I am a constant fan of Piccalilli! I can't get enough of the stuff. So when I arrived in Piemonte I knew I had to learn how to make Piccalilli fast, as there is no sourcing this delight here! I made a few different recipes since arriving and they were a bit hit and miss. I have finally found a traditional, easy to make recipe that actually works consistently and tastes like Piccalilli!
The recipe is from 'A Little Course in Preserving' Book by DK
Makes 3 Medium Jars, Must rest before opening for a month, will keep for 6 months + if sealed in a water bath.
Ingredients for Piccalilli
60g sea salt
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
2 large onions, peeled, quartered and sliced finely, or use pickling onions (I buy the pickled baby onions in a jar for my version)
900g mixed vegetables e.g. courgettes, runner beans, carrots, green beans cut into bite size pieces
2 tbsp flour
225g granulated sugar
1 tbsp turmeric
60g English mustard powder (Colmans for me)
900ml pickling vinegar
Spices for vinegar- 1tbs black peppercorns, 1 tbsp allspice berries, 1 tbs mustard seeds, 1 crushed dried red chilli, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 crushed cinnamon stick, 1/2 tbs cardamom pods, 2 crushed garlic cloves
1. Make the pickling vinegar first by adding the spices to a square of muslin and tie a knot to enclose the bag
2. Pour the vinegar into a pan and add the spice bag
3. Bring vinegar to the boil and boil for 10mins
4. Set aside and allow to cool
5. Strain the vinegar and leave overnight
6. Brine the vegetables put the salt and 1.2ltrs of water in a large glass or ceramic bowl and mix well. Add the vegetables and cover with a plate to keep the vegetables submerged. Leave to stand overnight at room temperature
7. Rinse the vegetables to remove the brine (I taste after a few rinses to make sure they aren't too salty)
8. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add half the vegetables and blanch for 2 mins before removing and dip the vegetables into cold water to halt the cooking process. Repeat with 2nd half of veg.
Tip: Cook the vegetables until al-dente, don't overcook
9.Make the spiced vinegar sauce:
Form a spice paste by putting flour, sugar, turmeric powder and mustard powder in a small non staining bowl (I use glass) and mix with a little of the spiced vinegar to make a paste.
10. Transfer to a large stainless steel pan, pour in rest of the vinegar, and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. (Stirring constantly ensures the ingredients won't form lumps)
11.Simmer the vinegar mix for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
12. Add the vegetables to the pan, stir until well coated in the sauce.
13. Ladle into sterilised jars and press the vegetables down to prevent air pockets.
14. Seal with non-metallic or vinegar proof lids.
15. Label once cool
16. Store in a dark, cool place for at least a month to allow flavours to mature.
Once opened keep refrigerated!
Serve with cheddar cheese, crusty bread and even an Italian ham salad - Yum!
Cherry Jam Recipe
Early summer just isn’t summer without Cherries and what better way of preserving them than Cherry Jam. Last year we were yo-yoing back and forth from Dublin to our house in the Langhe Hills in Piemonte, Italy. It was a difficult time, particularly as it seemed that each time we left for a couple of weeks in Dublin we had to leave soon to be ripe fruit on the trees that we knew we wouldn’t be able to pick or enjoy, each time we came back to Langhe all that remained were pips on the ground from where the birds had had a feast and rotting peaches and figs on the trees glaring at us with a look of abject disappointment that they had grown into ripe juicy fruits for nothing! A very painful summer. This year, and now permanently ensconced, with no weeks away, I have taken every action to use the garden fruits in every imaginable way possible.
The first main fruit season is now and it’s Cherries! Cherries come into being ripe from last week of May here in Langhe. June in England from my mother’s account of her own cherry tree in the garden.
We were lucky to not have so many greedy birds this year and picked a great 9 kilo’s of ripe cherries from the lower branches of our huge cherry tree, we have no cherry picker machine so have kindly left the top half of the tree for the birds and wasps!
The first recipe I made was Cherry Jam.
Cherry Jam Recipe – makes 3 x 150ml jars
750g ripe Cherries
Juice of 1 lemon
Step 1. Get your cherries – if picking yourself don’t delay in using them, ours started to turn into rotting cherries after 1 day (we use zero chemicals in our garden, which means speed is of the essence in preserving them)
Step 2. Sterilise your jars and lids. There are so many ways to do this. I wash them in hot soapy water (personally using organic non-chemical washing up liquid) Bicarbonate of soda is also great for sterilising. I then pop them all in a warmed oven at 120 degrees for 15 mins until bone dry. Jars and lids should still be hot when you put the jam in, so you might want to the sterilising as you are cooking the jam.
Step 3. Place 6 small saucers in the freezer for the wrinkle test later in the process (see step 9)
Step 4. Wash and pit your cherries, I left ¼ of them as whole as possible and halved ¾ of them. Yes, your heart will sink at this, pitting cherries is a long painful process if you want to spoon out whole cherries in your jam, if not and you don’t mind the cherry form missing in your jam you can cut them in half and slip the stone out. If you want some whole you can only make a nick in the top and gently squeeze the pip out without the juicy flesh! A great help to me on Twitter is Jan @thewatchfulcook www.thewatchfulcook.co.uk and she has helpfully recommended the de-stoner at http://www.divertimenti.co.uk/cherry-stoner.html this is on my Christmas list this year (Mum are you reading this?! 😊)
Step 5. Put the cherries in a maslin pan if you have one, these pans are great for making jam, as they have a thick bottom to stop the jam burning (still have to stir), use a heavy bottomed pan as an alternative.
Step 6. Add the lemon juice to the cherries in the pan and put on a low heat until the cherries are cooked, roughly 7 mins. Give the cherries a soft mash during this cooking with a potato masher to get the juices flowing a bit (not so hard that you break up the whole ones though!).
Step 7. Add the sugar to the cherries and lemon juice in the pan keeping the heat on low until dissolved, stir frequently to dissolve sugar and check for crystals on the spoon, best use a wooden spoon for this so you can see the crystals. Once there are no crystals left turn up the heat to bring to a boil stirring regularly.
Step 8. Once at boiling stage keep the heat up on a rolling boil this can be 10-25mins or more, it depends on how hot you can get it. Stir regularly to prevent cherries sticking to the bottom and burning. If you have a jam thermometer reading you need to aim for 104 celcius , but there is no set time, as every hob and pan is different.
Step 9. When you get close to the setting point (I normally start testing at 95 celcius) start doing the ‘wrinkle test’ for the true jam setting point. Unless you want a runny jam, or a stiff as a board jam, the wrinkle test is fairly important. Take a saucer out of the freezer and pop a teaspoon of the hot jam on the saucer and put back in the freezer, wait a minute and then take the saucer out and push your finger through it slowly, if it just wrinkles it is ready to take off the heat and bottle. If your finger just runs through without a wrinkle appearing keep the jam on the heat. Repeat this every minute until it just wrinkles (if it becomes a stiff and hard wrinkle the jam will be stiff and hard when eating). This testing can be painful, I had to use 6 saucers until I saw the jam just wrinkle! I’m sure there are expert jam makers you have a few more tricks up their sleeves and I would love tips! I probably need to get a proper jam thermometer too, at the moment I am using a meat thermometer and the reading is less accurate!
Step 10. If you are fortunate to have a jam/sauce funnel for bottling purposes ladle out some jam into the funnel and slip it into the jars leaving 1/2 inch at the top of the jar. If you don’t have a jam funnel (I don’t) ladle out some jam into a warmed pyrex measuring jar and pour into the jar. This all needs to be done fast as the jars need to be still fairly hot to ensure the jam seals the jar.
Step. 11 Put the lids on fast and tighten, sit down and relax. It’s done. An hour or so later you should start hearing the wonderful ‘pop’ sound of the lid sealing. The next day check the tops of the lids, those that have popped in, and aren’t making the dreadful ‘click’ noise every time you push your finger on the middle of the lid, are good to be stored for up to a year in a dark cupboard. Those that have the clicking going on need to be eaten first and put in the fridge – well something has to be eaten first, I am usually happy if one is not sealed for this purpose!
Burnt Cherry Jam Recipe
I know, ‘Burnt Cherry Jam’ what the dickens! A couple of summers back I left some strawberry jam on the rolling boil for too long without stirring and some got stuck to the bottom of the pan. By the time I got to bottling it the jam had taken on more of a dark strawberry look and was quite caramelised. When we ate it, it tasted amazing, a rich treacly strawberry taste. It was a great discovery.
This year Andrew decided to make his first ever jam with the Cherry jam recipe above and guess what? He made the same ‘error’ and forgot to stir enough and lo and behold burnt cherries at the bottom of the pan. But again, when bottling the cherry jam was dark and treacly and a finger dip taste test revealed a wonderful taste reminiscent of the burnt strawberry jam. Even mistakes can taste good!
Elderflower flower season differs depending on where you live in the world. I am in the Langhe Hills in Piemonte, Italy, and the season here started in full swing at the beginning of May, some early arrivals towards the end of April. My mother, who is in Surrey, England, sees the season mid-May to mid-June. There is a window of opportunity wherever you are to make delicious elderflower treats for yourself and your loved ones. The best part is they are so easy to spot if you like near wild areas. Elderflower flowers are large man hand size clusters of creamy white flower heads growing on green bushes often located around trees and scrub land, for the most part they are wild but you can grow them yourself. As with all things wild, I think it is best to take some expert advice on confirming if the bush you have identified is Elderflower, as I did when moving here. Confusingly Elderflower is called Sambuca in Italian, which threw me, until I used Google search for a few minutes to re-establish that I was still dealing with Elderflower. Elderflower also provides berries later in summer, which can be used for other purposes, ones I will investigate this year and report back on.
Best picked in the morning and only pick the heads that are pure creamy white with no dying brown flowers, as the brown dead flowers will taint the taste.
Don’t pick the whole bush otherwise you will limit production the following year and also there will be no Elderflower berries in the summer! Rule of thumb is to pick no more than a third of the bush from different sections.
You might need to take a branch pulling implement to get to the best flower heads, I used a fork hoe to pull out of reach branches down to me, Elderflower has a frustrating habit in growing in out of reach areas or across a stream with no bridge!
Elderflower Cordial Recipe – makes 6 x 200ml bottles
25 Elderflower heads – large hand size if possible
2 lemons roughly sliced (some prefer more lemon for a more tart Elderflower cordial)
2 pints of boiling water
2 lbs of caster sugar (yes it’s a lot of sugar but this is a cordial with a 5:1 water – cordial ratio for drinks so it’s not too bad)
Step 1. Collect the Elderflower heads (you don’t want to leave them cut too long without using them, as they will start to die and no longer be fresh for the cordial
Step 2. Boil the water on a stove in a large saucepan, take off heat and dissolve all the sugar in it and stir until dissolved then allow to cool.
Step 3. While you wait for the water to cool, which can take a couple of hours, this is a good time to trim the Elderflower heads. I trim as close to the flowers as possible, to get rid of most of the stalks, this is a bit tedious but if you can get help many hands will make light work of this! I have read that the long green stalks of are not to be added to the cordial so I think it is important to trim close to the flower.
Step 4. Using a large pan with lid, or a large plastic container (I use a homebrew small plastic barrel) pour the cold water/sugar syrup into the container, add the lemons, and the elderflowers.
Step 5. Cover the pan or container tightly and leave for 48-72 hours. (If you leave it longer it will start to ferment, as elderflower contains natural yeasts and you will get slightly fizzy elderflower cordial!
Step 6. Strain the elderflower juice into a bowl through a muslin bag, or regular sieve, and give the elderflowers a good squeeze to get the last drops out.
Step 7. Rinse out the storage plastic container, or pan, and dry with a clean towel and pour the strained liquid back into it and cover tightly and leave for 48 hours.
Step 8. Siphon the liquid to leave sediment behind, or pour slowly into a sterilised measuring jug with lip to keep sediment behind.
Step 9. Pour the siphoned liquid into the sterilised bottles you are using for the cordial.
Step 10. Drink and enjoy.
My understanding is that this will keep best in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.
I once had this in France with Cremant sparking wine and it was divine! Add to Prosecco,
or add to cocktails and of course good fresh cold water, ice and a slice! Best ration is 5:1 ie 5 parts prosecco to 1 part elderflower etc.
On nearly every menu I have read in the Langhe Hills area of Piemonte, Italy, I have seen this dish and various representations of this dish has been eaten with much appreciation by myself.
Here is an easy recipe for Vitello Tonnato (Veal and Tuna Sauce), a recipe I have made myself, and used many times as a starter. This receipe leaves out the egg yolk often detailed in published recipes.
For 2 people
Time to prepare
5 minutes with a blender
1 small tin of canned tuna in olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Pickled Capers - 12
Ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon
Olive oil approximately 5-6 desert spoons
6 thin slices of cooked veal
6 cherry tomatoes halved
blender - small preferable
1. Empty the tuna into the small blender
2. Add olive oil bit by bit, start off with about 3 desert spoons
4. Check consistency, if it's not looking blended add 2 desert spoons of olive oil, repeat blending until the texture is fairly grainy
5. Add the capers and 1/4 of the lemon juice and black pepper, blend.
6. Check the taste, add more lemon juice, pepper, or capers, as required, to suit your taste.
7. Lay the veal slices on the serving plate and spoon the blended tuna sauce on top of the veal slices.
8. Decorate the plate with halves of cherry tomatoes and a few capers and serve
The Piemontese Italians, I have shared this dish with, like to smear the sauce all over their veal slices before eating.
You can make the sauce very smooth, or more grainy, depending on preference, the higher end restaurants tended to serve it smooth, while more rustic places served it grainy.
Clare, 42, living the 'dolce vita' in Piemonte in the Langhe Hills. This new blog is dedicated to the delicious food and drink of the Italian Piedmont region and a few home favourites. To read more about our new life in the Langhe we have a life in Piemonte blog here