Friday 4 September 2009


It feels autumnal today. The sun that was shining so cheerfully this morning has slouched off leaving grey skies and biting winds behind. It's a good day for staying in and being domestic - an adjective that sits uneasily on me. I would be houseproud if I weren't so idle - and didn't have a husband and dogs and cats who track mud and dust throughout the house. Our wooden floors are decorated with swirls of fur - dust bunnies? - which are swept up every day and reappear almost immediately.
I digress. Being domestic(ated) today means pickling onions, collecting nasturtium seeds for poor man's capers, making chocolate tiffin, carving the bacon I cured last week and baking bread. Sounds impressive - to me anyway. The reality is that I will start the pickling process (probably), bake the bread (definitely - that's what the bread-maker is for), carve the bacon (possibly - it will probably be inedible since I have never attempted to cure bacon before and also had to adjust the recipe because, as usual, I leapt into the process without checking I had the necessary ingredients), gather the seeds (perhaps), make the tiffin (doubtful - the dark chocolate I bought for the purpose has been broken into and not by me for a change so I'm not sure I'll have enough - and even if I have I may not feel like bothering!)
This is one of my favourite books - it contains a wealth of knowledge as well as traditional regional recipes
I remember my parents pickling onions when I was a child - it seemed a very long-drawn-out procedure, as I suppose most things of that nature appear to children, and one I didn't attempt until a couple of years ago. I forget why I decided to try my hand at it but I found a simple recipe and everyone enthused about the end result so I felt quite buoyed up by the experience. Shallots stripped of extraneous 'paper'

Shallots in my preserving pan

Shallots in brine

A plate on top of the shallots keeps them submerged in the brine. They will remain in the pan for 12 hours after which they are drained and scalded in boiling water for 1 minute. Then they are 'topped and tailed' and soaked in a second brine for 24 hours.After being thoroughly drained they are decanted into jars or bottles and covered with cold spiced vinegar. The recommendation is to leave them for 6 to 8 weeks to mature - that doesn't usually happen in this house! We all love pickled onions and Susannah and Kiri - aunt and niece - can consume a (small) jar each at one sitting. The taste for vinegar is genetic, granted to us by my father and Barry's grandfather who happened to be instructors in the same Royal Naval diving school at the same time - maybe it was the salt they absorbed that developed the taste!
Any onion can be pickled but I like to use shallots which are related to onions and are milder and sweeter.
In our family we call them 'Charlottes' for that is the way Barry first pronounced their name when he was a child.

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