The Romans imported food into Rome from many parts of their empire and much of it was pickled in brine, vinegar, and oil, to preserve it throughout the journey. In medieval times the cooks in England - possibly having learned the art from their former conquerors - pickled surplus produce. This was used to provide a valuable source of food and vitamins during the harsh winter months when very little fresh produce would have been available.
My foray into pickling came about because I had a surplus of produce. Unlike the medieval cooks however, I didn't need to pickle to feed us through the winter - we had a couple of perfectly good supermarkets nearby, for that - but we did need to use up a constantly replenished surplus of eggs.
How did I get this seemingly never-ending supply of eggs? Simple really. I had at that time, two young grandchildren and since I had plenty room in the paddock I decided to buy some chickens. I thought the kids would like them and as a bonus we would eventually get some eggs.
Having made the decision, I set to work building a portable henhouse. Four and a half 8ft by 4 ft sheets of exterior plywood and some 2" by 2" timber made an 8 ft long A frame henhouse (in the shape of a steeply sided tent) with a drop down door at one end, some nest boxes at the other and broom shanks inside for perches. I also fitted handles at each end so that two of us could move it to a new location now and then - As per normal no one ever seemed to be about when it needed to be moved and I had to drag it myself. In addition to the henhouse I made a wire mesh chicken run, also portable, to attach to one end.
Now all I needed were the little fluffy yellow chickens. A couple of days later I was on my way to Doncaster when I saw a hand written sign advertising pullets for sale. Pullets to my mind were young birds; hence they were what I was after. Wrong. Parking the car I walked back, the sign that was fastened to the fence of some allotments. The place I wanted was right at the back, beyond all vegetable plots and consisted of several long sheds filled with literally hundreds of 15-week-old, point of lay pullets. They weren't what I wanted, but when found out that they had been bred to sell on to a battery farm, I decided buy ten, not many I know, but my henhouse wasn't that big and at least those few would live a better life.
They might not have been little fluffy chicks but the kids thought they were brilliant and really loved to help with the feeding and egg collection. It was two weeks before the first egg arrived but after that they really got into swing off it and before long we were collecting about twenty eggs a day, seven days a week. We ate an awful lot, gave a lot away and since we still had a surplus I decided to pickle them. If you have surplus eggs or you just like the taste of pickled eggs, why not try out the recipe below.
1 pint of white vinegar (either wine or cider vinegar)
1 oz of pickling spice
Place eggs in a pan of cold water, bring to boil and boil for approximately 12 minutes.
Plunge eggs into cold water and when cold, remove shells, place eggs in a wide mouthed jar.
Boil vinegar and spices for 10 minutes, strain and allow to cool.
Pour the cold vinegar over the eggs in the jar.
Fit lid to jar ensuring it has a vinegar proof seal.
(Hard plastic screw on type lids are OK)
Keep for three weeks before eating.
After eating your eggs save the vinegar, it can be used again to pickle more eggs, generally two or three times before it goes cloudy.