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It’s one of those things that people either love or hate. It’s a great Christmas gift, but it’s hard to know if people will appreciate it or instead want to run for the hills. And as Jamie and I were discussing, there’s no subtle way of finding out. I now know that Siobhann likes it (as we had an impromptu lunch at my house after a somewhat failed attempt at making Christmas crackers in the presence of toddlers), and the reason why I’m doing this post is because my Dad loves it. But I realised the other day that if I wanted to present my Dad with his annual piccalilli that can be eaten on his birthday, then I’d better get my skates on.

My Mum hates piccalilli. As a child, I didn’t really know what it was, just that judging by its colour, I certainly wasn’t going to risk putting it anywhere near my mouth. My Grannie used to buy it for Dad, but now she’s passed away, I’ve taken on the task as Mum refuses to buy the stuff. As it seemed like a very River Cottage thing to make, I went there for a recipe, and as with a lot of their West Country recipes, they use cider vinegar. I’ve never tried any other recipe, but it’s always worked out wonderfully (apart from when I stored it in the outhouse and the sun bleached the jars, and the trademark mustard colour turned to beige, now that really is unappetising).

So yes, I do now eat the stuff. It was only once I’d made it that I tried it. The smell was so good when I mixed the hot liquor in with all the vegetables that I couldn’t resist. It’s an incredibly useful pickle to have around the house. Once made, leave it for six weeks, and it keeps for up to a year. I have it with ham, cheese, pâté  – whatever really. It adds interest to a plate and is a link to my past…

Makes around 6 large jars. I normally do half this amount, but was feeling greedy this year – which was rather tricky as didn’t have a large enough colander (so had to use a sieve as well). What I find I do get myself in a pickle (!) about is being organised. It’s best to lay everything out in advance, read through the recipe a few times and get it all straight in your head. I never seem to manage that, and always seem to be sterilising jars and dealing with boiling vinegar at the same time.

2kg washed, peeled vegetables – select 5 or 6 from the following: cauliflower or romanesco cauliflower, radish, green beans, cucumbers, courgettes, green or yellow tomatoes, tomatilloes, carrots, small silver-skinned onions or shallots, peppers, nasturtium seed pods

100g fine sea salt

60g cornflour

20g ground turmeric

20g English mustard powder

20g ground ginger

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

 2 tsp crushed cumin seeds

2 tsp crushed coriander seeds

1.2 litres cider vinegar

300g granulated sugar

100g honey

1. Cut the veg into small, even, 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 the veg with ice-cold water and drain thoroughly.

2. Blend the cornflour, turmeric, mustard powder, ginger, mustard seeds, cumin and coriander to 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 (for some reason this still confuses me – you’re basically pouring some of the hot vinegar into the spice paste mixture, then pouring that back into the pan that contains the hot vinegar). 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. I found I made six 340ml jars (Molly likes her jam) and a couple of larger Kilner jars.

I don’t know what this batch’ll be like, and I totally forgot to add the ginger. Am so annoyed, but it smelled good and tasted great (I do tend to lick the bowl) that I’m sure it’ll be fine. And next time one of you sees me, please feel free to mention if you like piccalilli or not…

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