Tag Archive for: Pickle

For those of you who pigeonhole Jack Monroe as just a consumer Joan of Arc, championing society’s downtrodden and deprived I have two words: magnolia petals.

This week she Tweeted about ‘A Few of my Favourite Things’ and nature’s free bounty featured. Of course, it did.

She wrote: “Did you know that magnolia petals are edible? They’re like chicory; a crunchy and pleasantly bitter morsel with a peppery aftertaste similar to rocket/arugula. Beautiful and delicious in salads, or as a snack with a sliver of apple or pear and soft blue or other strong cheese.”

Immediately came my Damascene ‘you wait ages for a bus to come along… and then’ moment. Lunching at Another Hand up on Deansgate Mews, Manchester – there on the counter of the open kitchen sat a large tray of freshly foraged stuff including magnolia flowers.

There was also wild garlic, three cornered leek (milder, sweet, more onion flavoured) and sweetly scented black currant blossom. Chef/co-owner Julian Pizer had sourced them all around his home patch of Birchwood, Warrington.

So how does it work in the kitchen for much-travelled Kiwi chef Julian? “The magnolia has been pickled down, infused into syrups and dried to use in several applications through the summer like our magnolia set cream dessert with rhubarb and bbq grapes.”

Julian and his team collected 4kg of magnolia and are going back for a second forage. Foraging suggests wild but magnolia is mostly domesticated in the UK. You’ll find it in private gardens, parks and semi-wild. Its global history is mind-blowing, though. The Magnoliaceae family is recorded to be at least 20 million years old with plants in the same family being up to 95 million years old.

Here’s a pickled magnolia petals recipe (it’s not Julian’s) which, alas, turns the pickles brown, losing the vivid pink colour, but creates a flavour similar to pickled ginger, so it’s a  fine sushi accompaniment. It comes rom the website Eatweeds.


75 g magnolia petals; 100g rice vinegar, 35 g granulated sugar, pinch of salt.


Pick petals that are ready to drop from the tree. Pack into a jar. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir to help the sugar dissolve and heat till steaming and the first tiny bubbles appear. Pour over the petals and let it cool before covering. Leave to steep for a week before using.

Add on a great soundtrack while you’re pickling: Jason Molina’s Hold On, Magnolia.

For our lunch (available until 3pm) at Another Hand we shared smoked fish, rosti with creme fraiche and a soft egg, plus avocado and tomato on rye and a generous grilled sandwich of smoked beef, fennel, celeriac and kraut. Much of th daytime menu centres around the outstanding naturally leavened organic bread from Holy Grain two doors away. Baker Danny Foggo teamed up with Julian and fellow chef Max Yorke (the duo worked at Cottonopolis and Edinburgh Castle) to host Three Hands deli on the bakery site as the precursor to their more ambitious joint project, Another Hand.

That daytime brunchy offering is very deli-led, but Julian’s food ratchets up to a different level with his evening small plates menu. Check out my upcoming Manchester Confidential review. Whether magnolia petals will feature let’s wait and see.

Another Hand, Unit F 253 Deansgate, Mews Level, Manchester, M3 4EN.

Regionality is a foodie buzz word. Yet increasingly dishes in vogue transcend their locality. Take the dosa, fermented lentil and rice crepe of South India. Such is its popularity you’ll now find it across the whole of the Sub-continent and in many a street food spot in the UK (though I notice it is absent from the revamped Bundobust menu). Well, I always, felt I wasn’t getting the full masala dosa experience there with their mini-version. I like mine to be huge crispy, stuffed scrolls.

Which brings us, by a roundabout route, to the previous insularity of Spanish regional cuisines. Tapas and Pintxos may be Iberian cousins but  Andalucian and Basque culture and food stem from separate bedrocks. I recall an Eighties Spanish road trip when in some Castilian cantina I ordered a Manzanilla. Expecting a chilled glass of saline dry sherry from Sanlucar de Barrameida in the south, I was rewarded with a glass of chamomile (‘little apple’) tea. That confusion wouldn’t happen nowadays. Ditto on a Seville wine list you might easily find a Galician Albarino alongside sherries and local drops.

All corners of Spain retain distinctive cuisines of their own alongside the tourist staples of paella and sangria, but some very specific dishes named for their place of origin are also now ubiquitous in markets and on bar counters.

The Plaza Major is the glorious architectural centrepiece of Almagro

Take Berenjenas Almagro, pickled aubergine speciality from the sleepy La Mancha town of Almagro. Think a less complicated cousin of the Sicilian Caponata. Tastier maybe. I’d like to say I first came across the dish, which is eaten cold, in situ or even in Bilbao or Seville but it was in Paul Richardson’s revelatory 2007 culinary travelogue, A Late Dinner: Discovering The Food of Spain. More recently I found a workable recipe on Page 202 of Rick Stein’s Spain, spin-off from one of his more informed BBC series. Home prepared, though, it never tastes as good as in Spain.

Perched in the south of the vast meseta that is the Castilian heartland, Don Quixote country, Almagro (pronounced alˈmayɾo) is made for telly. Notably its Plaza Mayor and 16th century theatre, both products of the wealth generated by mercury mining, though it is the lacemaking introduced by Flemish families in that period that is the major legacy today. Oh and for hundreds of years before and after a particular aubergine recipe has been a constant.

Of Indian origin, the aubergine arrived in Spain via the Berbers. You see the name adapt to its new territories – the Persian badingan to the Arab badinjan to the Spanish berenjena, eventually to the French aubergine. Along the way it conquered a bad press, which had it responsible for piles, cancer, leprosy, poisoning and insanity. Indeed, the Italian name, melanzane, comes from the Latin mala insana or ‘mad apple’.

Aubergines or eggplants come in varied sizes and colours

Still it became a fundamental part of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Not always as the ample purple specimen that dominates our shelves. Often it was white or green striped and the size of an egg, hence its American name, the eggplant. 

It’s this variant that the folk of Almagro took to their hearts and their pickling vats. If you attempt to recreate it at home seek out Thai aubergines or at a pinch the mini dark varieties in Asian stores. It’s hard to find any canned Berenjenas Almagro in the UK.

Rick Stein’s Pickled Aubergine Almagro Style

1.25kg small aubergines

3 large roasted red peppers

500ml red wine vinegar

120ml olive oil

3tbsp caster sugar

½tsp crushed dried red chilli flakes

2tsp pimentón dulce

25g garlic cloves crushed

2tsp freshly ground cumin seeds

½tsp dried oregano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Bring a pan of well salted water to the boil. Make a small slit lengthwise in each aubergine down to within 1cm of the stalk. Drop them into the water for five minutes or until just tender, yet crunchy. Drain, leave to cool. 

Meanwhile split open the red peppers, discard the stalks and seeds and cut the flesh into 5mm wide strips. Push a couple of strips into each aubergine slit and then pack them tightly into two sterilised one-litre Kilner jars.

In a pan mix the remaining ingredients with 300ml water, 1tbsp salt and ½tsp pepper. Bring to the boil, pour over the aubergines, so they are completely covered, put on the lid and refrigerate. They are ready to eat within 24 hours and will keep for up to three weeks. 

From Rick Stein’s Spain (BBC Books, hb £25)


If there’s one book in English that captures the sheer ‘Duende’ of Spanish regional food it is A Late Dinner, companion piece to the earlier Our Lady of the Sewers, Richardson’s quest for the old, dark Spain. Both are highly recommended. The author has lived in Spain  since 1990, latterly, self-sufficiently with his husband on a remote Extremaduran farm. How he came there is the central theme of a recent When In Spain Podcast.

He has shared many discoveries about his adopted country. A pickled aubergine is not too humble to acknowledge. For A Late Dinner after encountering Maria del Carmen Sanchez Serrano, a berenjerena or ‘one who occupies herself with aubergine’ since she was eight year old, he visits the family pickling works, born out of extreme hardship following the Civil War. The key elements are the aubergines the size of a small fist grown in the richer soils of nearby Aldea del Rey and getting the boiling time exactly right before curing.

“I said goodbye before she stomped off to load up the van; tomorrow she had a delivery. We shook hands. Her arms were stained orange with pimentón – the permanent tan of the aubergine maker. ‘Berenjerenos, berenjerenos, that’s what we are. And it’s too late to be anything else,’ she said with a smile of resignation, tiredness and satisfaction.”

For tourism information on Amalgro and the Ciudad Real region visit this link.