheated to about 100C(fan) for 10 minutes