It was back in August last year that I read that The Cottage Smallholder was making Pickled Walnuts and I suggested that we get together around Christmas time to compare our PWs with hers. Just before Christmas we arranged a date, and last night the Victorian pickle fork lay in wait for the contestants . . .
Of course pickled walnuts can't be savoured alone – they need a traditional spread of cold meats and cheeses as a background for their complex top-notes. Inspired by my Christmas present – What to cook now by Valentine Warner I made leek vinaigrette using some lovely fresh fat leeks from the farm veg stall at 100 Histon Road, Cottenham and eggs from our under-gardeners of course. I had been on a foraging expedition of my favourite local suppliers and gleaned ham and haslet from Beaumont's Butchers in Fulbourn; smoked eel, a big crusty granary loaf, and some delicate spelt crackers from The River Farm Smokery in Bottisham. The ingredients for the main dish – Pork and Duck Terrine, were bought from my favourite butchers at Highgate Country Store in Willingham; where I also bought some very fine Blue Stilton and a delicious Isle of Bute Cheddar cheese. Making the terrine was a labour of love and took far longer than the recipe suggested! But it was worth every hour – and the yummy jelly which formed around the edge was heavenly!!!
Before we started tasting the 2008 pickled walnuts, we sampled Cliff's 2005 vintage PWs, these were pickled in white malt vinegar flavoured with mixed pickling spice. The vinegar had lost its harshness allowing the spices to be tasted, the texture of the walnuts was firm but soft enough to squash easily with a fork. These made an interesting comparison with the young pickles entered into The Pickled Walnut Challenge . . .
Purple Podded Peas entered two jars of Pickled Walnuts, both pickled in early July 2008. Cliff had picked the walnuts at a secret location near Cambridge and followed the pickling method described in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book The River Cottage Cookbook. Half the walnuts were pickled in cider vinegar, the rest in white-wine vinegar; both vinegars were flavoured with cloves, allspice, mixed peppercorns, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.
size : large, almost golf ball size! maybe too big.
texture : very good, firm but easily cut to show a good cross-section of immature nut.
flavour : harsh vinegar tang, robust spicing.
summary : needs longer to mature; a well crafted traditionally flavoured pickled walnut which hopefully will mellow over the months ahead.
The Cottage Smallholder also entered two jars of pickled walnuts one in cider vinegar and one in white-wine vinegar, but with different spices. The walnuts were picked in late July from an undisclosed location near Newmarket and pickled in early August 2008, see more notes about the recipes here.
Jar A: cider vinegar flavoured with cloves, ginger, alspice, garlic, peppercorns and molasses.
size : medium, a perfect pickled walnut dimensions.
texture : the outer layer was tender but the core was perilously crunchy in places as the nutshell had already started to form.
flavour : harsh vinegar tang; the inclusion of garlic and fresh ginger gave this pickle a hint of oriental spicing.
summary : a pity that the walnuts had not been picked when younger as the flavourings are good.
Jar B: white-wine vinegar flavoured with tarragon, allspice, cloves, mace, bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and molasses.
size : medium, a perfect pickled walnut dimensions.
texture : firm but still a good pickled walnut, maturing may soften them more.
flavour : harsh vinegar tang; the tarragon adds an anise note which is surprising in a pickled walnut and slightly medicinal in character.
summary : it will be interesting to try this pickle after further maturing as the flavourings may mellow.
As well as the miriad of PWs we had a 'guest pickle' – Cliff's Piccalilli. everyone agreed that it was a 'mighty fine pickle' and a perfect accompaniment to the terrine. More will have to made in 2009 and plans are underway to dedicate an area of the vegetable garden to the growing of picalilli ingredients!
After all that you'd think we'd be ready to lie down for a snooze! But the feasting continued . . .
You may remember that the original challenge to The Cottage Smallholder included tasting Sloe Gin, as we know she was conducting intensive field trials into this delectable liqueur. Sadly she had to announce that the Cottage Smallholder Sloe Gin was suffering from an over-dose of almond essence and had been withdrawn from the contest. Nevertheless we'd got four bottles of home-made fruit liqueur from the Purple Podded Peas cupboards: Sloe Gin, Sloe Vodka and Damson Gin all made from fruit grown in our garden; and a 'guest liqueur', Quince Brandy, made using this recipe. These all went very nicely with the winter fruit compote (dried apricots and sultanas soaked in redbush tea with a small piece of vanilla pod; then warmed through with the addition of chopped Cox's apples and Conference pears and a spoonful of local honey)served with whipped cream, slices of Panettone and the remnants of the Christmas cake.
The Cottage Smallholder went home with the Victorian Pickle Fork (maybe it will become a legendary trophy like The Ashes) and a box of blue shelled eggs laid by The Spices. If anyone is up for a challenge then get pickling! And let us know if you're up for the challenge next Christmas.
PS. Matron - the Christmas cake was tested with a sliver of Isle of Bute Cheddar - verdict: excellent!