Act Natural

I’ve been reading a lot about natural wines recently. This style, as distinct from organic winemaking, which bars chemical intervention in the vineyard, requires a more or less additive-free approach to the brewing process itself, barring added yeasts, sugars, and various other chemicals and techniques which have become standard in the industrial wine trade. While I wouldn’t call myself a fanatical convert – for one thing, I’ve barely tried any natural wines – it’s certainly been interesting to learn about the various practices which are allowed, and frequently used, in even very high-end wine making.

The wine industry, more, perhaps, than any other part of the food industry, is a large, efficient, modernised engine which still masquerades as small-scale, artisanal, somehow, in essence, natural. Much is made of terroir, of vintages, of the vast differences which aspect and soil and wind make to each bottle; but when yeast can be added to practically guarantee a certain body and mouthfeel, when wine can be physically ripped into its component parts to correct levels of sugar, water, alcohol, how much can terroir matter? The various DOP groups exist more to guarantee a certain quality and adherence to a sort of imagined local style than to actually ensure local individualism.

The real triumph, in fact, of modern winemaking – as with industrially brewed beer – has been the slow annihilation of variance from the norm, the sad reliance on weather and air – in other words, quality control. Even bad wines, now, aren’t really bad. They might be bad for you – the high levels of sulphites allowed in industrial wine can cause health problems – and they are certainly bad for the environment, especially in France, where their natural tendency to shoot or poison anything that moves is given free rein in vineyards; then again, they never claim not to be. The assumed ‘natural’ component of winemaking is much more nebulous than that.

Part of the current ‘clean’ ‘natural’ eating movement is a railing against processed foods, which is patently ridiculous. Nearly everything which ensures the continued existence of our species is processed in some way. As yer man (citation needed) found when he tried to live like a chimpanzee, we simply aren’t good enough at chewing to live off raw foods; without cooking and further processing, we would die. Bread, for example, is heavily processed, the base ingredient dried, ground, fermented, and held at various temperatures before consumption; because of this, it is pretty much a complete food, the staff of life, rightly holy to various cultures. The problem with industrially-produced bread is not that it has been processed, but that it has been processed very badly, with little reference to taste or nutrition.

The same could be said of wine, of cured meats, of cheese and of pickles. All of them have undergone a heavy process of industrialisation, resulting in a product which is much worse for you than it should be; but I don’t think that necessarily means the idea of industrialisation is bad. Cheaper, larger scale food production can only be a good thing, right? Maybe not. Maybe it’s inevitable that industrialisation throws out the good parts, the ferment, the yeast, the bacteria; perhaps, though, the success of natural winemakers, of raw-milk cheesemakers, who combine traditional techniques with a scientific understanding entirely born of industrial food processing, points a way for today’s artisans to feed us all.



They’re funny things, brassicas, capable, depending on context, age and variety, of Italian sophistication, Teutonic rigour or gently British irrelevance. Few gourmands would admit to a love of a broccoli and tuna pasta bake; reconfigure that as purple sprouting, orecchiette and bottarga and you have a death-row meal. Although your basic cauliflower is now gaining in popularity over the fractal, reptilian Romanesque, there is still a rigid hierarchy of cabbages, with varieties like hispi, January King, and that flat stuffable one allowed on to menus never sullied by the honest white, mainstay of coleslaw and kebab shops.


The cabbage, plain and dull as it might be, is one of our oldest vegetables, a gift, as with so many other edibles, of the Romans – I don’t know where they got it from. At one time it would have formed almost the entire diet of the European peasant, from Naples to Nottingham; it’s no wonder we have so many varieties. Luckily, the cabbage takes well to inteference and mutation. The cauliflower, as its name suggests, is a sort of artificially fattened cabbage blossom, allowed to let itself go almost to seed, becoming bloated and corpulent; its sleeker, odder cousin is the kohlrabi. This is one of those vegetables rarely seen outside of restaurants, and has never received an English name. In (I think) Dutch, it simply means ‘cabbage-turnip’, but I prefer Cabbage-Head. Vaguely resembling a root, it is in fact a fat, distended cabbage stalk, with only a few waving leaves and tendrils to remind you of its cabbage-hood. It is crisp, sweet and appley, with only a whisper of mustardy brassical heat, excellent raw in slaws, remoulades and pickles – so much so, in fact, that I’ve never cooked with it, and I’m not sure I want to.


It has a great affinity with aniseed flavours and with fish, and slips well into the sort of fennel-orange-chicory combinations that are your main salad option at this time of year; try finely slicing all of the above, dressing with capers, bitter oil and sweet white vinegar, and serving with crisply seared cod cheeks. Shredded and mixed with scant spoonfuls of aioli, it stands up to thinly sliced raw or cured beef as well as to poached salt ling, flaked through a salad with handfuls of roughly chopped herbs. Lacking these things, or with an abundance of winter vegetables, this mixed pickle is an excellent thing to make. The bitter citrus cuts through the mild funk of fermentation, and the whole thing is like a jar of pale winter sun.



70 g salt

70 g sugar

a few juniper berries, peppercorns, bay leaves and cloves

1 kohlrabi

2 fat carrots

1 bulb of fennel

4 sticks of celery

1 onion, preferably sweet and white

1 lemon

1 blood orange

3 cloves of garlic


Put the sugar, salt and spices in a pan with 2 L of water and bring to the boil, just to dissolve the salt and sugar. Leave to cool down while you prepare the vegetables.

These can be more or less thinly sliced. I like them shredded, so the whole is more like a spoonable condiment that individual ‘pickles’, but that’s up to you; the lemon and orange should be good and thin, though, whatever else you do. The fermentation will take longer the bigger the pieces are, mind. Pack the veg into a sterilised jar and pour over the brine. Seal and leave somewhere warmish.

In a few days they should start clouding over – this is good. Start tasting soon after, and refrigerate when you’re happy with the pickliness. The lactic sourness should be enough to counteract the bitter lemon.



Noble Rot

It’s a little strange that Britain, for all its love of tracklements and preserves, has no particular tradition of lactofermentation, the preferred method of pickling vegetable matter from Korea to High Germany, and indeed further afield. In the United States, it is understood that the word “pickle”, unmodified, means a sour dill pickle; that is to say, a small cucumber, lactofermented in the Continental tradition mostly associated here with polski skleps and salt-beef bagels, though very similar to the pickles of Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt, where they fill the same role as a foil to rich, smoky meats and sour dairy. Here, I suppose, “pickle” (“cheese & pickle”) means something anonymous, mixed and brown in the Branston mode, malty with vinegar and brown sugar – although if you were offered “pickles” you might reasonably expect onions, perhaps some beetroot or sweet, sliced cucumber; even, if you’re lucky, an inky Opies walnut. If we pickle cabbage, it will, most likely, be red and, once again, vinegared; the bacterial tang of sauerkraut is alien to the national palate. (Was, anyway; the Reuben has joined pulled pork on the supermarket shelves, and kimchi, we are told, is ubiquitous. As so often happens, these things have gone straight from out-there trend to mass-produced commodity.)

Lactofermentation is a chemistry experiment, or if you like, an artistic exploration into decay. Fruit or vegetables (generally) are placed into salted and perhaps sweetened water – or in the case of sauerkraut, dry-salted, the cabbage itself providing the required liquid – and left for some time, the exact recipe varying with ingredient, temperature, season. The amount of salt is important – you need enough to kill off any rogue yeasts, and the majority of bacteria, but not so much as to see off the lactobacilli, which will, given time, eat their way through natural and added sugars, creating lactic acid – after the manner of acids, a preservative – in return. This is one of those extremely useful processes, symbiotic between humanity and microscopic life, which form the foundations of our culinary history – and one of the more baffling ones. You can see how some sour grape juice was sampled, liked, and polished off; how old dough was found to swell fuller in the oven’s heat. To leave cucumbers entirely immersed in salt water for a period of time takes a certain amount of idle curiosity. However. To get back to those pickles, perhaps it’s the decay that puts us off; we don’t like to watch the cloudy, mysterious bubbling as the bacteria do their work. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve never had much truck, historically speaking, with sourdough bread either, or, our noble cheese aside, soured milk products.

It’s a shame, anyway, as fermentation is an excellent method of pickling, preserving (haha!) as it does a lot of characteristics normally masked by heavy, sweet vinegars. I fermented some tomatoes recently, to an (I think) Ukrainian recipe via Olia Hercules, and they were delicious. Sour almost to the point of fizziness, they nonetheless taste of tomato – and of different varieties of tomato – in a way which chutneys and ketchups, however tasty, do not. It’s odd, when British cooking has such a reputation for plainness (simply boiled or roast meat, potatoes, vegetables) that in pickling we frequently pile on so much ornamentation, to the point where it overpowers the content – we don’t eat piccalilli for the beans and cauliflower, or Branston pickle for the whatever-they-put-in-Branston-pickle – although the same could be said of our charcuterie tradition. All across Europe, people dry-cure whole or boned pork legs in masses of salt, trusting in the quality of the animal, fed on acorns or herbs or common swill, to shine through; we, on the other hand, immerse the same in treacle, beer, sugar, cloves, marmalade, vinegar, saltpetre, peppercorns, herbs and hay, roast it, and still serve it with nose-tickling mustard, pickles, pickle, and piccalilli. We have a thousand sausages, but no salami – salt beef but no cecina. You could blame the climate, but I’m not convinced. I stuck a salted sheep’s leg up a chimney all through summer and it came out fine. I think it’s that same fear of rot, of seeing the white bloom of mould creep across the skin; deep in a Puritan part of our souls we are scared of decay – although that doesn’t account for Stilton or, for that matter, Stichelton.

Pickled Fruitfulness

From the amount of water currently falling from the sky, the drop in temperature, and the vast profusion of brambles covering every bit of roadside and waste ground, I think it’s fair to say that autumn has arrived. Last night I made a celery gratin, straight out of Marcella Hazan, braising the stalks in chicken stock and bacon, then grilling them under a blanket of parmesan; warm and savoury but stopping short of outright rib-sticking, it was a good way to usher in the most British of seasons – the one where you can really get down to the business of cooking, after all the saladeering and cold-cut-arranging of summer. Nuts, mushrooms, stone and orchard fruits, the first of our local shellfish; so much that is good comes from autumn. It also, of course, marks the start of the game season.
There is a tendency among chefs to lump in all game as equally good (ethically, environmentally speaking) wild meat, free of the endless problems of welfare and sustainability that surround the farming of domestic food animals; certainly, you can see why. A wild bird is shot in its natural landscape, never having seen the inside of a barn of abattoir; what is killed is sold and eaten. The management of grouse moorland, meanwhile, is claimed to be an outright ‘good thing’ for the local wildlife, although it should be said that this claim is largely made by hunters and gamekeepers. Conservationists, pointing to the killing and persecution of legally protected raptors which seems an inevitable consequence of, particularly, driven grouse shooting, tend to differ.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that the people making such great strides in terms of ethically produced domestic meat should think so little of wider issues, especially since those issues – of habitat and ecosystem – are familiar from debates on fishing; so it goes. Since the whole thing seems designed, not for any gastronomic benefit, but for the sport of a gilet-clad, blunderbuss-toting aristocracy, of which the meat is almost a by-product, I find the whole thing rather distasteful; perhaps we should leave them their sport, lest they take their guns to the urban poor. Perhaps, though, it should be banned outright, and those who kill protected species fully prosecuted. I don’t know. Best to steer clear of the issue, sticking to the rough shoots, the meat of pests and vermin which can be enjoyed with a fairly clear conscience – that is to say, of rabbits and of pigeons.
I’ve written about rabbit twice before, and it remains one of my favourite meats; pigeon, though generally available pretty cheaply year-round, has a much more gamey character, a rich redness which makes it worth saving for the game season proper. I suppose you could stick one on the barbecue, but for me it isn’t really a summer meat, its affinity with peas notwithstanding. Pigeon does very well, however, with any of the produce of early autumn, with a little mushroom sauce or cobnut salad, or, as here, with blackberries. It is a truism that meat goes well with things that it like to eat; rabbit with carrots and radishes, venison with mountain herbs, pork with pretty much anything – although as pigs apparently dislike plants of the oregano family, I try never to include them in recipes. Presumably grouse live on bread sauce and sherry.
With pigeon, though, there seems a little truth in it, insofar as the aforementioned pea plants they love to rob, and in the fruit of the bramble, which goes as well on a plate with them as in their stomachs – though it should be noted that blackberries, especially when lightly pickled, go pretty well with all game, their inky sharpness cutting through the animal rankness of wild meat. This is an extremely simple recipe, for which I make no apologies – the first meals of any season should always be simple.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again – if you buy blackberries, you’re an idiot. Unless you live in a dystopian city block or a desert, go and find some.

Serves 2
2 whole pigeons or 4 breasts (depends what the butcher has)
2 knobs of butter
2 handfuls of blackberries
200ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
A dash of gin
Salt, pepper, oil

First get your pigeon out of the fridge and out of whatever packaging. Pat it dry and maybe give the skin side a preliminary salting. If the birds are whole, pull out the hearts and set aside for a snack.
Put the blackberries in a bowl – it’s hard to cook with them in your hands. In a small pan, bring the vinegar to the boil with the salt and sugar, making sure they’re dissolved, then add a little gin and pour over the berries. Leave to cool.
If you’re using breasts, cooking them is really simple. Find a pan big enough to hold four breasts without touching, and get it really hot. Add a splash of oil and then the pigeon, skin side first, pressing down a little to prevent curling. Sear for two minutes each side, then remove to a plate to rest.
Whole pigeons are only slightly more involved. Heat the oven high and get an ovenproof frying pan really hot. Oil, then sear the birds on each breast until nicely brown, then sit on their backs, stick a knob of butter inside them, and put in the oven; eight minutes should do it. The butter should have melted. Put on a plate to rest, breast-side down so the juices flow through it.
Done! Carve the meat (breasts horizontally sliced, birds cut through the middle with a cleaver and opened out) and serve with a spoon of pickled blackberries on the side. Perfectly delicious.

Starch and Lard


  I think pasta was the first thing I really learned to cook properly, graduating from Super Noodles to the real stuff via those powdered-cheesy-sauce-in-a-packet ones (c’mon, they’re delicious) and taking notes along the way. (Disregarding the packet instructions, I would quickly reduce my barbecue beef sauce to a rich coating consistency, or mess around with butter:milk ratios – a foodie even then). I ate a LOT of pasta, perfecting the basics – the deep boil of the water, the cupped palmful of salt needed, the slick of oil or butter at the end – and still really like it for itself, rather than just a vehicle for sauce. A bowl of spaghetti with plenty of black pepper and cheese is one of my favourite meals.

Although I’m less inclined to eat huge expanses of starch these days, pasta is still my go-to quick dinner, my need-to-line-the-stomach-but-there’s-nothing-in-the-house fix, and as such I have a small but honed repertoire of very quick dressings for it. (I think pasta sauces should be either ridiculously long-winded – ragus of rabbit / ox cheek – or ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Anything in the middle isn’t really worth messing around with). The classic here is spaghetti with garlic and chilli, but I’m not going to sit here and give you a recipe for that; I’m also a big fan of the Sicilian sautéed brassica school. This, though, is my current favourite, born of the few oddities I had in an otherwise empty kitchen. There’s nothing worse than food writers talking about their ‘store cupboard’ dishes, assuming you have salted anchovies and the rinds of fine cheeses knocking about the place, so I won’t call it that. It was, though.


For one

100g spaghetti

75g salted pork fat, diced (lardo or salo, depending on where you’re shopping)

2 cloves pickled garlic, sliced

a pinch of chilli flakes

a splash of balsamic vinegar

a handful of dried breadcrumbs (pangrattato, if you’re buying them)

salt and pepper

I assume you know the pasta drill; a deep pan of water, a good teaspoon of salt, a proper rolling boil. If I’m cooking spaghetti for one and therefore not in a huge pan, I like to break it in half before adding it to the water. You might feel that defeats the point of spaghetti, though.

When that’s on, put the pork fat in a cold frying pan and heat gently. When some of it has rendered out, add the garlic and chilli, and increase the heat, tossing it around to get colour on both the garlic and fat. When they’re nicely sautéed, add a splash of vinegar and let it reduce slightly. Put aside til the pasta’s done.

When it is, drain it, keeping a bit of the cooking water, and tip back into the pan with the fat and bits, and a spoonful of the reserved water. Give a good stir, and add the breadcrumbs, a load of pepper, and some salt if it needs it. Some parsley might be appropriate here too, but I didn’t have any.

Sour Soup

The thing about being a chef is never having any free time. A normal working day is at least 13 hours long, not including the necessary wind down into drunkenness after a busy service; days off are spent either catching up on normal life (shopping, laundry, friendships) or else in full recovery mode. This is tolerated because of the mix of monomania and bloody-minded machismo that fuels most kitchens. The majority of chefs are either totally obsessed with food, to the exclusion of all other interests, or else in love with the camaraderie that comes from working long hours in close proximity, masochistically driven to work harder, longer, better. Or both.


The problem, for me, was that working full time in a kitchen didn’t give me the chance to indulge my love of food. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it – I contributed to the menu, and had carte blanche when it came to specials, so it’s not like I was ‘creatively stifled’- but the pace and demands of a busy kitchen meant I had no time to try longer projects. I was getting more interested in older, slower processes, in pickling and fermentation and salting and curing, and there was no way I could do that. I couldn’t start making something that would be ready in 5 days, a week, 2 months – it was busy now!


Unsurprisingly, then, when I quit to concentrate on freelance catering and popups, I got into preserving straight away. I’ve written before about pickling, and I’ve done a fair bit of smoking and salting, but the most satisfying thing for me has been cultivating a sourdough mother. I’ve always wanted to do this since reading about the psychotic baker Adam in Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential,(“Feed the bitch! Feed the bitch or she’ll die!”) and even more since reading the St John and Justin Gellatly cookbooks, but it always seemed too complicated and time-consuming. Well, I’ve got loads of time now, and it turns out to be not that complicated at all. You just have to treat it like a little pet.


I’m not going to go through the actual process of creating the mother – I just followed Gellatly’s recipe, swapping grapes for the rhubarb and adding a little live yoghurt – nor give any recipes for bread, as I can’t pretend to be anything other than an enthusiastic amateur. I will, however, give you an answer to the question “what else can I do with this weird pet bacterial culture?” It’s a good question. It takes quite a lot of motivation and time to make sourdough every day. You can leave your mother in the fridge to go dormant, but that seems a little dull. Luckily, a Pole of my acquaintance pointed me in the direction of this rather odd soup.



This is weird, and needs judicious seasoning. If you like the tangy taste of rye bread, though, this is delicious, warm and filling. Serves four.

You’ll need to feed your starter some rye flour the day before.


2 onions, diced

2 sticks of celery, sliced

2 carrots, quartered

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

a few juniper berries

a few peppercorns

a few bay leaves

Put everything in a pan, and cover with water (a litre or thereabouts). Bring to the boil, and simmer for about an hour. Strain and discard the vegetables, which have done their job.


About 150g sourdough starter

the broth

2 tbpsn of chopped fresh marjoram or oregano, or 1 of dried

A big dollop of sour cream


Just whisk the starter into the broth while heating gently, until it comes to a nice simmer. Leave it for about 5 minutes, then add the herbs and your extras. This being Polish food, these should definitely include some sausage – raw smoked sausage, sliced and then boiled in the soup, ideally, although I used Mattessons smoked sausage (sorry, all Poles) – and maybe some bacon too. Any sort of cured pig, in fact, would be good, a savoury hit to counteract the sourness. Hard-boiled eggs and diced boiled potatoes are usual, I think, although the soup is already quite heavy. Greens, cabbage, some parsley, whatever. When you’re done, stir in the sour cream, heat, but DON’T BOIL AGAIN. It’ll split. Season well with salt and plenty of pepper. Serve with beer, pickles, and rye bread.


I’m hesitant about posting this recipe, as it is really something I should disapprove of. I’ve written before about my dislike of ill-considered fusion food, the lack of respect for ingredient or tradition that it implies, but that is exactly what this is – a gleeful mishmash of the technique of one culture (Korean) with the ingredients of another (Turkish), the end result unrecognisable as being from either. I’d like to think this is partly justified by the Turkish love of pickles, if not exactly in this form, or at least by the deliciousness of the end result. Maybe I’m just a hypocrite, though.

This is a little more involved than the basic pickle recipe I posted before, though not by much, and although the hands-on process is spread over two days, both stages are quick and simple. It also lasts a while once it’s been made, and continues to improve up to a point – although traditionally kept for months or years, you should probably eat it within 2 or 3 weeks to be on the safe side. As with anything like this, sterilise your equipment, which is easier than it sounds – wash utensils and bowls really well, and either boil your jars on the hob, wash well and then dry in a low oven, or just stick them through the dishwasher.

Apologies for the specialist ingredients. If you don’t have a Turkish grocer’s nearby, some large Tescos sell them.

makes 1 litre jar

600g of celery (1 large head), sliced
2 bulbs of fennel, sliced
3 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
4 small dried chillies

Put the vegetables in a plastic or glass bowl with the chillies, sprinkle over the sugar and salt, then massage it in to the veg, making sure it all gets a coating. Weigh it down with something like a plate and a can, and leave at room temperature overnight.

6 cloves of garlic
10 brown anchovies
2 tbsp Turkish pepper flakes
3 tbsp Turkish pepper paste
1 tbsp caster sugar

1/2 a white onion, sliced in fine half moons
1 carrot, grated

Fish the chillies out of your veg and blitz them with the rest of the paste ingredients until smooth. You might need a little (up to 50ml, say) water to get it all going.

Drain the celery and fennel, rinse thoroughly and drain again. Mix with the onion, carrot, and paste, and pack into a sterilised jar. How long you leave it is up to you – mine is lovely now at 6 days, though it was pretty good after a couple. When you’re happy, stick it in the fridge, where it will continue to mature, but much more slowly.

Try with buns and wraps, or stirred through rice or grains; eat, shamefully, out of the jar, using cheese as a spoon; David Chang recommends (proper) kimchi on oysters, but I can’t confirm this.

Pickle & Smoke

There’s an excellent David Chang article – I forget where he wrote it – in which he defends rot against the cult of freshness in food. He’s obviously not talking about mouldy, greying meat, but rather the process of controlled decomposition which is central to so much in cooking. ‘Ageing’ meat, ‘maturing’ cheese, are both euphemisms, basically, for ‘allowing to rot’. Freshly killed meat is inedible to us, our teeth blunted by evolution. Even fish, where freshness is especially prized, need to pass through rigor in order to be toothsome. Quite apart from this necessity, he points out, controlled rot also produces much that is simply delicious. Fermentation and pickling are experiments with yeasts and moulds and time, arresting and manipulating the process of decay in order to produce some of the most important parts of a cuisine. Where would a ploughman’s be without pickles and beer?

As you can probably tell, I thoroughly agree with Chang here. I love aged cheese and cured fish and beer and pickles – especially pickles. I am half of a pop-up catering company called Pickle & Smoke, and spend a lot of my time pickling things. As well as the pleasure of the end results, I really enjoy the whole process of making them. There is something magical, ancient, about preserving, taking the best of the summer and laying it down to last through the long winter, little jewels glinting in rows of jars. For a lot of people, though, I think pickling can be quite daunting. It takes ages, there are worries about sterilisation and so on… It is true that it is a very different process from cooking, say, a stew or a sauce, where you taste, adjust, reduce, let down. There is a certain amount of faith involved, in both the recipe and yourself, when you seal up a jar and leave it for the allotted time. Did you forget something? Was the recipe any good?

My dad always pickles his shallots in the summer, which was a lengthy process of cleaning and peeling, brining, then laying down, hidden in malt vinegar and spices, for a period that always seemed unfairly long. Once or twice I tried them before they were ready, still tucked away on the shelf above the stairs, and was rewarded with the harsh bite of raw onion for my impatience. They do take time. Unless you are actually making pickles that can last the year unrefridgerated, though, they don’t take as much time as you might think. The main pickles we make are based on Turkish pickles, much lighter and ‘fresher’ than traditional British ones, and are very simple to make. Here’s a recipe –


100g sea salt
150ml white wine vinegar
500ml lemon juice
500ml water

Just stir the salt into the vinegar until it dissolves, and add the other liquids. All you have to do it pour this over your jarred vegetables, seal and leave in a warm place for one or two weeks. They’ll keep in the fridge for a good while after that. The brine itself will keep for another day if you have some leftover.

The classic mezze pickle is baby turnips, with a bit of chopped beetroot in the jar to turn them a vivid pink. I’ve also used this brine for sour plums, sliced rhubarb, and ripe blackberries, adding various aromats to each jar. It’s a very flexible recipe – you might also want to consider adding a little sugar for sourer fruit and veg, though I like the odd savoury edge you get from salt alone. As I said, though, you don’t have the same process of instant trial and error you get from normal cooking, so be prepared for a few failures. They make the successes much more satisfying.

Those take a little time, then, but are very simple to prepare. This is a little more involved, but only needs to pickle overnight. It’s based on a classic bread and butter pickle recipe from Diana Henry.

500g courgette, sliced fairly thin
350g white onion, sliced in very thin half-moons
2tbsp sea salt
500ml white wine vinegar
250g caster sugar
a pinch of saffron
1tbsp mustard seeds
1tbsp nigella seeds
1 red chilli, halved

In a bowl, massage the salt into the courgette and onion, cover and leave overnight, preferably somewhere you don’t have to smell it, unless you love weeping raw onion.

Next day, rinse and drain. Put everything else in a pan, and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil and reduce for 5 or ten minutes. Meanwhile, pack the courgette and onion into jars.

When the brine’s ready, pour it in, seal the jars, then leave til tomorrow. These are good in any situation, particularly those involving cheese. I imagine they’d be pretty good in a lamb burger too.