Friday, September 2, 2011

Pickle and chutney season!

With nearly 1/2 an acre that I can grow things on, this year is just a beginning. Windfall apples from the existing tree; lots of cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes and lemon cucumbers and squash and pumpkins.This weekend I plan on digging the first new vegetable garden ready for "cold season" planting (lettuces and peas for example, yes this is Sacramento).

Americans are not often very familiar with things like English chutney and pickles. "Chutney? What's that?" But I love making it and Dylan, at least, loves eating it. So as well as searching for an authentic-tasting pseudo-Branston-Pickle recipe online, I was browsing my oldest cookbooks (bought in an Uppingham second-hand bookstore when I was expecting Jade). Not only did I find some yummy recipes, I also learned a lesson in food preservation... and how timid we have all become over the years.

The book is hardback, "British Everyday Cookery" and it has an advert for Fry's Pure Concentrated Cocoa on the back, and the price "1/6 NET" on the front cover. That's one shilling and sixpence; equivalent of 7.5 pence in current British currency, a few cents US.It's full of recipes that I remember from my childhood, like treacle pudding and bread-and-butter pudding and toad-in-the-hole and trifle and vegetable marrow (yuck) and Victoria sandwich (yum). But it's the preserving section that I was looking for and some of the recipes will have many of today's cooks freaking out in their sterile, sanitized kitchens....  here's an example.

Fill a stone jar with very sound, ripe tomatoes. Place a few cloves and a sprinkling of sugar between each layer. Cover with a mixture of equal parts of mid vinegar and cold water which have been boiled. Place a piece of thick white flannel over the jar, letting it fall well down into the vinegar. Then tie over the jar a cover of brown paper. These will keep for a long time and will not be harmed even if the flannel collects mould.

Hmmm yummy. Mould. That would have the exterminators and fumigators lining up... and yet, this was how food was preseved for winter when few people had refridgerators or iceboxes. Salt, sugar, and vinegar. Sometimes boiled up and sealed in jars with wax-paper rings and a muslin cover; sometimes in boxes or barrels and layers of salt, sometimes just stacked in a root cellar or laid out on in the attic. People lived on what was in season, what they could preserve, and what they could gather.

While I enjoy the immense choice we have today, and the ease with which we can keep food fresh and healthy, I very much enjoy being able to grow my own food. More coming soon.

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