My fascination with pickles grows, to the point now that I will try anything with the word “pickle” in it. (Although, come to think of it, I believe the bombardier’s button that releases bombs from an aircraft is called the “pickle switch.” You’d probably prefer that I not try that one.)
So it was that I discovered Branston Pickle. Note that it is “pickle”—singular—not “pickles.” It looks nothing like a cucumber, or much of anything else. It appears more like a relish or chutney. You’d use a spoon rather than a fork (or, in my case, fingers).
Named after a small northern English village, Branston Pickle comes from those same wonderful folks who gave us Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare and Benny Hill, plus all those oddly named foods, like toad in the hole, bubble and squeak, and bangers and mash (any of which would be a great name for a radio “morning zoo” show).
It’s tart and a bit sweet, with a little crunch from finely diced veggies, and reminds me of … something. Perhaps in a past life I grew up on a farm in England rather than in Minnesota. And that would make sense, because the phrase often used in describing the product is that it is “part of a ploughman’s lunch.” And a ploughman’s lunch is described as (psssst, your turn now, Mr. Wikipedia):
a cold meal originating in the United Kingdom, commonly served in pubs. Its core components are cheese, chutney, and bread. The dish can also include such items as boiled eggs, ham, and pickled onions, and is traditionally accompanied by beer. As its name suggests, it is more commonly consumed as a midday snack.
The origins of the ploughman’s lunch are disputed, Wikipedia goes on to say. It does have a nice literary ring to it, like a term you’d encounter in a spring semester review of the romantic poets (compensation for enduring a winter’s worth of 18th century essayists). But some folks say it was developed only after World War II by the British Cheese Bureau as a way of promoting cheese consumption to a rationing-weary population that had learned to do without. (Do we have a cheese bureau? Why the hell not?)
Branston Pickle is a bit hard to find in this country, so you might consider making your own. Consider again, because this recipe for a DIY Branston includes 16 ingredients, among them “swedes” and “courgettes.” (What—no aubergines?) (Crosse & Blackwell, who have been making the stuff since 1922, keep their recipe secret, identifying the chief component simply as “vegetables in variable proportions.”)
Branston Pickle goes nicely with cold meat, particularly beef. The label also has a suggestion about using it to “liven up Shepherd’s Pie.”
Branston does not have the ploughman market to itself, however. Heinz, which seems to maintain an alternate universe of products in the UK, makes a similar “Ploughman’s Pickle.” In the interests of science, I recently bought some of that, too. While Branston’s flavor is enigmatic, the Heinz version is not at all hard to pin down: it tastes like ketchup. Which, given its maker, would be logical, but none of the listed ingredients is “tomato.”
It’s getting close to noon, now. I think I’ll toddle on upstairs, get the “Last of the Summer Wine” rerun on the telly, and make a ploughman’s lunch for myself. I’ve got some Branston Pickle, cold London broil and gouda, a cheese I’ve favored ever since Dr. Oz said it was beneficial for men. (My wife doesn’t care for it, even after I told her, “You’ll thank me when you don’t get prostate cancer.” Oddly, she remains unimpressed.)
Thus refreshed, I will be back to the plough. (I don’t get that spelling; if that’s pronounced “plow,” was Roy Rogers a “coughboy”?)
In other pickle news…. This just in (from 2008): Pickles Play Well in Peoria