Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting Thyme at Southrop, a country estate / cookery school / event venue / vacation getaway whose grounds are the stuff that holidaymakers’ dreams are made of. And as I learned at the The Foodie Bugle Lectures last March (see Building a Successful Foodie Business), they’ve also got a pretty good knack with food. Lunch was a delicious wild garlic frittata, salad from their garden and their own sourdough bread. But the highlight was what came after.
In proper Monica fashion, I skipped the chocolate cake and headed straight for the cheese plate. Tunworth soft cheese was on the go (Supreme Champion in the British Cheese Awards!), and to go with it, pickled plums – these could be my revelation pickle. I’m used to having chutney with cheese, but this pickle is all about the fruit: plums elevated to a new level by the sweet and sour spiced vinegar in which they’ve been preserved. I did not want that day to be the last I’d ever see of these plums.
After a little bit of nagging, I finally managed to get the recipe for the pickled plums off of Joff Elphick, Thyme’s head gardener (coolest job ever?), and have long been waiting for plum season to try it out. I’ve just made my first batch of pickled damsons and although it will be months before they mature and I can properly judge them, all signs so far point to awesome. The pickling juice is a sweet and sour syrup with spicy and smoky notes from star anise, white pepper and Sichuan pepper. The damsons don’t have quite the same aesthetic appeal as Thyme’s yellow plums (I think they’re mirabelles?) but nevermind.
I’m posting the recipe as I made it, with a couple of tweaks. First, the sugar. Joff – who seemingly transcribed this recipe from notes found in Thyme’s kitchen (now that’s love) – wrote in his email: “the following is hard to read: 3 kg sugar?” With 4L of vinegar, that’s a 0.75 sugar to vinegar ratio. I tried it as such and it still seemed extremely acidic. I researched other pickled plum recipes, all of which had this ratio reversed (0.75 vinegar to sugar), so I ended up doubling the sugar in the final batch. Maybe Thyme will read this and be so kind as to fill me in?!
My other tweak was to put the spices in a disposable tea bag while they boiled in the vinegar so that they’d be easy to remove when it’s done. The recipe makes a LOT of pickled plums – I scaled it down by about 1/4 and still have a fair bit of pickling juice leftover. I have plans to use it with other fruits – apples and blackberries come to mind. Maybe with a few sloes thrown into the mix?
- A lot of plums
- 4 star anise
- 1 tbsp white pepper
- 2 tbsp sichuan pepper
- added peel of 2 lemons
- 4 L of vinegar
- 6 kg sugar (see notes above)
- Prick the plums and pack them into sterilized jars.
- Tie up the spices and lemon peel in a bit of muslin (I used a disposable tea filter). Add this to a pot with the vinegar and sugar and bring to a simmer.
- Cook until the sugar dissolves.
- Pour the hot liquid over the plums and seal hot.