For years cruel, jealous folk-a.k.a., foreigners-have spread the vicious rumor that we Brits put sauce on everything to cover up the taste of our appalling cooking. Well. Be that as it may, don’t let all those fussy nay-sayers put you off trying the odd jar or two of Brit relishes, or making the odd English sauce. Admittedly, our pickles and sauces tend to be on the strident side, but read on about my favorites, and discover a way to enjoy them without numbing your taste buds or overpowering your food.
Let’s start with the pickles.
These have to be tasted to be believed. Not the inside bits that look like brains, a pickled walnut comprises the kernel, the shell , and the outer casing of the shell. The whole thing is pickled until it’s a rich, black-brown glob of pickled pleasure. Great with cheese.
This slurpy, brown-colored condiment with bits in it is a classic accompaniment to a Ploughman’s Lunch. What is a Ploughman’s Lunch, you ask? It’s a wedge of hard cheese-Cheddar, Double Gloucester, or Wensleydale-a chunk of crusty bread (French, if you must), a pat of butter, a stalk of celery, and a dollop of Branston. Simple, but quite delicious. I like to add an apple to this collation as I think apple and cheese make a lovely marriage.
Branston Pickle is also good in a cream cheese sandwich, but a little goes a long way. Or other cheese. You could get away with Stilton and Branston, but I wouldn’t. Even though Stilton is quite robust, I don’t think it holds up to Branston. Best with a solid bit of mousetrap from Vermont , Canada, Ireland-and do try and get the best Cheddar in the world (from you know where). English Cheddar is mature, nutty, slightly tangy, deep-flavored, and pretty hard to beat.
This is a tangy, powerful, vegetable mustard-pickle, bright yellow in color. Traditionally, piccalilli is used as an accompaniment to cold meats. In England, it is used with leftover Sunday roast, lamb, beef, pork, even turkey. My dad, Lew, had a brilliant idea: He dolloped piccalilli on mashed potatoes. Try and you’ll see why it’s so good!
Now, you can buy it over here but it’s frightfully expensive. Looking at the jar contents (an old trick of mine) and recalling an old recipe, I cobbled this together for Anglotopians. It’s easy to make but it takes a couple of days to put together. But don’t be put off!
You will need….
Two small heads of cauliflower, an English-style (seedless) cucumber, and a handful of green beans. Half a pound of sugar, four cups of plain white vinegar, some pickling spices, peppercorns, a bay leaf, a stick of cinnamon….plus a tablespoon each of powdered ginger, yellow mustard, and corn flour. (Look around the pantry, see what you have to hand, and adapt!) You will also need a big rounded tablespoon of turmeric, that bright yellow spice available from your local Indian store, or should one say Asian? I don’t. But anyway, while you are there do purchase Major Grey Mango chutney. This is wonderful stuff. Quite lovely with meats and curries, yet subtle enough to accompany all cheeses. But I digress, back to the recipe.
Here’s what to do.
Chop up the veggies into quite small pieces. Florets of cauliflower should be no bigger than a quarter, but nothing should be chopped smaller than a dime. Cut up the green beans into half inch bits or smaller. Sprinkle the veggies with salt and leave to drain overnight.
On the morrow, rinse off the access salt and liquid and pat the veggies dry. Boil up a cup of the vinegar with the sugar and the pickling spices. While this is bubbling up, mix the mustard, turmeric, ginger and corn flour together. Fish out the pickling spices from the boiling liquid, then carefully tip in the yellowy mixture. Combine well and let everything cook gently for five minutes. Now pop your veggies into this golden brew, stir well, and let simmer gently for ten minutes. Then leave to cool. Voila-piccalilli pickle! Now put in jars and give one to an expat who will love you forever!
Watch point! I probably needn’t say this, but turmeric stains everything it touches, so I would definitely wear some sort of protective apron or old clothing while making this pickle.
Colman’s English Mustard
Surely everyone knows this mustard in its square, yellow tin? This is a classic. You simple mix a little with a little water and you have English mustard. Try Colman’s next time you make a vinaigrette dressing. Use it instead of Dijon mustard, and give your Gallic dressing a bit of English backbone!
English mustard is great also with Roast beef, corn beef, even Stilton! Oh yes. Try a smear on a piece of bread or cracker, add a slice of Stilton…delicious! One of the best ways to eat Stilton. Much better than turning a Stilton pink with port. (Such a waste of cheese and port! They should accompany each other, and they do, quite perfectly, but not mixed! Whoever thought of introducing port into the center of the cheese was off his rocker. Ghastly. A French chef told me this was the only way to eat Stilton. Such nerve. Fear not, I told him what he could do with his Camembert.)
If, for some reason, you can’t find Coleman’s, get some mustard seeds from your local Indian shop and grind them up with an equal amount of flour, and you’ll end up with a near enough equivalent. Apparently Colman’s has been going for almost two hundred years! Lew told me that Mr. Colman never made his fortune from the mustard people used but from the mustard they left on the plate! So take heed: A little goes a long way.
I hope you enjoyed this quick look at my favorite Brit relishes and condiments. Try these once and I’m sure they will become a staple in your own fridge or pantry.