Come early summer, thoughts turn to how best to preserve the produce of the season. In the Georgian period only the wealthiest households would have had an ice house for rudimentary refrigeration. Most domestic cooks needed to resort to other methods – such as salting and pickling – to ensure that the plethora of fresh produce did not go to waste.
Pickling was a popular way of preserving food so that it could be enjoyed for months to come. Our unknown ladies gleaned the following advice from 19th century cookery guru Dr William Kitchiner:
The strongest vinegar should be used for pickling. It must not be boiled or the strength of the vinegar & spices will be lost. By parboiling the pickles in brine, they will be ready in half the time. When taken out of the hot brine, let them get cold and quite dry before you put them into the pickle. To assist the preservation, add a portion of salt. For the same purpose, and to give flavor: long pepper – black pepper – white pepper – allspice – ginger – cloves – mace – garlick – mustard – horseradish – shallots – capsicum. The best method is to bruise in a mortar three or four ounces of the above materials. Put them into a stone jar with a quart of the strongest vinegar. Stop the jar closely with a bung. Cover that with a bladder soaked with pickle. Set it on a trivet by the side of the fire for three days, well shaking it up three or four times a day. By pounding the spice, half the quantity is enough and the jar being well closed and the infusion made with a mild heat, there is no loss by evaporation. Run a larding pin through the articles pickled to give them the better flavour. A wooden spoon full of holes to take them out.
Some decades earlier, another of our cookbook compilers recorded this simple recipe for pickled onions. The principles are in keeping with Kitchiner’s later method. After being soaking and boiled in salty water, they are flavoured with sliced horseradish, and bottled in an infusion vinegar, black pepper and ginger:
To Pickle Onions
Take the smallest & hardest you can get. Peel their brown skin of them but take care you dont bruse them. Then putt them in salt & water in a crok, close cover’d, 2 days & nights. Then put them in a skillet of water on a clear fire. Let them just boyle & no more, then take of one skin more with a cloth but take care you dont bruse them. Dont take of the root till you are going to use them, for that will let the air into them & make them turn black. Put them in a dry crok. Put some horse redish slic’d betwen the layers. Scald some vinegar with a good dale of pepper & ginger whole. Pour it scalding hot on them. Cover them close immediately. Keep them always close cover’d with a blader & leather. You must not expect them to keep above 2 months rightly white. They may be done any time of the year.