Sunday, February 8, 2009
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
How well can you twist your tongue around this rhyme?
Many of us would have memories of trying to accomplish this tongue twister in our schooldays. I know I did, and was successful with a few but never this particular one! I just remembered this Mother Goose rhyme as I was trying to phrase an apt title for this post's recipe.
Peppercorns are the fruit of Piper nigrum, an evergreen climbing vine native to the jungles of India's Malabar Coast (my home state Kerala is a part of this). Today, pepper is one of spices that are exported in large quantities from India.
Black, white and green peppercorns are all products of the same plant but each is harvested and handled differently. Green pepper is harvested when the berries are immature (haven't ripened) and bottled in brine to preserve them. These make a wonderful pickle to serve with plain rice and yogurt (or curd rice as we call it here). The green peppercorns have a fresh flavour and are less pungent.
I remember this green peppercorn pickle from my teens, while visiting various relatives during our summer vacations. This pickle was often one of the "pickle" options offered when it was time for the rice and yogurt part of our lunch. It has long been one of my favourite pickles; it’s a tough decision choosing between this one and mango pickles!
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to sample this pickle often enough, simply because I haven't been able to find green peppercorn easily. Even in Kerala, it's not always easy to find green peppercorn, probably because of the good prices that black/ white pepper fetches for the spice farmers.
Green peppercorn seems to be easier to find in Palakkad as my Periamma (my mother's elder sister) usually has a couple of bottles pickled and ready to be served everytime we go visiting her. In fact, the last time we were there she gifted me a bottle of the pickle and that was when our daughter discovered "the pickle".
Last month, Akshaya and her classmates were taken to see a spice farm, as part of a school trip. I had told her not to bring back any spices from the farm, as my spice shelf has more than enough stuff on it already. During the course of the trip, they sat down somewhere on the farm and Akshaya discovered green pepper growing on some vines just next to them. Being very enterprising, she enlisted the help of her friends and brought home a whole bunch of fresh green pepper stalks.
So I called my aunt and pickled the peppercorn according to her instructions. I don't think pickle making can get any easier than this. This pickle doesn't even require you to chop up anything!
Most of our traditional cooking has been and is done without exact measurements and the amounts of ingredients are perfected through practice and intuition. My aunt gave me approximate amounts and I just went with them. I have quantified the ingredients for this pickle but please use them as a guide rather than an exact measurement.
The brine solution will be quite salty and after about a week, the peppercorn will have absorbed enough of the salt to also taste just right. If you feel that the peppercorn isn't salty enough, you may add a little more salt to the brine solution at this time.
(This picture is not very good and overexposed, but this was the only way I could get a picture where the peppercorn could be seen in the brine.)
It is important to remember a few things while making this pickle.
- The green pepper should not be removed from the stalk as you pickle them with the stalks. A few loose peppercorns are fine, though. Just put them into the bottle/ jar.
- The pepper has to be pickled fresh, preferably the very day it is plucked from the vine. Don't postpone the pickling beyond the next day or the peppercorn start discolouring and turning black.
- When the stalks are pickled, ensure they are completely immersed in brine or they will turn blackish in colour.
10 to 12 fresh green pepper bunches
250 ml of water
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
the juice of 2 lemons
2 heaped tsp of salt
Wash the peppercorn and dry them by wiping gently with a towel, making sure the stalks are intact. Keep aside.
In a pan, bring the water to a boil and add the salt and turmeric powder. Simmer for a couple of minutes and take it off the heat. Allow the brine solution to cool down. Add the lemon juice and stir well. Pour this into a sterile glass bottle/ jar. Put the peppercorn stalks into the bottle/ jar, ensuring they are completely submerged in the solution.
Close the bottle and keep it at room temperature. After a week, the pickle is ready to be served. This pickle does not require refrigeration. The peppercorn stalks will change to a somewhat dull and dirty greenish colour after being in the brine. This is normal and doesn't change the quality of the pickle.
This recipe makes one medium sized jam jar of pickle.
This pickle goes to Andrea's Grow Your Own.