Piccalilli

"Traditionally, yellow. A radio-active yellow. And I think, in the interests of nostalgia, it needs to be like this. Otherwise there's a danger it's just going to look like yet another chutney." The Greasy Spoon


The picture at the left is my inspiration for this quickie post. It's from the latest delicious. Magazine, and shows Skye Gyngell's recipe for Piccalilli, which is not online as yet.


Beautiful picture, and a lovely name - it rolls off the tongue, although nobody seems to know where it comes from. The earliest usage is by Hannah Glasse in 1758 when she gives a recipe for Paco-Lilla or Indian pickle. Nobody though seems to really know where it comes from, although surely it's one of those Anglo-Indian things.



I actually wondered for a moment whether it had any relationship to the similar sounding Piccadilly. But no. That seems to come from a seller of peccadills - which is:


"a large broad collar of cut-worklace that became fashionable in the late 16th century and early 17th century." Wikipedia


as shown here. So I think that has no relationship to piccalilli. Neither would peccadillo. The Paco-Lilla is intriguing though. It must have come from somewhere. Is Lilli the name of an Indian lady? If so what does paco mean? She surely wouldn't have made it up. For a time though the pickle was often just known as Indian pickle.


Personally I have never gone for piccalilli, but then again, I'm not sure I have ever actually tasted it. I think it's the colour that puts me off. And the big bits that are crunchy. Today I think I would like that, but way back then I wasn't a fan of cauliflower, and cauliflower always seems to feature.


There is of course no standard recipe although the fundamental ingredients seem to have to include cauliflower, onion and gherkins, with mustard powder and turmeric which make it that glowing yellow. But other vegetables can be added according to what you have. I often see beans and carrots in there. So here are a few examples: According to Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall Pam's piccalilli is one of River Cottage's most popular recipes; Jamie's Piccalilli is probably a good bet, as is Delia's English mustard pickle; there's an outlier from Phil's Home Kitchen; one from Dan Lepard. and representing the country women - The Australian Women's Weekly.

Some of them seem to completely smother their pickle in the turmeric and mustard mixture, some not. Some chop the pieces large, some not, and they all, of course say theirs is the best.


Felicity Cloake, on the other hand, calls her version Piccalilli salad. I'm guessing there is not so much pickling liquid and therefore it won't keep as long.


I was somewhat amazed that neither Elizabeth David in her Spices Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, did not have a recipe, nor Jane Grigson in her English Food. I mean what could be more English?


In my head it has an association with the working class although I don't know where this comes from really. In some ways you would expect it to be more upper class - like kedgeree which I have always associated with Stately Homes and those buffet breakfasts before the hunt. Maybe our new-found regard for using up leftover vegetables in pickles and chutneys will bring a revival. I noticed that various English writers seemed to be thinking that a bit of piccalilli in a pork pie was a coming thing, though at the same time many did not seem to be sure of the efficacy of this.

Here in Australia Donna Hay suggests making a butter with it to top Chargrilled steaks:


100g unsalted butter, chopped and softened

1/4 cup (80g) store-bought piccalilli

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 teaspoon crushed pink peppercorns.

To make the piccalilli butter, place the butter, piccalilli, eschalot and peppercorn in a small bowl and mix to combine. Transfer to a piece of non-stick baking paper, roll to enclose in a log shape and refrigerate until firm.


Come to think of it you could use it in all sorts of ways to enhance the flavour of things - just like you can with chutney.


Maybe I should try a small batch and see if it does indeed taste good. Although I shall have to wait until I have finished making all this marmalade - I have far too much and have run out of jars, so can't possibly make anything else in jars.


Delia by the way thought that she had never tasted a good commercially made version - unless it was from a farmer's market or some such. Artisan in other words. And therefore costing a fortune, and this is something that is supposed to be good for leftovers - thrifty - not extravagant. Frugal even.

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