Mr. Pickles

Last weekend, on a visit to Chicago's very own Lit Fest with my cousin, Lauren, I managed to pick up a first edition of The Complete Book of Pickles & Relishes, circa 1965. Leonard Louis Levinson dedicates the book to his mother and "the memory of our spice-scented kitchen at pickling time."

Needless to say, this is an extremely comprehensive book that covers everything from the history of pickling, 324 pages of pickles (or gherkins) relishes, and chutneys from all over the world, advice on how to show your pickles (for blue ribbons of course) and how to preserve a husband. I was particularly interested in the latter and have learned from our dear author that "even the poorest varieties can be made sweet, tender and good by garnishing them with patience, spicing them with smiles and flavoring them with kisses." Good advice to keep in mind!

I must admit that I have a serious soft spot for pickles, relishes and chutneys of all kinds. It may seem old-fashioned, but gifting something in a glass jar has never been cooler. A nice homemade chutney is the perfect gift at the holidays. I simply couldn't live without Branston pickle in the UK, served on granary bread and sharp, mature cheddar. Pickles themselves, in every variety of vegetable, are a weakness of mine. I prefer not to eat a sandwich without a crunchy and tangy pickle by its side.

There is something about the word pickle that conjures up a smile. I have a Christmas ornament in the shape of a pickle and it's my favorite to unwrap every December. Many years ago, I met a dog at a pub in London called Mr. Pickles. He was fabulous. As a small Jack Russell, he had the look of a distinguished gentleman, but his name made me giggle every time I saw him.

This recipe is certainly more of a relish or chutney than a pickle, but I think it's a perfect summer accompaniment to any grilled fish, meat or poultry. If you make enough, you'll have enough for several meals, like I did. I made these aromatic pork burgers and the spicy ginger and chili was perfect with them. I've got some local white fish in the refrigerator for tomorrow night and I'll serve them simply grilled with a dollop of the chutney on the side and some steamed asparagus. Whenever I make grilled cheese sandwiches, whether it's a fancy Gruyere and sauerkraut on dark rye or a Kraft singles version, a side of spicy chutney is a must.

This is adapted from a more modern cook book, but I would suggest before you start doing any pickling, you buy a book like the one above to ensure you understand how to sterilize jars and ultimately avoid a"pickling failure", as the author puts it. No one would want that.

Chile Tomato Chutney
Adapted from Sunny Days & Easy Living by Lindy Wildsmith
Makes 2 cups

2 dried chillies, seeds and all
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
3 x 14 oz whole plum tomatoes, drained, de-seeded and chopped- reserve liquic
1 cup light brown sugar.

In a food processor, finely chop the chillies, ginger, garlic and shallots. Add the vinegar, tomatoes, and sugar into a large heavy saucepan and add the ginger mixture to it.

Bring it slowly to a boil and then simmer over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours until it's reduced by half. Stir if from time to time and if it should dry out too much, add a little of the reserved tomato liquid. Let it cool a little and then spoon it into a sterilized jar and seal it. I put it straight into the refrigerator and it's gone within a week, but it will keep for much longer if properly sealed.

Serve with grilled fish, meat, poultry or these fantastic aromatic pork burgers:

Aromatic Pork Burgers in Pita Bread
Adapted from Sunny Days & Easy Living by Lindy Wildsmith
Serves 4-6

3 slices of white bread
5 tbsp milk
1 3/4 lb ground pork
2 free range eggs
a handful of fresh parsley, finely chooped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon,small pinch of ground cloves
1 tsp ground turmeric
large pinch of ground red pepper
seeds of 4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil, for brushing

yogurt dressing:
1 cup plain greek yogurt
seeds of 4 cardamom pods, crushed
large pinch of sea salt

Serve with chile tomato chutney, grilled pita bread and shredded iceberg lettuce

Make the yogurt dressing by combining yogurt, crushed cardamom seeds and salt. Mix well.

Soak the bread in the milk for about 10 minutes until soft, then squeeze the bread with your ands until almost dry. In a bowl, combine the bread, ground pork, eggs, parsley, garlic, spices, salt and plenty of pepper. Mix well, but just until combined so it does not make the meat tough. Let the mix stand for 60 minutes. Shape the mix into 12 patties, cover and refrigerate until you're ready to grill.

Brush each pattie with a little olive oil and preheat a hot grill or barbecue. Grill for 20 minutes, turning from time to time to avoid burning. Make sure the burgers are cooked through, cutting into them and ensuring that they are not pink inside.

When the burgers are finished, top with a spoonful of chutney and serve with grilled pita breads filled with shredded lettuce and yogurt dressing.


  1. Wow Lisa - these look superb - oh how I could do with some of your fabulous cooking!!!!
    I remember some of the lovely chutney you made and gave me as a Christmas present - so yummy.
    Love you lots,
    Les xxx