A lady friend – refined, middleclass stock, Dubarry wellies in season and a penchant for Mercedes estates – frequently ‘throws’ dinner parties. She never deigns to provide simple suppers. We bump into each other on occasion at a nearby Country Market. Part farmer’s market, part souk, part Women’s Institute, a comfortable forum that remains unyielding in its defence of the locally sourced. I mainly go to check out the culinary competition, focusing on jellies, jams, preserves or pickles, and periodically buy to ‘blind taste’ a green tomato chutney or a rhubarb jam. I am known to privately award points for evidence of a propitious setting point. My friend goes for the baking section.

She once broke cover when I saw her with a stockpile of home-made cakes and scones as she left the market. It looked like she was loading up for a bankside picnic with Mole, Badger and Ratty. She announced that she had ‘people’ for the weekend and apart from a refined full English breakfast, followed by ‘luncheon’, she always laid on afternoon tea for her ‘inner circle’. Sandwiches, scones and cakes, the latter sliced and presented on those stacked plate columns favoured by the afternoon tea brigade who keep Claridges’ tills ringing and bored pastry chefs in mortgage payments. In turn, her cake stand served to reassure bourgeoise county and metropolitan chums of their appropriate social positions. But her break in cover was a little more surprising. The cakes were indeed to be daintily sliced and elegantly presented but – there was a long pause before she whispered – “I tell them I make them myself, don’t you dare say a word”.

 In today’s riffed and hacked culinary world, it’s still a pleasure to see rural home cooking retain such an exalted social cachet, even if the home it was cooked in isn’t one’s own.

Weekly markets, such as my local Norfolk venue, have the capacity to quietly celebrate a traditional lack of culinary adornment – simple rustic virtues in most things gastronomic. A concept so often undervalued here as a forerunner of food sovereignty, but worshipped as authentic peasant food when holidaying in France, Spain or Italy. Ovid hit the spot when he noted: The harvest is always richer in another man’s field.”

Nevertheless, here we stand, an island race almost alone in the sheer variety of home-made pickles and chutneys available across the fiercely guarded trellis-table-revetments of an English village hall.

That day I was browsing to find a piccalilli exemplar. A fine fresh resonance of a season’s bounty with a spice-laden piquancy between each newly-picked crunch, a country mile from the popular supermarket brands whose inert cornflour embrace provides all the stale authority of a morning-after Chinese takeaway. Once our processed food system took control of the classic assembly that denotes a benchmark Picallili, crisp and fresh were sacrificed for radiated colourways and a chemically induced shelf-life.

Originally a pickle designed to conserve a glut in seasonal garden produce and stored, squirrel-like, for the winter, I had earlier had a love/hate relationship with it. I think partly due to its colonial subtext in our contentious imperial past, and partly because I was unsure as to where exactly it fitted in at the dinner table. I was later converted when I tried it with the cold remains of a Porchetta I had cooked. As a result, I now believe a Pork and Picallili combo may well have been created by divine intervention. Lamb and Mint, Port and Stilton, Oloroso Sherry and Salted Almonds, you know the sort of thing. And we musn’t overlook the heavenly marriage when served alongside a hand raised pork pie. It should also be the flying buttress of a pub’s Ploughman’s lunch. It rarely is.

Speaking of which, I have long since abandoned Branston pickle (albeit locally sourced in Suffolk) for its lack of, well, pickle-ness, the same for tomato ketchup, whose flavour profile continues to provide no evidence of anything that had been legally intimate with a tomato. And HP sauce, with its glucose fruit syrup and assorted sugars, clearly left the desired umami taste somewhere on the factory floor. That factory floor by the way, is now situated in the Netherlands, closer to The Hague than the Houses of Parliament (HP), an image still ironically pictured on its label.

I came to understand that a life relying on these dispirited condiments was not a fine, full life. It was, with a home-grown harvest on tap, time to make my own.

Intriguing to discover that picallili has been with us, rather than New Dehli, for more than 250 years. First printed reference is to be found in Elizabeth Raffald‘s The Experienced English Housekeeper of 1769, a book that preceded, and was much copied by, Mrs Beeton. Raffald refers to it as ‘Piccalilla or Indian Pickle’, presumably as the bulk of the world’s turmeric, its most luminous ingredient, was originally cultivated in India, alongside its close cousin, ginger.

So, after an eternity looking for an appropriate recipe across years of culinary history, a neighbour, Susan, serendipitously gave me a home-made pot of her very own. Susan is no slouch when pickles and preserves are called for and it turned out to be just the ticket. And it also came with its own modest but captivating history. This is a summary of its lineage as recorded by Susan – originally it came to her via her mother, Enid. Enid moved to Southampton where she met and befriended Pat. From 1974 onwards, Pat and Enid produced crafts, cakes and preserves to support their local church (as you do). Both were in their 90’s when retirement from charitable activity finally beckoned. The recipe then passed to Susan (who has been generously making it for local fêtes ever since). Already spellbound by this abbreviated half century of history, she ended with the casual aside; “the recipe is originally from Pat’s mother-in-law…so a few years old!”

If I had substituted a Milanese Nonna or Provençal Grand-Mère for dear Pat’s mum-in-law, the jar (and the cookbook) would have doubtless flown off the shelves. I can surely guess what Ovid would have said.

Susan’s, no Pat’s, no Pat’s mother-in-law’s Picallili recipe.

Makes approximately 2.7 kilos

1 large Cauliflower broken into small florets.

450 g Pickling onions/Shallots, finely chopped

1.3 litres of White wine vinegar

900 g of mixed, seasonal vegetables: French beans/Runner beans/Cucumber/Carrots/Courgettes/Green tomatoes, diced

2 Cloves of garlic

450 g Caster sugar

50g Mustard powder

110 g Plain flour

1tsp ground Coriander

2 ground Turmeric

2 tsp sea salt

In a large pan simmer the cauliflower and onions in 1.2 litres of the vinegar for 10 minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables, garlic and sugar, cook for a further 10 minutes.

Mix mustard, flour, spices and salt with remaining vinegar then add to the vegetables, stirring well all the time. Simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Spoon into sterilised jars with vinegar proof lids, label and store for 2 weeks.

Keeps well for several months.