How to make Piccalilli – Regency Style!

Handwritten pica lilla recipe

One of the earliest pickles to become popular in England was piccalilli. 

A recipe of 1694 states: ‘To pickle lila, an Indian Pickle’ describes a vinegar and brine sauce which was flavoured with ginger, garlic, pepper, turmeric and mustard seeds. In the sauce was cabbage, cauliflower and other vegetables.

The recipe is the rather wonderful 1830s recipe book that the Town House holds is similar.

The recipe ‘to make Picca Lilla’ calls for race (or root) ginger, garlic, and a similar mix of spices with the addition of long pepper and allspice.

The Town House’s cookbook also suggests the addition of fruit. “As they grow take French beans, cucumbers, onions, apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, or nectarines”.

The recipe below is something that would have been made in the Town House in the 1830s.  Pickling was done in the kitchen and often stored in the cool and dark cupboards in the housekeeper’s room under lock and key.

I have added cornflour and sugar. This gives both the consistency and the sweetness that we are used to in 2018.

I have, however, included spices that are not so familiar. Allspice and long pepper give the Picca Lilla it’s Indian like flavourings.

The recipe below is a 2 day process but it’s worth it.

The day before…

  • 150g fine sea salt
  • 1,5 litres water
  • 1 small cauliflower
  • 2 cucumbers or 2 large courgettes
  • 450g shallots
  • 225g plums, peaches or apples (depending upon what is in season)

Make a brine

Dissolve the salt in 500ml boiling water. Then dilute it with 1 litre of cold water. You now have 1500ml of brine. Let this cool.

Prepare the veg

Cut cucumbers in half and deseed them and cut into the same sized pieces as everything else. The courgettes simply needs dicing. 

Separate the cauliflower florets, peel the shallots and then quarter or halve them (depending on size). All the vegetables should be cut to the same size as the cauliflower florets.

Cut plums, peaches or apples to the same size as the other veg. I like to leave the skins on for extra crunch but do peel them if you feel the urge. A quick way to peel peaches is in my recipe for Pickled Peaches

Place all the prepared veg into the cooled brine, cover and leave for 12-18 hours.

The salt in the brine will draw out the moisture from the vegetables. This is important as to not dilute the vinegar and prevent it from pickling the vegetables properly.

The old  Town House cookbook recipe, rather wonderfully, calls for a three day long process of salting and then a three day long process of drying outside in a clothes basket. You can see me doing this in the video above. By using the brining method we only have to wait one day. Luckily.

The next day…

Drain the veg of the brine and then wash thoroughly in cold water.

Drain the vegetables in a salad spinner or alternatively lay out some freshly ironed clean teacloths and drain your vegetables on them for 20 minutes.

Put clean jam jars and their lids, enough to hold 1,8 kg of Piccalilli, onto a baking sheet. Put them into a prewarmed oven 100 c, 200 F or Gas 2 for 20 minutes.

Make the sauce

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you love it or not)
  • 30g fresh root ginger
  • 750ml of white wine vinegar (6% acidity)
  • 55g mustard powder
  • 1 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 30g of cornflour (not traditional but I prefer piccalilli to be gloopy, do leave it out if you want to be completely authentic)
  • 1 tsp of whole black pepper
  • 1 tsp of whole long pepper (see instructions above)
  • 1 tsp of whole allspice (or as it was called Jamaican pepper)
  • 225g white sugar

Peel the garlic and the ginger and blend together in a food processor or cut up finely and pound into a paste with a pestle and mortar.  (This prevents the garlic looking blue in the finished pickles, something which always surprised me but is perfectly normal. By using a paste of the garlic the blueness is avoided!)

In a small bowl mix the mustard powder, turmeric, cornflour and sugar together with 250ml of the white wine vinegar. You want to form a paste without lumps.

Put the paste into a large saucepan, big enough to take the veg and the vinegar. Add the rest of the vinegar.

Add the whole black pepper, long pepper and allspice berries.

Put the pan onto a hotplate on a low heat and simmer the sauce, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes.  The idea is to cook the cornflour so it doesn’t taste of cornflour. At the end of cooking you should have a thick sauce.

Add the dried vegetables and fruit to the sauce. Stir well.

Cook over a gentle heat, stirring often. You want the vegetables and fruit to slightly soften. It will take about 10 minutes.

Take the baking tray with the jars out of the oven.

Put into jars

Spoon the piccalilli into the hot jars, pressing it down well. Make sure all the vegetables are covered by the sauce, not bits poking out. If necessary you can add a tiny bit of cold vinegar to achieve this.

Screw the lids on the jars and leave to cool. 

The Town House cookbook calls for bladder or even leather instead of a lid.


Leave a week before opening so that the flavours can develop. I like to leave mine for at least a month.

We store the jars in the Town House where they used to be stored, in the housekeeper’s room, in a cool, dark place.

If you’d like to try the Piccalilli but don’t want to make this recipe you can buy a jar. I sell pickles and homemade preserves to raise money for The Regency Town House. Just come along to one of the Town House’s events.

We have a pop down Tea Room on Sunday the 1st and Sunday the 8th of December (that’s 2019 if you are reading this in the future). A whole range of pickles will be available to buy. Also pop down if you’d just like to see the kitchen, it’s worth it!

I regularly do pickle workshops at the Town House. Do get in contact if you’d like to make pickles, here in the Town House’s historic kitchen.