Britain · Pickles · Vegetables

Swede is not necessarily a nationality designator

We used to have chickens.  We loved our chickens.  Our new neighbor who bought a house behind us loved our chickens.  Her granddaughters would come and play with them and she thought that was marvelous.

The granddaughters moved out-of-state, and some of the charm of chickens fell away as well.

The neighbor came over one day and told us the chickens were causing flies to congregate in her breezeway and we needed to do something about it. Reluctantly we gave all our chickens to a feed store to re-sell.  We turned over the ground, gave it several good coatings of lime and declared it to be a chicken free zone.

About 3 weeks later a knock on the door and a card in the hand identified the health inspector.  The neighbor had seen no improvement, grown even more weary of the flies and had pulled in the heavy hitters.  I took the inspector to view where the chickens had been.  She observed, sniffed, made notes and said, “I don’t see what else you could have done.  It all looks good to me,” and off she trundled to report to the neighbor. A little while later she came back, knocking again on the door to follow-up.  While she was speaking with the neighbor, she did notice an inordinate amount of flies, but doing a little investigation, she pointed out if the neighbor would clean up the messes her dog left in her own backyard, the flies might not be as big a problem.  Oops, with a side of “Is my face red?” I wish we hadn’t given away the chickens.

Sometimes, things which seem obvious, like chickens attracting flies, are in fact not.  Frequently those cracks in understanding are food related. As any US traveler to England will tell you, if you order a sandwich and a salad, across the pond you’ll get a sandwich with lettuce on it. Really?  The English don’t  think of lettuce as anything other than a garnish.

Branston Pickle The same is true of pickles. To the US readers, you’ll understand a pickle to be a cucumber which has undergone a transformation, most usually via vinegar and spices. The British reader will understand the process, but not the outcome, in the same way.

The English pickle is generally eaten with a cheese and bread, as part of the traditional Ploughman’s Lunch, which is standard pub fare.  It is a pickled assortment of diced vegetables, spicy and a wee bit sweet; brown sugar, malt vinegar and cooked dates giving it a luxurious silky brown coloring. Most notable of the ingredients are the chunks of rutabaga or swede as it is called in the UK.  The product has finished simmering when these miniature dice sized cubes are softened, but still retain a firmness in their bite.  The product is known as Branston Pickle and should be listed on food charts as a whopping good source of vegetables, in the same way salsa passes for a serving of veg in the federal lunch program. To the US palate, it may take a couple of outings to find the way you would most like to pair Branston pickle, but may I suggest that a smoked polish hot dog, covered with this yummy goodness, would be well worth exploring.

Branston Pickle

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Recipe adapted from

9 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 medium swede (rutabaga), peeled and cut into small chunks

4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

5 ounces dates, finely chopped

1 small cauliflower, finely chopped

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 medium apples, finely chopped, unpeeled

2 medium finely chopped courgettes (zucchini), unpeeled

15 to 20 small cornichons or 15 -20 small gherkins, finely chopped

10 ounces dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 pint malt vinegar

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (opt)

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring them to the boil.
  2. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the swede is cooked, but still remains firm, about 2 hours.
  3. Stir well to redistribute all of the vegetables.
  4. Bottle and seal in sterile and hot jars.
  5. Allow the pickle to age for a few weeks before using, this improves the taste and it will become more “mellow”.
  6. Serve with cheese, ploughman’s lunches, in sandwiches, with cold cuts and meats. This pickle is also wonderful when added to curries and stews.


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