I’m pregnant, so naturally I’m eating a lot of pickled food. I wouldn’t call it a craving. I’ve had those over the past few months, a chronicle of the gross and the predictable, which has lurched from taramasalata and pears to cheddar and Coca-Cola. Craving is too reductive for pickled food. It has been my constant, a loyal companion, my Old Yeller before he caught rabies.
They have also been something of a joke in the food world, at least for anyone who watched Portlandia (an early skit showed a couple pickling eggs and plasters) or found the whole hip, cocktails-in-jam-jars movement deeply suspicious.
But these are dark times. There’s talk of stockpiling supplies in case of a no-deal Brexit, supplies such as pickled food. Because come March, it’s all we’ll have to eat. Have you seen The Road? Mate, I’ve read it, too.
Scully, a great restaurant slightly too close to the Trocadero in London’s Piccadilly for my liking has made pickles the basis of much of its menu, which is a mix of Middle Eastern and Malayasian. No surprise there, Malaysian-born owner Ramael Scully used to work with chef Yotam Ottolenghi after answering a Gumtree advert.
Here, pickles are built into the dishes rather than sitting on the side. By which I mean they are the centrepiece. A tomato and coconut salad is lifted by a tart, green pickled strawberry. Small golden beetroots layered up with persimmon are crushed with a huge ball of burrata – but it’s nothing without the pickled jalapenos. There are no gherkins, but there are pickled berries in the chocolate pudding.
The point is, says Scully, standing beside the 60-odd jars of pickled things that greet you as you enter, “anything can be pickled”.
Anything? “Everyone thinks there is a rule. But if it’s absorbent, pickle it.” He points to a bunch of rhubarb, and mentions leeks pickled in olive oil, salt and prosecco which he serves with beef or red onions sliced with salt and sugar and red wine vinegar to take the tart edge off.
What’s more, he says, you can do it at home with veg you would normally chuck out – and very quickly at that. “A quick pickle involves sugar and vinegar,” he says, and is pickled in an hour. He suggests adding homemade pickled onions to roast beef.
There are plenty of ways to pickle something, but almost any vegetable works pickled in a mix of apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar, with salt and sugar. You just have to keep feeding it, with sugar, and if you don’t eat it quickly, open the jars every so often to stop the fermenting contents from exploding.
Back home, I dust off the mason jar I hid from sight in 2014. I hate myself for buying into this trend but you can’t fight the fight against food waste, nor should you. I knew the hipsters would outlive us all.