Home-made Branston Pickle
Anyone who grew up in Britain will know Branston Pickle very well. We always had a jar in the cupboard at our house when I was a kid and I remember that the condiment was a must have accompaniment to the famous Melton Mowbray style Pork Pie. In Canada, alas, the pickle is not so well known and is less readily available so, for the uninitiated, I will describe it, courtesy of Wikipedia, as ‘a variety of diced vegetables, including swede, carrots, onions, cauliflower and gherkins pickled in a sauce made from vinegar, tomato, apple and dates with spices such as mustard, coriander, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, nutmeg and cayenne pepper with sugar’…. The aforementioned ‘swede’, by the way, is better known in Canada and the US as, ‘Rutabaga’…
Many years ago, I noticed that the pickling sauce in Branston Pickle was quite similar in composition and taste to the, also popular, and better known, HP Sauce. I tried to reproduce a Branston Pickle using the sauce (along with extra vinegar and sugar), and, to my surprise, I produced a passably good imitation on the very first try. Successive attempts were less good (chiefly because I tried to ‘improve’ the basic taste), but the general idea was pretty successful, in my opinion.
My earliest attempts used the standard Swede/Rutabaga, along with onion and, occasionally carrot. I never tried gherkins (although I did once use plain cucumber), and I don’t recall ever seeing anything resembling cauliflower in the commercial product; It may be there in very small amounts, but I can’t imagine it making much of a difference and haven’t tried it either. For my most recent batches, I have replaced the Rutabaga with Daikon, which makes a great substitute, and a little onion as well. Carrot could also be added, I suppose, but I don’t think the end result suffers by their omission…
Here are two jars of commercially produced Branston Pickle. The one on the right is the one with which I am most familiar. I gather that the Cross and Blackwell brand (whose name appears on the right-hand label) was sold, at least as far as the pickle is concerned, to a Japanese concern, called Mizkan. I am not sure if the left-hand jar is a ‘Mizkan’ version, or the product of some other company, and I have not encountered it in any grocery store as yet. I recently read that the product is much lighter and sweeter than it used to be traditionally and it is something of a coincidence that the same can be said of the version I have made with the following ingredients…
- 2 ½ cups Daikon, in ¾ cm. dice;
- 1 cup Onion, moderately coarsely chopped;
- 1 Tbsp. Salt;
- 1 cup White Vinegar;
- 1/3 cup Sugar;
- 1 cup HP Sauce.
Here is the onion… You don’t need to be a fanatic about it, but try to get the chunks in ¾ cm. pieces, or as close as possible to the same size as the daikon cubes.
The first step is to toss the daikon with salt and leave it to macerate for about 25 minutes or so. Afterwards, rinse the cubes well in several washings of cold water and then drain dry.
Now, heat a tablespoon of oil in a pot over moderate heat and briefly saute the onion just until it becomes translucent.
Add the daikon, along with the sugar and vinegar and cook at a low boil until the liquid reduces somewhat and the daikon is turning translucent. The idea here is to let the daikon soften a little but still retain some al dente ‘bite’.
Lastly, add the HP Sauce and turn up the heat to a pretty vigorous boil and reduce the pickling sauce to a thick, syrupy glaze. Allow it to cool and the transfer to a suitable container and refrigerate until ready to use.