I am for the most part a great fan of the art of pickling. It is a great way of preserving stuff. My first encounter with the joys of Pickling came early. A classic English dish is called a Ploughmans Lunch, it is simplicity itself. A hunk of crusty bread, a hunk of well aged cheddar cheese, some real butter, a few pickled onions, and you are off to the races. To really tart the dish up you can add a tomato.
Well that was the way that I understood a Ploughmans Lunch to be made. I was 15 when I saw the real thing. My parents got me a job at a local farm, it was only for two weeks, and all I had to do was act as traffic cop and parking assistant as bales of hay were tossed onto the trailer that I was standing on. At 10 O’clock sharp the two aging pitchfork wielding laborers called a halt for ‘lunch’. This was none too soon in my opinion! After three hours of dodging flying bales of hay I was ready for a break. I climbed down from my perch.
My mother had made me some Ham Sandwiches (There is a big surprise), but I was too exhausted to even think about grumbling. we each sat on a bale of hay, well there was no shortage of them! The bales seemed to go on forever! I watched in awe as the two farm workers produced two well worn tin lunch boxes. The contents were identical, a large slab of crusty bread, a piece of cheese and a small glass jar with pickled onions in them. Eating implements were the same well worn pocket knives that they used to cut the twine to fix mistakes in the bales. These knives had been sharpened so many times that they resembled the shape of a scimitar.
As only a 15 year old can do, I had to make the comment ‘wow, look, you both have brought the same lunch’. Fred Pace, my mentor and regular (daily) customer in my parents Pub, seemed surprised at my observation “bin working on the farm nigh on 50 years, lunch is bread, cheese, n pickles, and I like it”.
I have to admit that Bread, Cheese, and Pickled Onions was looking pretty damn good, all I had were Ham Sandwiches!
That night I had a long discussion with my mother. I explained that Ham Sandwiches were for wimps, real working men relied on Bread, Cheese, and Pickled Onions. For the rest of the (mercifully short) summer job I turned up every morning with Bread, Cheese, and Pickled Onions.
Here we are four decades later, and when I see real Pickled Onions in the store, I have to buy them! Oh not the wimpy Cocktail Onions, the real thing uses malt vinegar, a real Pickled Onion is brown not white.
Over the years I have found many yummy delights in the world of Pickling. A good pickled egg is a thing of awe and wonder, as indeed is a pickled pigs foot, or a Pickled Ukrainian Sausage. Pickled herring is also a yummy adventure.
The art of pickling is probably best known with vegetables. Pickled garlic, mushrooms, green beans, cauliflower, beets, are some of the ones that spring to mind.
Pickling is an ancient art, it was a way of storing food before the advent of the refrigerator and freezer.
In my mind it has become a lost art, with one horrible exception. I am firmly of the belief that there is one vegetable that sucks when pickled, the cucumber.
This lowly vegetable can be used in a salad, if the Vicar is coming for Tea you can make cucumber sandwiches (crust off of course)
Diced with yogurt and Garam Masala you have the perfect Indian Cucumber Raita, a wonderfully cooling dish to accompany the spiciest of dishes.
Pickled though, it sucks wind. Some idiot way back when decided that pickled cucumbers were the next great invention. Of course there was the minor issue of them tasting awful, this was fixed by making them taste even more unpleasant by the addition of Dill. I happen to like Dill in small doses, but Cucumber, Dill and Vinegar does not excite me one iota. I’d rather travel to Mongolia with Andrew Zimerm and eat raw sheep’s eyeballs than put a Dill Pickle in my mouth!
It is a clear case of cruelty to baby cucumbers. The poor things are killed before they reach maturity, it is an outrage! And no-one is standing up for their rights. I say Free the Cucumbers from their oppressors. I am somewhat surprised that activists have not picked up on this idea. Of course the color might have some bearing as to why the ACLU has avoided the issue. PETA has been equally quiet on the subject, but that may well be a result of the fact that cucumbers are not classed as meat, but that is just a guess. Even Amnesty International is ignoring the plight of the Cucumber.
I am not much of a political animal, but my vote will go to the next presidential candidate that has Cucumbers in his agenda.