Today was a perfect early-winter's day. A little windy, gloriously sunny, a little cool but also kind of warm in the sun. I spent the majority of the day on the day bed out the front, resting and sipping kudzu elixir and bone broth, crocheting and willing my body to recover from the annihilation that is chemotherapy. Around me, Pearl and the kids bustled, collecting kindling for our brand new fire, cooking a slow-cooked beef stew, tending chickens, playing, making pancakes, creating, and stopping by my bed every now and then for a story or a cuddle. It was pretty beautiful, and when we did our regular dinner-time round of "what was your favourite thing about today?" there was no shortage of stories and we all had to tell our second and third favourite things too.
Towards the end of the day, I mustered the energy to jar the eggplant pickle I've been working on, intermittently, for the last week or so. Yes, that's right: preserving is still happening, it's just happening veeeerrrrry sloooowly....
For me, there are few things more satisfying than a bunch of hot, upside-down jars cooling (and hopefully sealing!) on the table. They go into the extra-satisfying category when they contain something as glorious as eggplant pickle. Eggplant pickle, if you've never had it, is an outrageously sweet and spicy condiment, which we mostly serve in enormous quantities on the side of dahl and curries. It is insanely good and I love it, and feel very sad when we run out.
Luckily for us, the last few weeks we've been looking after our neighbour's place while they're on holiday - goats, chooks, geese, ducks, a crazy (but cute!) dog called Ollie and a massive veggie garden. It's a nice little ritual to trot down the road each day and tend what needs tending. And here's the thing: the garden, when we took over its care, was fairly heaving with late-autumnal abundance, most notably in the form of eggplants and chillies. I ask you - what would you do with such a gift?
The recipe we used was adapted from Christine Manfield's Fire cookbook. For some reason her recipe is for only a tiny amount of pickle (maybe her neighbours' gardens aren't as bountiful as ours...) so we increased the amounts to accommodate a bucketful of eggplant, and made a couple of other adjustments along the way. This is a delicious pickle, and you should make some, if you can still get your hands on some eggplants. Here's what you do:
In the food processor, pulse about 30 red chillies of various shapes and sizes, 6 tablespoons of chopped garlic, 6 tablespoons of grated ginger, 6 teaspoons of ground tumeric, and 6 tablespoons of black mustard seeds into a chunky paste. If you don't have a food processor, you could just grate or finely chop everything.
Heat about 500ml of oil in a big pot, then add the spice mix and fry it up for a bit until it smells so good you almost start crying, then add a big bowl full of chopped eggplant chunks... Pearl reckons we used maybe 2kg for this quantity of spice.
Keep it cooking over a low-ish heat, and stir it so it doesn't stick.
When the eggplant is soft and has sucked up the spicy oil deliciousness, add about 2 cups of raw sugar, a couple of tablespoons of salt, and a stubby of home-brew-that-didn't-work-properly-and-turned-into-delicious-malt-vinegar. If you don't have the (mis)fortune of having an endless supply of (accidentally) home-made malt vinegar, then shop-bought is probably OK as well... Or you could come 'round to our place and get some of ours. We have a LOT.
Then all you need to do is simmer it up til it's gorgeous and gooey, then seal in sterilised jars. If you're feeling generous, you could even share it with your neighbour.