Whenever I dreamily start to think of pickles, a whole variety of food memories and recollections often come popping into my head. A little huddle of firm cornichons to accompany pork rillettes. Uncle Michael’s infamous tangy onions, huge and bulbous, spiked with a touch of chilli. Childhood doorstep sandwiches, filled with slices of cheddar and slathered with glowing piccalilli on top. These are nice thoughts to have but they do all serve as reminders that pickles, especially your British garden variety, do have a tendency to bash you over the head with their pungency. One bite can sometimes leave you weeping and reaching for a handkerchief, to wipe your sweaty brow and then quickly honk into afterwards. Yes, pickles are wicked in more ways than one.
Thankfully, in our global village, there are pickles available that are delicate, bright and a lot more refined than our homegrown versions, such as tsukemono, which sits atop the umbrella of Japanese pickles.
Tsukemono is a lovely, generic term, as it translates quite literally as ‘pickled things’ and the list of fruit and vegetables used for preserving is a long one. The methods of pickling are also fairly extensive with the main ingredients consisting of salt, vinegar and sugar; along with miso and soy, as you would sort of expect with Japanese cuisine. However, sake, rice bran and mustard are also used for equal effect. A blast of karashizuke or mustard seed is often deployed when pickling aubergines; to achieve a spicy, peppered quality to their silken flesh. A journey that can take at least three months.