For months now, a certain woman has followed me all over London. I don’t mean literally. There is no stalker skulking at the end of the path, unless you count that rather severe-looking woman with a bun and sensible shoes I see every morning by the bus stop, but then she’s probably just on her way to work.
No, I mean Anna Colquhoun. When I took his garden design course earlier in the year, Andrew said to me ‘Do you know Anna, she has a pizza oven in her garden?’ As we walked our dogs around Clissold Park, my friend Karen would describe to me a series of amazing preserving courses she took every quarter in a pretty house right by the Arsenal stadium. At parties, with remarkable frequency, people would ask me if I knew her.
So when Riverford invited me to a cooking class to promote their pickling kits, I was delighted to discover it was just a short distance from my house, at the home of the fabled Anna who is also Riverford’s preserving expert.
Half a dozen of us gathered in Anna’s kitchen to throw ourselves into the fine art of preserving, fuelled by wine and good ham. A self-confessed ‘food nerd’, Anna imparts her wisdom with great charm and enthusiasm. We chopped and stirred, measured and sniffed, and watched carefully for the sage and garlic jelly to reach its setting point. We made a fine green tomato chutney and, most excitingly for me, the best piccalilli I’ve ever tasted.
Piccalilli has a special place in my heart. It’s one of the few things I can remember my grandmother making. Every autumn, she would patiently chop up the produce from my Uncle Jos’s allotment and steam up the kitchen with the spicy aroma of vinegar, ginger and mustard. As a child, I marvelled at its eye-shocking yellowness. Barbara’s piccalilli perked up many a northern Sunday tea, sitting alongside wedges of pork pie or slabs of ham.
I hope the late and indomitable Barbara will forgive me, but Anna’s piccalilli is even better than hers. It’s hot, which I like, but also she chops the vegetables much smaller than usual. I would be perfectly happy to eat it greedily with a spoon, which is exactly what I plan to do when this batch is ready in a week or so. Patience, Debora, patience.
Book one of Anna’s fantastic, hands-on, cooking classes.
Check out Riverford’s excellent, extensive range of produce.
Anna Colquhoun’s Amazing Piccalilli
This is a hot piccalilli. You can use more or less spice, simply adjust it to your taste.
Makes 7-8 450g jars
2kg prepared vegetables: choose a colourful mix of cucumbers, carrots, onions/shallots, courgettes/marrows, bell peppers, cauliflowers, green beans, green tomatoes, sweetcorn kernels
About 8 tbsp fine pure salt
1050ml cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or malt vinegar
400g white granulated sugar
1tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 tbsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tbsp celery seeds
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
40g cornflour, or 60g plain flour
2tbsp mustard powder
1tbsp powdered ginger
Cut all of the vegetables into matching 1cm dice, or larger if you prefer. You should have 2kg prepared weight. Layer them in a big bowl with the salt and leave for several hours or, preferably, overnight. Don’t skip this step – salting is important for drawing out excess water which would otherwise dilute the pickle. It also ensures the vegetables retain their crunch.
Place your clean jars in the oven and turn it on to 140˚C/275˚F/Gas mark 1 to sterilise them. Leave the jars in there until needed.
Rinse the vegetables in several changes of cold water and drain very well.
Reserve a little cup of vinegar and place the rest in a large pan with the sugar, coriander, cumin, celery seeds and mustard seeds. Heat to dissolve the sugar and simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir the cornflour, mustard powder, turmeric and ginger into the reserved vinegar to make a paste. Add some hot vinegar to this to loosen it, then pour the paste into the pan, stirring briskly as you go to avoid creating lumps. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring.
Now add the drained vegetables and simmer everything together for 5 minutes, stirring often. Anna likes the vegetables half-cooked, so they retain a little crunch and I do too.
Pack the hot pickles into hot jars, making sure there are no large air pockets, and seal immediately. Wait one month before opening and use within a year. Once opened, store in the fridge.