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Why preserving is back in fashion according to Diana Henry

November 24, 2012

Purple pickled eggs - My Custard PieSalt, sugar, smoke; all ephemeral things used by cooks for centuries to preserve foodstuffs that would otherwise mould, rot or decay to nothingness. Simone de Beauvoir compared making jam to capturing time, ‘the housewife has caught duration in the snare of sugar, she has enclosed life in jars.’

My wheelie bag felt like a boulder having trailed it through London streets, lugged it on and off kerbs and ricocheted off the regimented rows of commuters’ legs on the tube. One last hurdle was a precipitous flight of steps leading up to the home of author and TV presenter Diana Henry. A last heave-ho, with the welcome assistance of Botanical Baker, and I was there at the front door which was flung open giving a glimpse of an expansive room shining with sunlight. Diana herself seemed to radiate warmth and light, talking in her sing-song Irish voice nineteen to the dozen.

Cheese, butter , tea cups at afternoon tea

She says that lifelong loves take hold early on and she remembers sitting on the countertop in the kitchen eating freshly made wheaten bread spread with raspberry jam made by Aunt Sissy (who wasn’t really an aunt). My own memories are playing in our garden during the long summer holidays while the currants ripened on the bushes. My mother would bottle them and made the most beautiful jewelled tarts in the depth of winter. Little blackcurrant pies with sweet soft shortbread-like pastry or a deep wheel of redcurrant tart with a lattice top.

Some homemade quince ratafia enhanced some excellent English sparkling wine giving us an excuse to drink in the afternoon. Slanting rays of Autumn sunshine lit a snowy cloth on a wooden table dotted with mis-matching delicate cups and saucers. Still life arrangements of an array of food, many recipes taken from Diana’s book Salt, Sugar Smoke; gravaad lax, salad, cheeses, French butter, wheaten bread and a jumble of jams and jellies.

liqueurs and bookshelves

Long book shelves formed a backdrop to the table, drawing the eye compulsively. The most comprehensive lexicon of cookery books I’ve ever seen; a tempting tea and the company of some of my favourite food writers and photographers aside, I could have curled up on the sofa with a stack of them for many hours. These were not decorative books, but well-thumbed editions collected over many years forming the backbone of meticulous research. Diana’s manner is expansive and charming, her house elegant but casual (a pile of books was dumped on a chair, a blue j-cloth jostled with a decorative tin and a vase of flowers from the garden). She describes herself as a home cook, but her interest in food sees her reaching back into history for inspiration and testing recipes fastidiously. Little wonder this new book took three years to write.

Diana Henry afternoon tea

To be an eaves-dropping fly on the wall, listen here (I challenge you not to feel hungry after this):

books on a chair, tin and flowers in the kitchenDiana Henry is an award-winning food writer with forays into TV. I realised that I have cooked from her recipes many times through her writing for House and Gardens magazine and she has a regular column in the Sunday Telegraph.  Her instructions are precise – she covers all the important background information about preserving in meticulous detail for instance. However, it is never laboured and her words dance lightly on the page conjuring up the smells and tastes from the kitchen.

In answer to my questioning why she decided to write a book about preserving Diana said she tries to write books on subjects that have not been covered and on new topics. Although there were a lot of books on preserving most of them were quite old-fashioned and rooted in one culture. There is a return to making things in the home and not wasting ingredients so this is a timely book. It is in line with thinking about food in a more caring way; as she says, it is about using gluts and not squandering abundance. She also takes pleasure in small things; a good jam on your toast in the morning, a chutney that is made from apples you gathered last autumn, cutting salt beef that you’ve made yourself and can feed to a dozen friends.

Purple pickled eggs

Returning to Dubai (after Food Blogger Connect 12) I unpacked Diana’s book and sat down to read. Her style of writing is warm, evocative and down-to-earth (somewhere between Nigella and Delia -in the nicest possibly way). Jam-making is just a small part of preserving and this book covers curds and fruit cheeses, salted and smoked meats and fish, cordials, relishes and pickles, with influences from around the world, from Russian zakuski to sharbats from the Middle East.

Apple, cucumber and mint pickle

Apple, cucumber and mint pickle

I am not likely to have a glut of home-grown strawberries from the garden here in Dubai so I was on the look out for recipes appropriate to the ingredients available here in abundance. Masses of cucumbers in my veg box went into apple, cucumber and mint pickle, which was simple to make and fantastic with lamb.  The quince season is fleeting so I preserved a prized pair in brandy to make quince ratafia (to match with Prosecco at Christmas). I the bookmarked the mango, passionfruit and lime jam recipe for when I can buy perfumed Alphonso mangoes by the boxful; the recipe holds extra spice for me as in the preface Diana mentions a childhood book which held a special magic for me too, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden. Hot date (not that kind) and preserved lemon relish uses bountiful ingredients, as does coconut and coriander chutney and Middle Eastern pickled aubergines.

Having had a long conversation with Peter from a Head in a Hat beers about them and plucking up the courage to taste them for the first time as made by Bel from The Bell and Brisket (her salt beef was also divine) at Food Blogger Connect, I knew there was one recipe I had to make. Purple pickled eggs start off vividly purple and fade over time to a subtler hue. They made a show-stopping birthday present for KP; peeling 14 eggs meant they were made with love.

Saying goodbye to Diana was like leaving an old friend, picking up this book is like making a new one.

Purple pickled eggs

Purple pickled eggs

(recipe reproduced with permission from Octopus Books from Salt sugar smoke by Diana Henry)

Fills 1 x 1 litre (1 1/4 pint jar)

14 eggs
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) white wine vinegar (I used white vinegar)
1 beetroot, sliced
100g (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 cinnamon stick
3 dried chillies

1. Boil the eggs for 10 minutes, then drain, run cold water over them and peel. Make a few punctures in each egg with a slim skewer or a cocktail stick. Set aside.

2. Mix all the rest of the ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and lave to simmer for about 15 minutes. Put the eggs into a sterilized jar and pour the hot vinegar over them. Seal with a vinegar-proof lid and keep in the refrigerator once cold. The eggs will taste better after a couple of days. They’ll keep – covered with the vinegar – for about a month.

Melon, lime and ginger jam

Image by Laura Edwards from Salt sugar smoke by Diana Henry

  1. November 24, 2012 6:58 pm

    Such a lovely post, Sally. Diana will love it. Your photography and storytelling are beautiful. I love that you made the purple pickle eggs! I’m intrigued to know what they taste like. And the stunning mint pickle, too. I also love that you linked to the other posts, there is one I had missed 🙂 Lovely to see you in London. Your parting line is so sweet, ‘Saying goodbye to Diana was like leaving an old friend, picking up this book is like making a new one.’ xxx

    • November 24, 2012 9:25 pm

      It was such a special afternoon Ren and one I’m so glad we shared. I loved all the mingling pics on your post.

  2. November 24, 2012 7:41 pm

    Since I am such a fan of pickled beet anything, the picture of the eggs in the beet juices is spectacular. I grew up pickling beets with my Mom. Never tried the eggs which looks intriguing.

    • November 24, 2012 9:26 pm

      We get through ridiculous amounts of pickled beetroot in our house!

  3. November 24, 2012 8:09 pm

    A lovely write up of a wonderful afternoon and I love that last line. Was so lovely to meet you for the first time that day and share the lovely food Diana made. It’s interesting you have chosen this recipe as it’s one I would have completely flicked past. Not a huge fan of pickled eggs but these look so pretty I am tempted to try

    • November 24, 2012 9:24 pm

      I made them for KP really but I did try Brisket Bel’s ones and they were fantastic. I always thought they were ‘bloke food’. It was lovely to meet you at long last and I was a wee bit nervous turning up at an author’s house so it was really lovely to see your friendly face coming up the street (even if I’d never actually met you before either!)

  4. November 24, 2012 9:10 pm

    Preserves are fantastic! I love pickles (perfect with cheese), but I have never had pickled eggs… Something I’ll have to try one day.



    • November 24, 2012 9:27 pm

      It does sound an odd thing to eat but they really are excellent.

  5. November 24, 2012 11:35 pm

    What a beautiful post! It must be such a wonderful experience to come up close and personal with someone like her. I have never come across these pickles – very very unusual. Indian kitchens do have a long history of pickles of all kinds but this is quite novel, I would say! Looks beautiful as well:)

  6. November 24, 2012 11:49 pm

    Lovely post, your afternoon with Diana Henry sounds wonderful. I’m a big fan of her writing too – and Salt Sugar Smoke is such a gorgeous book. Beautiful pics too.

    • November 26, 2012 8:11 am

      I keep referring to this book now – great if you have a veg box glut. Moldovian peppers anyone….?

  7. November 25, 2012 10:27 am

    I love preserving so I shall look out for this book Sally 🙂

  8. November 25, 2012 2:30 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful post that really transported me to Diana Henry’s home. This post really makes me think that I should sit down with my mother and learn more about Indian preservation techniques (of course there are pickles…but what else…)…

  9. November 25, 2012 5:46 pm

    Preserving is getting more popular again and no longer relegated to our mothers and grannies who just saved and preserved almost anything. Was quite fond of this post.

    • November 26, 2012 8:09 am

      You’ve got me thinking about what your granny might have preserved now – the mind boggles! I don’t know about you but we didn’t have a freezer so preserving was the only option. Glad it stirred some memories. Have you preserved anything in Dubai?

      • November 26, 2012 12:13 pm

        I do LOTS of preserves! Planning to do even more this season. I never throw out a jam jar 🙂

      • November 26, 2012 1:23 pm

        Recycling as well – love that.

  10. November 25, 2012 7:04 pm

    This post was a particular pleasure to read as I have always loved Diana’s writing (a friend was an editor of hers so I heard about her quite early in her career). Oh to have sat at her table and had a glance at her bookshelves! As for the pickled eggs, somehow I think these are worlds apart from the menacing looking jars that glower down at you while waiting at the fish and chip shop! Beautiful 😀

    • November 26, 2012 8:07 am

      Thanks Kellie. I’ve got to know her writing only of late but I’m now a fan.
      I’ve always been rather afraid of those chip shop pickled eggs.

  11. November 26, 2012 12:08 am

    Great blog post Sally. I’ve referred to Salt Sugar Smoke so many times yet had to reach for it again today to see there is indeed a recipe for Purple pickled eggs. How could I miss it? It looks beautiful here and definitely a must try. So nice of you to link to other’s people’s reviews of tea with Diana. Really enjoyed spending time with her and meeting everyone there.

    • November 26, 2012 8:06 am

      It was a really special afternoon. Thanks for the nice comment and I enjoyed meeting you too.

  12. November 26, 2012 5:12 am

    What a wonderful experience and you captured Diana Henry perfectly. Now I’m dreaming of being in the UK for autumn even more. Your food life in Dubai sound similar to mine in Singapore – absolutely everything is imported.

    • November 26, 2012 8:05 am

      Yes – we have copious amounts of everything but it comes from all around the globe. Autumn in the UK is lovely when the sun shines and it’s a crisp day.

  13. November 28, 2012 5:13 pm

    What a spectacular looking preserve! Awesome red colour… The whole afternoon sounds wonderful, in fact 🙂

  14. November 28, 2012 8:25 pm

    I love the colour of the eggs…..and think they would be wonderful in a chopped (olive) salad, or something with iceberg lettuce!!!

    Preserving is so interesting – a tradition borne out of surplus (right?). Its been on my mind lately because I realise how our history shapes us deeper than we realise. For example, I love mangoes, buy them in copious amounts when they are in season but dont preserve them for when they are not. I moan for months till they begin to line shop stalls…..

    I have a food blogger friend, an American who loves mangoes and also lives in Nigeria. When they are in season, she eats them and then preserves them in all sorts of ways for the months ahead. She’ll comfort herself with cans and jars of mangoes and when the season comes again, she’ll welcome them back, but not with as much desperation as I would!

    And because of her, I’ve actually stopped to ‘think’, to wonder…..if i shouldn’t preserve more. I see the value but its never been part of my culinary fabric. That surprises me, and shows me the ways I have still to go on this absolutely fascinating and selfless journey that we, foodies have embarked on! Selfless I say. Wink, wink!!!

  15. December 2, 2012 11:07 am

    Loved this post, ordered the book, thank you! (That’s two books you’ve “made” me buy now 🙂 )

    • December 2, 2012 11:28 am

      Should I feel guilty Euan?!

      • December 3, 2012 4:39 pm

        Not one bit! The more books the merrier

  16. December 4, 2012 9:40 am

    Lovely, heartwarming post, Sally! Diana sounds like a lovely person! Those eggs look amazing! One tip I was given years ago is that it’s much easier to peel eggs if you steam them rather than boil them. xx

    • December 4, 2012 11:58 am

      Thanks Celia – I won’t be peeling that many eggs again anytime soon but will remember the tip for when I do!

  17. December 6, 2012 4:49 pm

    Catching up with your gorgeous posts… I used to “pickle all the time”, but got lazy. Your post rekindled an interest, will get to it! The photographs…. mouthwatering!

    • December 7, 2012 11:33 am

      It’s so satisfying looking at the gleaming jars. Love to know what you pickle.

  18. January 5, 2013 2:46 pm

    Can’t believe I missed this post! I have been terribly busy trying to keep up with blogs, my day job, my blog, my photography and some other family things. Time… don’t we all have a shortage in time? I’m always amazed by people who will tell me they were bored over the weekend 😉 I love this book, I bought it for my christmas and tried my hand at the whisky cured salmon! Lovely pictures!


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