Pantry pickles

Pickles in the pantry cupboard at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney living Museums

Latoya Schadel shares one of the pleasures of working in the Vaucluse House team:

I just love our days at Vaucluse House when we begin the working day with a walk through the bountiful kitchen garden. Sometimes, when produce is at its peak, our gardeners bring us a basket full of goodies to sample. Eggs from our hens laid fresh that day; vibrantly colourful chard and sorrel; crunchy fennel; fragrant bush lemons; peppery eggplants— it is, by far, one of the best parts of our job and we can seldom believe our luck.

Pickled fennel and friends in the pantry at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Preserving history

It was on one such morning about a year ago that Leila and I began to get serious about putting this produce to good use, aside from their regular display in the colonial kitchen, and set about replenishing the store of pickles and preserves in the pantry. Inspired by the 19th century recipes of Mrs Beeton and Mrs Rundell, and encouraged by SLM’s colonial gastronomer Jacqui Newling, we have spent the last twelve months recycling glass-jars from our own kitchens, and developing an array of seasonal pickles that the Wentworth’s servants would be proud of. Although we both started this process as enthusiastic home-cooks, we’ve certainly learned a lot, as some of the simplest looking recipes can take practice. After boiling, peeling, and pickling a dozen of our hens’ and ducks’ eggs, we realised that the fresher the eggs are, the harder they are to peel, leaving them with a pockmarked and rather unsatisfying surface texture. Ideally, use eggs that are about a week old.

SLM heritage horticulturalist Anita Rayner. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

‘a very Simple Method, and exceedingly Good’

As with anything in the kitchen, practice builds confidence, and soon we began to adapt 19th Century recipes for the vegetables we had to hand. When Anita Rayner, pointed out a particularly fine crop pf fennel, we scanned our well-thumbed Mrs Beeton to find a traditional way of preserving its fragrant goodness for future seasons. The recipe we found was intended for pickling onions but turned out beautifully for the fennel we served for Vaucluse House museum’s Centenary celebration we held in October. Unlike many modern recipes for pickled vegetables, some of which we had experimented with at home, Mrs Beeton does not recommend the use of any sugar, only a few simple spices and vinegar. Like many of our visitors on the Centenary, we found this complemented the natural aromatics of the root—retaining, not exaggerating its natural flavour. In Mrs Beeton’s words, it is “a very Simple Method, and exceedingly Good”.

Pickled fennel

Ingredients

  • 2 or 3 baby fennel with the tops sliced off
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 bay leaves

Note

Pickled fennel is delicious with tasty cheddar cheese. Try with white fleshed fish or shredded pork sliders, using a good splash of the pickling vinegar. You can use this 'very Simple Method, and exceedingly Good' recipe adapted from Mrs Beeton's Book of household management (1861) to pickle baby onions or radishes.
You will need to use a sterilised jar or jars - approximately one litre volume or equivalent smaller jars - tall enough to hold the fennel. prepare extra vinegar to fill the jar if necessary.

Directions

Wash the fennel and and slice into quarters (length-wise) and pack them into a sterilised jar which will fit them snugly. Heat the vinegar, spices and bay leaves in a saucepan on medium heat and simmer for five minutes. While the mixture is still hot, pour over the fennel and seal your jar immediately. Store for a week before opening and consume within 6 months.

Latoya Schadel, Sydney Living Museums Visitor & Interpretation officer. Image courtesy Latoya Schadel