There's a recipe for Piccalilli in the Waitrose Autumn booklet which caught my eye. They've called it "Piccalilli With A Punch". I like the idea, but they haven't got it quite right. Waitrose suggest you use butternut squash (not that authentic in my opinion), and their photograph shows very large (too large) chunks of vegetables sitting on a watery sauce (which, I think, should be much thicker). Still.
Piccalilli is one of those slightly weird British "delicacies"- if that's the right description; I'm not sure that it is. Bright yellow in colour, and potently acidic; utterly out of fashion too, evoking the world of Austerity Britain: all the glamour of Dad's allotment, prize marrow competitions, Brown Windsor soup, late dusty Summers and musty pigeon lofts.
I spent a few minutes researching its history on the internet. Apparently, the first known Piccalilli recipe was created by a Mrs Raffald in 1772, when it was also known as "English Chow Chow". That sounded about right. It had to be connected in some way with Eighteenth Century India didn't it? I'm assuming that the rather odd sounding name is just a play on the word, pickle.
First prepare the vegetables: I like them to be chopped up into reasonably small, bite-size chunks. Break up a small cauliflower into small florets, peel a cucumber, de-seed it, and chop it into small cubes. Finely chop up two onions. Chop up a few peeled carrots into small to medium size dice. Dice up a courgette into similar size chunks.
Place the vegetables in a bowl, sprinkle them with salt, and leave to stand overnight. The salt will draw out lots of water and help to keep the vegetables crisp. Pour off the water, rinse the vegetables with cold water, and pat them dry.
When you're ready to make the piccalilli, get hold of a large preserving pan and pour in about 500ml of cider vinegar. Add 250g of sugar and the following spices: a dollop of Colman's English mustard, turmeric, ground ginger, ground cumin, black mustard seeds, chili flakes, nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Warm it through until the sugar dissolves, add the vegetables and then bring the mixture to the boil. Season with chunky black pepper, reduce the heat and simmer away for about ten minutes. It's unlikely that you'll need to add any more salt, as you've already used it at the beginning of the recipe. The turmeric and mustard will turn the mixture a bright yellow colour.
Finally, thicken up the piccalilli with some cornflour: in a separate bowl add some of the cooking liquid to a tablespoon or so of cornflower and whisk it up until it forms a paste. Reduce the heat and slowly mix this paste into the piccalilli. Simmer for a further five minutes (until the cornflour is cooked properly) and then decant into sterilised jars.
It will need to mature in a dark cupboard for about a month before use. Excellent with cold beef and oily fish such as mackerel and herring, and perfect for Christmas if you start thinking about making it now.