With today’s farming techniques it is hard to believe that eggs were a seasonal food just like fruit and vegetables: the cold winter temperatures were not conducive to incubating developing chicks, nor was there enough food during those lean times to produce eggs in the first place.
When most people think of pickled eggs, I am sure they picture those sat in huge jars full of dark brown malt vinegar like grotesque biological specimens at the back of the fish and chip shop next to the pickled onions. I remember having one as a teenager and it was so, so foul; the malt vinegar was so strong and acrid it took my breath away, and the yolk had disintegrated into a brown pulpy acid mush. God knows how long they had been pickling for. Needless to say, that incident put me off them. However, I have rediscovered them and they don’t have to be like the chip shop ones – they can be piquant, subtly spiced and certainly mellow enough to eat on their own or in salads.
There is no need to pickle eggs these days of course, except for the love of pickles themselves. Below is my recipe that is based on a recipe by Mary Norwack that appears in Jane Grigson’s English Food. The harsh malt vinegar is gone, getting replaced with much milder cider or wine vinegar, and they are further improved by the addition of some spice.
First of all you need your eggs – you can use any kind you want, large, small, bantam or tiny quail’s eggs. I got small hen’s eggs from Abbey Leys Organic Farm via lovely Manchester Veg People, who are sourcing some of my food for the stall. These eggs are truly free range and organic, delicious, and more importantly cheap! People today don’t want small eggs any more, but their loss is my gain as far as I’m concerned.
This recipe should be enough to fill at least 2 litres (4 pints) of pickling jars. You can do one huge one or several small ones.
Hen’s or quail’s eggs (see recipe)
1 litre (2 pints) of white wine or cider vinegar
3 or 4 dried red chillies
15 g (½ oz) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
15 g (½ oz) brown mustard seeds
15 g (½ oz) peppercorns, black or white
10 g (⅓ oz) coriander seeds
First, select enough eggs that you think will fill snugly inside your jars. Put them in a pan with cold water and bring them to a boil. Simmer the eggs until hard-boiled; this means just 2 minutes for quail’s eggs up to 8 minutes for large hen’s eggs. Tip away the water and let the eggs drain and cool.
Meanwhile make the pickling liquor by pouring the vinegar into a saucepan. Add the spices and bring to a simmer for five minutes. Strain, then cover and let cool.
Shell the eggs and rinse them under the tap and get to work squeezing them into sterilised jars. Then cover with the pickling liquor, making sure that the eggs are completely covered. Place a few of the spices in each of the jars and seal tightly.
Leave the eggs for about 2 weeks in a cool, dark place and then enjoy!
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