Pickled onions and pickled eggs

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Pickled onions and pickled eggs

Preserving food was a real problem in medieval times. There were no refrigerators or canning plants. People had to rely on natural methods of preservation to ensure they had enough food to last them through the long hard winter.

The medieval cooks used salt, vinegar, spices and sugar to preserve all kinds of wonderful foods and their skills are still in use today.

Pickling food in vinegar is a great way to make sure that there is something with a strong flavour to serve with rather bland fare. Bread and cheese makes a good meal but it is much improved by a pickled onion or two!

Good pickled onions are crispy, crunchy and full of flavour, they make an ideal accompaniment for cold meats and cheeses. More importantly they are an essential part of that great traditional British dish:

The Ploughman's Lunch

Frankly, most Ploughman's lunches you get in pubs these days are a sad pale imitation of the real thing – No self respecting ploughman would have touched a toasted ciabatta with olives, thin camembert slices and a limp garnish of seasonal salad.

Oh no! – He wanted a huge chunk of strong cheddar cheese, a handful of crisp pickled onions, a fresh tomato, fresh butter and thumping great hunk of fresh bread. A country bloke can work all day with that lot inside him!

Pickled eggs are another matter entirely. Beautifully browned, yet firm and succulent pickled eggs truly are a countryman's delicacy and go down a treat with a nice salad and a pint of best bitter.

They are also great in front of a roaring fire with a glass of Sloe or Damson Gin (traditional Shropshire recipe coming soon!) and a few crisp water biscuits. Ahhh – luxury!

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A carefully blended selection of pickling spices is essential

Ingredients

2 1/2 lb. small pickling onions
3 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 cup malt (brown) vinegar
2 tsp. pickling spices
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
8 – 12 medium sized bay leaves

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Method

Drop unpeeled onions in boiling water (the water will stop boiling but leave them on the heat).

Leave in boiling water for no more than 3 minutes then drain.

Chef's note: The surplus onion water now contains a powerful yellow dye – so be careful where you splash it.

You might like to try dying a tee-shirt but please don't blame me if it all goes horribly wrong!

Place onions in cold water and peel when onions are cool (this is so your eyes don't run!).

Chef's note: If you boil the onions for more than 3 mins they will be too soft

Cover onions with water and add salt; swoosh around in the pot until all the salt has dissolved and the onions are nicely covered.

Leave to stand for 12 hours. Drain; rinse thoroughly.

Put vinegar, sugar, ginger and pickling spices into a saucepan and bring to the boil – you can get ready mixed pickling spices at most health food shops but you may choose to make your own mixture of finely chopped red chilli, peppercorns and fresh or dried herbs.

I generally take the easy route but why not be adventurous and see what you can find to make a good spicy pickling mixture – the list is endless!

Chef's note: Sniff your pickling mixture carefully as this really can make your eyes water. Listen to the voice of experience!

For pickled eggs just hard boil as many eggs as you fancy, drop them into hot sterilised jars and cover with pickling mixture.

Chef's note: I like to leave the spices in the mixture but you can sieve it if you prefer.

Pack onions or eggs in hot, sterilised jars, leaving 1 inch space to top of jar.

Chef's note: You might like to drop a bay leaf into each jar for added flavour.

Cover with hot pickling liquid, leaving 1/2 inch space to top of jar.

Cap jars tightly and store in a cool place – Brilliant for a traditional Christmas!

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