Farmhouse Piccalilli

04 Nov 2012

In a pickle. (idiom): experiencing a difficult situation

You could say that I was faced with a difficult *kitchen* situation this weekend. I was planning to use up some of the last harvest veg from the garden and could not decide if I should go with preparing a sweet pickle spread, a tangy piccalilli relish or our family sauerkraut recipe. I eased ahead with some sauerkraut (uncle Jim would be proud), but then it was still a toss up between the two pickles. It was little bit like deciding what to wear to the farm on a daily basis. Do I go for the sweet and wholesome country look, stir it up a bit with something more spicy, or do I go for the old standby traditional? Oops. I keep forgetting. It really doesn’t matter what you wear to the farm as long as it’s functional and waterproof.

But, I digress. Pickles. I have always had an affinity for pickles. Sweet and sour. Bread and butter. Neon green Chicago dog relish. Dill. Jumbo. Kosher. Miniature. But, never, ever came across the marvelous, plain and simple “pickle” until moving to Ireland.

You see, they mean something different by “pickles” here. Pickles are not necessarily the cucumber-y gherkin-y pickle that we are used to in America. No, no, no. Think malty, cider vinegary, zesty, sweet, savoury, spicy, chunky, cloyingly tangy. Often there are no cucumbers involved at all. Pickle can be a gorgeous sandwich spread. A Ploughman’s lunch. Or, better yet, a piccalli on a grilled dog. The only thing that could make piccalilli on a charred sausage better is if it was blanketed on a Wisconsin bratwurst. These pickle recipes came to Ireland via the UK, but Britain borrowed them from India. Whatever way you look at it, piccalilli is true {fermented} perfection in a jar.

While both pickle and piccalilli are positively divine, I had to choose only one, so I went with piccalilli. Piccalilli is essentially crispy vegetables pickled with vibrant and aromatic Indian spices in a velvety sauce. My first taste of piccalilli was so exciting that I wanted to tell the world “Extra, extra, read all about it!” style.  I now can’t imagine life pre-piccalilli.

If you’re in a pickle {or even if you’re not}, make yourself some pickle.

Here’s the recipe:

Farmhouse Pickle (lilli)

Makes 6 x 340g (12oz)jars

Select, wash, peel  2kg (2.5lbs) of 5-6 of the following vegetables: cauliflower, swede, asparagus, radish, green beans, cucumbers, courgettes, green or yellow tomatoes, carrots, small pickling onions or shallots, peppers

100g (1/2 cup) fine sea salt

60g (1/2 cup) cornflour

2 tbsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp English mustard powder

2 tbsp ground ginger

1 tbsp caraway seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds

1.2 litres white or cider vinegar

300g (2.5 cups) granulated sugar

100g (1/2 cup) honey

1. Cut the vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces. Place in a large colander over a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Mix well, cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, then rinse with ice-cold water and drain thoroughly.

2. Blend the cornflour, turmeric, mustard powder, ginger, caraway, cumin and coriander into a smooth paste with a little of the vinegar. Put the rest of the vinegar into a saucepan with the sugar and honey and bring to the boil. Pour a little of the hot vinegar over the blended spice paste, stir well and return to the pan. Bring gently to the boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes to allow the spices to release their flavours into the thickening sauce.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully fold the well-drained vegetables into the hot, spicy sauce. Pack the pickle into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately with vinegar-proof lids. Leave for about 6 weeks before opening. Use within a year.

Slan Abhaile,


PS.  {farmette} has just made the esteemed “Sites We Love” by Saveur magazine! Obviously, I peed my pants when I heard.  Have a look at the profile, and also take a peek at the others listed……just make sure you have some extra time because there are many brilliant blogs to enjoy!

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012


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Life is Sweet.

27 Apr 2010

It’s Spring at last, which means here on the farm it’s also time to tend to the bees and plant the fruit trees.  We made our way down to the wood over the weekend to check on our sweet honey bees whom, much to our delight, survived the long winter freeze and were gleefully buzzing about their hives. It also just happened to be the most splendid, sunny day and as I glanced around at the blossoming buttercups and wild garlic leaves popping up through the ground, I couldn’t help but ponder: isn’t life sweet?

Many Irish bees did not survive this winter, which was seemingly never-ending and brutally cold. But, our bees persevered as if they knew something really good was to come. And like us, they hunkered down and waited for things to brighten up. We must remember, things always do turn the corner. A day or two of good weather can be absolutely transformative on the farm. You look around and suddenly grass is greener, new calves are being born, a carrot seed has sprouted, your little boy has learned to pedal his tractor, and the bees start making their sweet honey.

A family of bees will only swarm around the sweet stuff.  And much like the bees, we tend to drift towards our own type of delicious nectar.  Even though I may not be out milking cows and checking the chickens, I am all for beekeeping, market gardening and lest I forget, helping my husband with his aspirations for growing hops to use in his experimental craft brewing. You see, for us, the “sweet stuff” lies in what we can create together on the farm as a family.  I have to say that there is nothing more fulfilling (not to mention, no easier way to get your kids to eat veg) than spending an afternoon teaching your toddler how to help mummy and daddy plant seeds in your kitchen garden.  And nothing, and I mean, nothing, tastes better than using your very own tasty honey in your morning porridge.

Years ago, Irish farm beekeepers used to say,  “A swarm in May is worth a speck of hay. A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, and a swarm in July isn’t worth a fly”. This old adage could also translate to something like this: if you wait too long to start creating and enjoying the sweet joys of farm life, you’ll really be missing out on some very special things.  After all, isn’t it the “sweet stuff” that makes farming all worth it in the end?

Slan Abhaile,


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