Love ’em or hate ’em, pickles are here to stay.
Pickling is the oldest method of extending the shelf life of vegetables and certain other foods. Before refrigeration, it was the only sure-fire way to keep perishables edible over the winter months, or where fresh vegetables were unavailable, such as on long sea journeys. The method has been around not just for decades or centuries, but millennia, and while they’re not everyone’s favourite condiment, they don’t look to be disappearing just yet.
So if refrigeration and freezing has made them effectively obsolete, why are pickles still around? The answer is simple. The texture and taste are affected by the pickling process, and these days it’s this taste we’re seeking when buying pickles, rather than the long shelf life. People just love that vinegary crunch, whether it’s on the side, in a burger or as part of a salad. And for pregnant women, it’s a veritable addiction!
Pickling works by creating an anaerobic environment within a solution of salt or vinegar. The natural breakdown of the pickled food creates lactic acid, further lowering the PH/oxygen available in the solution, and making it impossible for bacteria to grow. Other anti-microbial ingredients can also be added, such as mustard seed, garlic, cloves and cinnamon, improving the stability of the food and adding piquancy to the resulting flavour.
British-style chutneys, derived from the Indian condiment, Chatni, and combining elements of pickles with even more spices and herbs, serve the same purpose as pickles. Chutney recipes are more variable and complex, and often involve the addition of fruit. Chutneys are often cooked into the finished product before storage, whereas pickles are often simply blanched and placed in the pickling solution.
Many of us will remember mothers and grandmothers busily preparing pickled onions or eggs, gherkins, cauliflower and cabbage in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s hardly surprising that pickles are closely associated with the Christmas period – in the old days, pickles would be the only reminder of last summer’s harvest, and, as part of a celebration feast, why not break out a jar or two?
At Taunton Farmer’s Market, we’re extremely lucky to have Bumblees Preserves on hand to fulfill our pickle fancy, at Christmas or, indeed, any time of year. You can find the lovely Fran at Taunton Farmers Market every Thursday, or click here to see where else you can get hold of her delicious chutneys, jams and preserves.