It doesn't seem so long ago that pickled foods were no more than a supporting act in this country: the acidic gherkin you picked out of your burger, the ghostly eggs swimming in their jar in the pub, the tiny, crisp onions adorning your ploughman's. How times have changed. Restaurant menus and cookbooks are now brimming with soused everything. We seem to have developed quite a fondness for the great big walloping punch delivered by food embalmed in vinegar, salt and seasonings.Examine the menus of the newest restaurants and you'll see that they're all at it. If I should ever be lucky enough to nab a table at Dabbous I might be able to enjoy its delicate salad of fennel, lemon balm and pickled rose petals, over which food reviewers have rhapsodised. Down at Orchard they're serving pickled heritage potatoes (apparently "heritage" means the tatties are blue) and at the revamped Quo Vadis diners chomp on little pickled walnuts with their onglet. At Granger & Co pickled cucumber goes down well with fish curry and Launceston Place offers cumin-pickled cabbage with its pork tenderloin.
Deliciously, Meat Liquor and Pitt Cue offer a double flavour whammy by deep-frying their pickles (or frickles, as they are known in the US). Simon Rogan at L'Enclume has won plaudits for his crispy bread with pickled vegetables, while The Pipe and Glass Inn has recently been serving pickled samphire and pickled red onion salad. Radishes, beetroot, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, chillies, plums, turnips and meat – you name it, somewhere it's being served pickled.Of course, these chefs haven't discovered anything new. Pickling was cling-film to the ancients, and used by cooks over the centuries to preserve food in times of plenty to sustain them when it was scarce. (Quick pickles are made by adding enough acid, such as vinegar, to prevent the growth of bacteria; fermentation pickling happens over time when an ingredient generates its own lactic acid, often through the addition of salt.) Pickles have long been a British food tradition – where would we be without pickled cockles or walnuts or onions? And dear Mrs Beeton loved a gherkin with her pork.No, pickling certainly isn't new. The point is that more British chefs – and therefore more home cooks – are sexing up their menus and tickling our palates by giving ancient techniques a fresh spin. After all, we're not talking traditional Mrs Beeton-style pickles that simply engulf the mouth with acid. It's all about preserves with complex flavours that draw on seasonings from all over the globe like fish sauce, chilli, garlic and spices.The trend seems to have been nudged along by our deepening love affair with the Korean staple, kimchi – an addictive, highly spiced pickled cabbage that is delicious served with just about everything, and which has countless variants across southeast Asia.Nose-to-tail eating has also played a part. The palate-cleansing zing of pickled vegetables is the perfect foil for rich and fatty organ meats. Dishes like the pig's head and black pudding terrine served at Odette's would be a little hard to stomach without a refreshing pickled something on the side.And in this grow-your-own, make-do-and-mend, count-your-food-miles age, we've got to do something with all those surplus radishes. And they look so pretty in their jars. Don't they?
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