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A Seasonal Recipe: Easy Rhubarb, Beetroot & Ginger Pickle.

When I think of pickle I think of chopping for hours. I think of great big jam pan vats filled to the top with bubbling vegetables. I think of rows and rows of sparkling clean empty jam jars waiting to be filled up, labelled and put away in a dark pantry for another day. And maybe forgotten about. Or I think of Christmas and leftovers and cheeseboards galore. And sometimes sludgy brown Branston’s Pickle.

Some of that is true. Pickling is a great way to use up a glut of fruit and vegetables; in the same way that jam is. It’s true that often it’s not too much extra work to make a fair few jars than it is to make a handful. And it’s also true that often you can make so many that they get forgotten about or you become sick of the sight of them. It’s not always brown and sludgy and actually can be all of the bright colours! It’s also something I always feel gets talked about far more at the end of the summer than it does as we head out of winter and into spring.

There’s no doubt about it: summer produce is bright, vibrant and abundant. If you’re patient enough to grow your own you’ll know that often you’re gifted with far more than you can use. The end of summer can often leave you frantically searching with ways to keep, use or preserve the twenty-five monster courgettes that have sprung up over the weekend after a brief sunny spell. Not only that, summer can be so full and plentiful fresh fruit and veg-wise that even if you don’t grow your own, you’d quite like to stretch out a season which always heralds the sweetest, softest fruits and freshest tasting lettuces for as long as you can.

So we make jams and pickles. It’s a little bit of a genius idea really and it’s not a new one. In fact the first evidence of pickling dates back to 2030 BC in Iraq. Pickled cucumbers were first on the menu as far back as then and we still enjoy those today. But pickling isn’t just for the end of the growing season. In the UK Spring is a tricky season. Produce can still be a little thin on the ground. We still very much rely on the tougher sweet root vegetables like carrots, swedes and beetroots. And still on apples and pears too. And we’re impatience. We want new and exciting things to make and eat.

Come early spring you might be lucky enough to snatch the first early shoots of forced rhubarb out in the shops. It’s much softer, delicate and sweeter than it’s tougher autumn big sister, if you haven’t tried it before. ‘Forcing’ refers to the ways it’s produced: Rhubarb crowns are grown in darkness, often covered with containers to encourage them to shoot and search for the light they need to grow. This creates thin, pale pink tender stems of sweeter rhubarb that are a welcome flash of colour and flavour as we emerge from the darkest season and edge ever closer into the lighter and warmer half of the year.

But enough wittering and more pickling!! Are you ready for the quickest most delicious pickle?! Probably one which will take you less time to make than it took me to write this post….let’s go!

YOU WILL NEED… (to make x2 200g jars)

1-2 rhubarb stalks (depending on size – forced rhubarb tends to be smaller and slimmer than the later season varieties) and cut into 2cm chunks.

1 beetroot, peeled, halved and also cut roughly into 2cm slices at an angle.

1 small thumb-sized piece of ginger very thinly sliced.

2 teaspoons of runny honey.

2 star anise.

200-250ml of apple cider vinegar.

TO GET YOUR PICKLE ON… (some might call this a method but there’s barely anything to it at all).

First start by peeling your ginger and slice as thinly and finely as you can. Then also peel and chop your beetroot into their 2cm slices followed by slicing your rhubarb stalks also into 2cm pieces.

Divide the ginger, beetroot and rhubarb between two sterilised glass jars and nestle a star anise in each, in between. Then pour in a teaspoon of honey into each jar.

Top up each one with the apple cider vinegar making sure that everything is covered and you use enough vinegar to fill each jar right to the very top.

Secure tightly with a lid and give a little shake to ensure the ingredients are all nicely combined together.

Label them up and store in a dark cupboard at room temperature for up to two weeks before cracking them open. They’ll keep un-opened for up to six months. Once opened, refrigerate and gobble up in about two weeks.

This pickle makes the most of both the sweet beets which pairs deliciously against the sharp-but-sweeter forced rhubarb and really work well in a pickling liquor. There’s a real warmth and gentle heat from the addition of a little ginger and the star anise works well in adding more warmth to the sweet and sour flavours.

It’s a great pickle to eat with smoked mackerel which comes into season in late spring. It’s also great with a roast shoulder of lamb for a twist on a typical Sunday roast. If you’re veggie or vegan this would also be delicious heaped into a falafel wrap with some leafy greens and creamy hummus or some kind of raita.

This is a great recipe as it uses ingredients that are cheap and readily available at this time of year. It’s also really easy to scale up if you do want to make more but I really like the fact that it doesn’t make five thousand jars all at once. Mostly because then there’s plenty rhubarb left for other delicious things like a compote, or a rhubarb crumble or a fancy-pants rhubarb and frangipane tart!

Let us know if you give it a go. Better still tag us in any photos you take because we’d love to see. If you liked this you might also like the recipe we shared for or easy-peasy Orange and Polenta Cake.


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