Ah, Piccalilli. How to describe it?
Bright yellow, startling, eye-popping, essential to life.
Strangely enough, despite my adult commitment to this bizarre mustardy condiment, before making it myself I had never eaten it. I was a great consumer of Branston as a child. I've was always partial to a bit of cheap vinegar veg spread on my toast. Somehow, in my head, Piccalilli was confused with the other yellow jarred-paste that the school nurse spread on a particularly bad scrape. Of course, this was something never to be consumed.
However, in the early stages of our development, a close friend kept saying to us, ‘Piccalilli, you’ve got make a really good Piccalilli’. I was quite bemused by this, never having tasted Piccalilli, good or otherwise. But I cracked open Mrs Beaten and Eliza Acton and started to gather the processes of a ‘good’ Piccalilli.
Strangely, it wasn’t the hardest thing to make. It took time: the balance of spice, vinegar and sugar was pivotal to success. But the set was easy, and we never noticed any spoilage.
The other unusual thing about Piccalilli is that it is a constant reminder of how important it is to recognise a bad habit and break it quickly. I can’t look at a jar of Piccalilli without thinking how it is a product made at 2am. It’s not anymore, of course, and hasn’t been for a long time. But there was a period in the early days of England Preserves, when Piccalilli was always made at 2am.
At the time I was 23, and in my younger years lots of things happened at 2am, I was a greater stretcher of the day (there were never enough hours in them). Our rhythm was to make preserves all week and then try to sell them all at farmers’ markets across London over the weekend. I can never put my finger on why, but for what felt like a long time, Piccalilli was always being finished at 2am on a Friday night / Saturday morning. We would then come home, exhausted on a Saturday afternoon to a bright yellow kitchen.
Needless to say my heart started to harden against Piccalilli until I realised that it wasn’t the Piccalilli’s fault, just my incapacity to schedule. Thus began a long line of bad habits, that eventually I recognised and finally broke - only begin another one. Is this just the nature of bad habits? Or, just the nature of being too busy?
All that said, I do adore our Piccalilli. I recommend cutting some Hafod Cheddar into fingers and scooping up the Piccalilli with the cheese finger. It’s a sublime way to spend half an hour. I usually finish by wiping up the remaining sauce with my own finger not to waste any.
Anyway, here's to Piccalilli. Essential to my life and, hopefully, yours.
You can try our Piccalilli by clicking here.