2 September 2014


Piccalilli is one of those curious British foods which, similar to chutney, is an anglicized version of traditional Indian pickles. Like chutney, piccalilli uses vinegar to preserve vegetables. Unlike chutney, the vegetables are not cooked with the vinegar, but rather pickled in a thickened, spiced vinegar solution. The acidity of the vinegar prevents bacterial development, thus preserving the vegetables, which would otherwise start to deteriorate rapidly after picking. Even more so in the old days in British India when no-one had fridges.

Having only eaten the shop-bought stuff, I was never a huge fan of piccalilli. However, a few years ago, my wife suggested making some as a way of using a glut of tomatoes, courgettes and runner beans. The home-made piccalilli was far superior to the shop-bought stuff, and I was won over. It provides a great accompaniment to ham and other cold meats, cheese, pork pies and scotch eggs. I find I can eat my way through a fair amount, so it is worth making a big batch.

August is the best time to make piccalilli, particularly if you are drowning under a late-summer glut of home-grown veg. You could of course make it at any time of the year using shop-bought veg, but I enjoy the seasonality of the preserving calendar. There are no prescribed vegetables to use, but I tend to use courgettes, runner beans, shallots or small onions, and tomatoes. With tomatoes, it is best to use unripe or even green tomatoes, which are much firmer. This year I also bought a cauliflower to put in the piccalilli. I also include some nasturtium seeds, which give a bit of a peppery kick to the piccalilli. If you grow nasturtiums, by late summer you should find plenty of pea-sized seed pods on your plants. These can also be pickled on their own, in which case they are a bit like capers. Only use the young green seed pods, and discard any that are yellow or brown.

This is a recipe which I adapted from one in Pam Corbin's useful book 'Preserves'; one of the River Cottage handbooks. The vegetables require salting overnight, so you will need to find a two-day period when you can make the piccalilli. The salting draws out some of the liquid, which helps preserve the vegetables and keeps them crisp in the piccalilli. We get through a jar pretty quickly, so I suggest using fairly large jars for piccalilli.


1.5kg washed fresh veg: choose from courgettes or other summer squash, cauliflower, green/unripe tomatoes, runner beans, mange tout, shallots or small onions, nasturtium seeds, carrots, kohlrabi, or any other veg you have in abundance
1 litre cider vinegar
200g caster sugar
50g honey
75g fine sea salt
45g cornflour
15g ground turmeric
15g Colman's mustard powder
20g mustard seeds
1tbsp cumin seeds, crushed
1tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2tsp nigella seeds

1 large pan
4 large or 6 medium sterilised jars 
jam funnel
waxed paper disks to fit the jars

Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Try to keep all the pieces about the same size. If you are using ripe tomatoes, remove the seeds.

Mix the salt thoroughly into the vegetables. Place the vegetables in a colander, which should be stood on a shallow bowl and placed in a fridge overnight. It is a good idea to cover the colander in cling film, to prevent the odour of the chopped, salted vegetables tainting anything else in your fridge.

The following day, rinse the salt off the vegetables using cold water. Allow them to drain.

Sterilise some jars. (Instructions on sterilising jars can be found here).

Crush the cumin and coriander seeds. Mix together with the cornflour, turmeric and mustard, using a little of the vinegar to incorporate into a smooth paste. 

Put the paste in a large saucepan, and add the vinegar gradually, mixing continuously to achieve a smooth consistency. Add the mustard seeds and nigella seeds.

On a low heat, add the sugar and honey and stir until dissolved. Once dissolved, turn up the heat and bring the sauce to the boil. As the sauce heats up, the cornflour will cause it to thicken. Stir frequently with a balloon whisk to prevent it from becoming lumpy. The sauce should achieve the consistency of custard.

Take the sauce off the heat. Set aside a ladle full of the sauce, and thin with a little extra vinegar.

Fold in the vegetables, ensuring that they are all covered in the sauce.

Carefully spoon the piccalilli into jars. A jam funnel is useful here. Use a skewer to remove any air bubbles and to ensure the vegetables are packed in tightly. Top up the jars with the set-aside sauce, making sure that all the vegetables are covered with the sauce.

Cover the piccalilli in each jar with a waxed disk, dipping the disks in alcohol to sterelise them (I use some cheap vodka for this, which a friend once brought round when we had a party.) Screw the lids on securely. 

Let the piccalilli mature in the jars for about two months before using. It should last for up to a year.

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