Piccalilli is an old, favourite English pickle made with various vegetables and spices. It goes back a few hundred years to the late 17th century and was known as The Indian pickle; ie., vegetables pickled the Indian way. In the 18th and 19th centuries and indeed, before, besides being called the Indian Pickle or India Pickle, piccalilli was also known variantly as Picca Lillo, Paco Lilla and Pickle Lila. This latter description was coined by Lady Ann Blencowe, according to Wiki, in 1694, in her “Receipt Book”, of which I own a copy.
Whatever its name, this is one of my favourite pickles throughout the year. I always have a jar at home, as it’s such a great way to liven up a meal; perfect with cold cuts of meat, in or with sandwiches, with sausages and an assortment of vegetables. There’s nothing quite like the piquancy of a pickle to cut through and heighten any dish. And since it started life as an Indian pickle after all, I personally think it’s perfect eaten with curry and rice, as a tangy condiment, much like one would serve mango chutney. It’s most certainly a favourite of my father in law’s.
Vegetables in Piccalilli
There is a whole lot of leeway with the vegetables that you can use in making your own piccalilli. Cauliflower and onions (or shallots) are a must though, in my opinion. Besides that, cucumbers are good, as are courgettes (zucchinis), green beans and capsicums (bell peppers).
In the recipe here, I’ve given you the total weight of vegetables to use, and the amount of cauliflower and shallots. The rest of the vegetables, I’ll leave to you to decide on quantity; a good guide would be a small carrot, a small cucumber and a small courgette (zucchini), with a handful of green beans. But play with those amounts and the type of vegetables as you like. Stick to the cauliflower weight that I’ve given here though, as cauliflower is quite the main player here.
Other examples of vegetables and fruits that can be added to Piccalilli include, but not restricted to:
But I am really not sure about Jamie Oliver adding broccoli to his piccalilli. I love broccoli, it is, quite possibly, my favourite vegetable. However, I think that the flavour is just all wrong for piccalilli. Have you added broccoli to a stew full of vegetables? If the broccoli is left in there for just a minute too long, it turns a horrible green, falls apart and just takes over everything! But, to each his own, I guess. After all, I love chillies in mine, something not everyone is fond of! So broccoli in your piccalilli – have a go and let me know what you think!
What I do like about Jamie’s recipe is the use of mustard oil, something I’ve been doing for a long, long time with Indian pickles and chutneys. When she was making Indian pickles, my granny would always sauté her cumin and mustard seeds, along with some dried red chillies and curry leaves. And that’s what I do with my piccalilli, it is, after all, an Indian pickle, isn’t it? I leave out the curry leaves though, as they change the aroma too much. And, in this recipe, I’ve left the dried chilli as optional. When I make piccalilli for clients, I always ask if the’d like chillies or not. Just in case.
What is interesting is that my father-in-law, who is 80, remembers his mum making piccalilli when he was young and he distinctly recalls her using dried chilli on the odd occasion, as well as apples. Below is a picture of my father-in-law’s parents, sometime at the turn of the 19th century, they are on the lowest part of the slope.
Back to the mustard oil – again, it is optional in the recipe here. Mustard oil adds a lovely dimension to piccalilli as it has a certain sharpness and pungency to it, and reminds me of my grandmother’s pickles. As I use mustard oil in my kitchen for Bengali recipes, I always have some at home, and so sometimes I use mustard oil, sometimes, I go down the tasteless vegetable oil route.
I sound like a broken record, but the first time you attempt a classic recipe at home, I feel that you should always stay on the straight and narrow. This is so you can grasp the principle and flavour behind the original, because only then will you be able to appreciate any experiments you decide to embark on and compare the fruit of your imagination to the original. Does that make sense?
Salting Vegetables for Piccalilli
We salt our vegetables to get rid of excess water for 2 reasons: to allow a certain amount of crispness in our piccalilli vegetables and to stop any excess water leaching out after pickling and diluting the pickling sauce.
Some people salt their vegetables overnight, some do it for just an hour or two. Some people soak their vegetables in salted water, while some just sprinkle the salt all over, turning the vegetables a few times in the process. I go down the sprinkling route, but I do let the vegetables rest in the salt overnight. Just remember to give the vegetables a good rinse to get rid of all that salt, otherwise you’ll end up with a very salty piccalilli.
To Water Bath Piccalilli or Not?
Interestingly, here in the UK, we don’t habitually give our preserves a water bath. I’ve never gone down this route with any of my pickles, chutneys or jams, and they’ve always lasted a good 6 months.
However, I understand that the laws are different in the US, and go ahead and give your piccalilli a water bath and lengthen its use-by-date to a year. 10 minutes ought to suffice. However, you have to bear in mind that preserving times are affected by how far above sea level you live, here’s a guide for you on how to adjust your times from the folks at Ball:
If you are preserving at an altitude higher than 305 meters above sea level, adjust the water bath preserving time as below:
- 306 – 915 metres above sea level : increase water bath by 5 minutes
- 916 – 1828 metres above sea level : increase water bath by 10 minutes
- 1829 – 2438 metres above sea level : increase water bath by 15 minutes
- 2439 – 3048 metres above sea level : increase water bath by 20 minutes
If you calculate in feet, just do a quick search online for metres to feet conversion, you should be presented with a conversion tool right at the top.
Sterilising Jars for Pickles, Jams and Chutneys
- Turn the oven on to a cool 130˚C/250˚F/Gas Mark ½.
- Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water.
- Place the jars and lids upside down in the oven and leave them to dry, with the door closed for 15 minutes.
- Leave the jars and lids in there, bring them out only when you are ready to fill. Be careful, as they’ll be hot.
In the words of the proverbial bunny, that’s all folks!
Do you like pickles? What are your favourites? And have you tried a true English piccalilli?
1kg (2.2 lb) vegetables, made up of
- 400g (14oz) cauliflower
- 8 shallots
- courgettes (zucchini)
- green beans
- 5 Tbsp coarse salt
- 2 Tbsp plain flour
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 Tbsp mustard powder
- 500ml (2 cups) regular clear vinegar
- 1 Tbsp mustard or vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 4 dried red chillies, left whole (optional)
- 3 Tbsp white sugar
You will also need 6 x 240ml (just under 1 cup) glass jars or the equivalent of in volume.
- Cut up the cauliflower into little florets, see the images to get an idea of size, but about 2.5cm (1″) is a good guide.
- Peel and quarter the shallots.
- Cut the cucumber, carrots and courgettes (zucchini) into thick julienne strips about 6cm (2 1/3″) long.
- Cut the beans into roughly the same length.
- Place all the vegetables into a large glass bowl and sprinkle the salt all over. Stir to mix. Cover and leave to sit overnight or a minimum of 1 hour. Stir the vegetables up in that time, a handful of times if salting overnight.
- Rinse the vegetables thoroughly in cool water for about 1 minute. Leave to drain.
- In a cup, mix the flour, turmeric and mustard powder with just enough vinegar to get a smooth paste. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté the cumin, mustard seeds and chillies (if using) for about 20 seconds.
- Add the turmeric paste and give it a good stir, then pour the rest of the vinegar in.
- Tip all the vegetables into the saucepan and sprinkle the sugar all over. Increase the heat and stir everything together and bring to a simmer.
- Then, lower the heat down, and cook for just 5 minutes.
- Spoon into the warm sterilised jars and cover tightly. Let the piccalilli mature for at least 2 weeks, in a dark, cool place before eating. Once opened, store in the fridge. Unopened, they will keep for 6 months.
Optional Water Bath
- Place your jars in a large saucepan or stockpot of simmering water. Make sure the water comes to halfway up the jars.
- Cover, lower heat and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. The higher up above sea level you are, the longer you need to simmer your jars for. See above.
- Turn the heat off and let the jars sit in the water for 5 minutes.
- Carefully remove from the hot water and leave to cool completely on a tea towel, then store until you’re ready to use it.
Prep and Total time do not include the salting of the vegetables. The times indicated are the actual hands on time.
- Cuisine: English
- Serving Size: Makes 6 x 240ml (just under 1 cup) jars