I pickled some mushrooms per instructions in Beetons. Why mushrooms, you might ask, rather than something standard like cucumbers? Well, it’s February, and the cucumbers at the grocery are looking mangy and expensive, while the mushrooms look great, cozily tucked into their mounds of steaming horse manure.
Speaking of disease vectors, just then I caught a lovely virus. It was pretty standard as these things go. The usual getting kicked by a mule feeling the microbes are so good at. One day of high fever followed by six days of low fever and dragging around like I’d given up caffeine. I did switch from coffee to tea because in my weakened condition, I probably couldn’t fight off whatever is living in the urn at work. How is my health related to pickles? How are mule hooves related to bottoms.
When I healed up a bit, I took a bleary look at the jars. I eat pickled mushrooms all of the time, but I’d never made any. So when I made the ones from the Beetons recipe, I also made a batch with a modern recipe that looked reasonably close in terms of preparation and ingredients to the nineteenth century version. I wanted some comparison so that if I ended up giving the Beetons mushrooms the raspberry, I’d know it wasn’t just because pickling mushrooms is really hard and I’d fouled up the recipe.
The modern recipe called for simmering the mushrooms in the pickling liquid, while the old-school recipe called for cooking them in a dry pan until they gave up their juices and continuing until those juices had dried back up. That takes a lot longer and makes a pan that’s real hard to scrub out, the dried-out mushroom juice causes a lot of murk in the jar. The modern recipe is hands-down easier and gives a prettier result, but how about flavor?
Spice-wise, Beetons calls for mace and nothing else. The modern recipe has allspice, peppercorns, onion, and bay. I liked the mixture of spices in the modern recipe a bit better, but the real deal breaker with the Beetons recipe was the pickling liquid. The modern recipe calls for 1/3 vinegar with water making up the rest. Beetons calls for pure paint-stripping vinegar. Everyone who tried them said biting into the Victorian pickles was like a mule kick in the tongue.
To be fair, the Victorian recipe was designed to be shelf stable without canning, while the modern recipe has to stay in the fridge. Old pickle recipes that use salt brine rather than vinegar used to require enough salt to float an egg. That’s a ten-percent solution. Pickles preserved in ten-percent salt brine would have needed a couple days soaking in fresh water to remove some of the salt before eating. I’ll make more pickles as the fruits and vegetables come into season. I imagine dealing with the kick of the strong salt or vinegar solutions will continue to be the major challenge.