Piccalilli - Pickling


University of Wolverhampton



Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl

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'Piccalilli - Pickling', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820 (2007). URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=58840 Date accessed: 19 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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[pickalilly; piccalile]

A PICKLE composed of a mixture of chopped vegetables and hot SPICES, one of which is invariably the TURMERIC that gives its distinctive colour. Piccalilli was also known as INDIAN PICKLE and ENGLISH chow chow [Simmonds (1906)]; [Tradecards (18c.)]. Mason and Brown suggest that this pickle was introduced in the middle of the eighteenth century, and that its name was probably a play on 'pickle' [Mason and Brown (1999)]. The first known record of the name 'piccalilli' is by Mrs Raffald, who gave a recipe for making 'Indian Pickle or Piccalillo' that is very similar to modern ones [Raffald (1772)]. Her recipe was clearly adapted to domestic cookery, using only common vegetables like CABBAGE, CAULIFLOWER, CUCUMBER, RADDISH pods, KIDNEY BEANS and BEETROOT or 'any other thing you commonly pickle'. No recipe book prior to Raffald's has been found to contain a recipe under the name of piccalilli, but thereafter most included one, often lifted virtually verbatim from Raffald. Tellingly, the first edition of Hannah Glasse's cookery book did not contain a recipe for it, but by the 5th edition in 1755 she included one for 'Indian pickle' [Glasse (1747, facs. 1983)].

If piccalilli originated in the East, which is at least possible given its alternative name, it may have formerly had more exotic ingredients along the lines of Skill's 'Indian Pickles, or Exquisite and Much Admired Pickalilly, Composed of Hot mixed Pickles After the Manner of those prepared in the East Indies, viz. Mangoes, Cauliflowers, Lemons, Gerkins, Onions, Samphire, Indian Cabbage, French Beans, Carrots, &c.' [Tradecards (1800)]. Although up-market shops may have continued to sell such exotic versions, piccalilli became par excellence the pickle of choice for domestic make, as it readily accommodated gluts of vegetables from the garden. As Raffald advised, 'You may put in fresh pickles, as things come in season, and keep them covered with vinegar &c'.

OED earliest date of use: 1769

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Glasse (1747, facs. 1983), Mason and Brown (1999), Raffald (1772), Simmonds (1906).



A TOOL, pick is usually a shortened term for a PICKAXE, but it could also have been a variant of PIKE, for example [Inventories (1591)]. The context may indicate which was intended, and consequently a 'pick head' may be the working metal piece of either.

OED earliest date of use: 1340

Found described as LITTLE

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).


[picke ax; pick-axe; pickax; pick axe]

A TOOL that consists of a curved IRON bar ending in two sharp points, or one sharp point and one blade, which is attached to a WOODEN handle set at right angles in the middle of the iron head. It was used for digging or breaking up hard ground, stones, etc. In early times the term was probably interchangeable with MATTOCK. In one record, they were measured by weight, suggesting that it was presumably just the heads [Inventories (1667)].

OED earliest date of use: 1157-8

Found in units of LB

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).

Picking bill

A picking BILL was a TOOL of a potter. Its precise function is not known. The two examples in the Dictionary Archive both come from the same inventory, and in each case are associated with a CROW and a SLEDGE [Inventories (1699)]. It may have been no more than an alternative name for a PICK AXE.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).


[pickling; greened pickle]

A SALT or acidic liquor (usually BRINE or VINEGAR, sometimes with spices) in which MEAT, FISH, VEGETABLES, and the like were preserved. The term was applied to many foodstuffs preserved in BRINE or spiced VINEGAR, including PICKLED HERRING, PICKLED OYSTERS, PICKLED SALMON, and to other plant material; hence PICKLED ROSES. Pickling was an essential method of preserving, not only for those commodities that do not keep well, but also for those that were seasonal. Most cookery books included a big range of recipes, reflecting the importance of pickles in the early-modern diet and there were cookery schools that offered to teach housewives how to make them [Newspapers (1709)]. Even some pauper children were taught the art of pickling [Newspapers (1758)].

Martha Bradley, in the mid-eighteenth century was typical in assuming that the good housewife would make her own, but she expanded rather more fully on six pickles that came from other parts of the world. These were anchovies (ANCHOVY), capers (CAPER), CAVIAR, CAYENNE peppers, mangoes (MANGO) and SOY [Bradley (1756 facs.1996)]. Most of these would not be considered pickles as such today, but they all involved foreign products preserved by some form of pickling to keep them during the voyage. They were also highly flavoured and therefore desirable for those times of the year when fresh British produce was limited and/or lacking in taste. In the shops, however, there was a greater range of exotica. Burgess and Co., for example, offered 'East and West India mixed Pickles, Green and Yellow Mangoes, India Pepper Pods, and Capsicums, Melon and Cucumber Mangoes, Rock Samphire' as well as the more usual varieties [Tradecards (18c.)].

During the latter half of the eighteenth century, and possibly earlier though the evidence is lacking, some professionals seem to have imitated imported varieties. Although the old ones remained, some pickles became more complicated. They were designed primarily to function as relishes rather than as a means of preserving food that would otherwise not keep, though that too might have been true. LEMON PICKLE, PICCALILLI and ZOOBDITTY MUTCH are cases in point. Several London shops advertised these; the first two were also made at home. The distinction between SAUCE or KETCHUP and pickle became confused; for example one retailer included 'Mushroom and Walnut Ketchup' among his pickles [Newspapers (1760)], while others included what they called LEMON PICKLE under sauces [Tradecards (19c.)]. One possible distinction between the two types remains; while the sauces and ketchups may have included a sweetener, pickles almost never did.

One retailer warned against a common contaminant of pickles. He claimed that some some makers of pickle used COPPERAS to give an appearance of green to the contents, thus satisfying the public's liking for vegetables such as beans to have a good colour [Tradecards (1800)]. The problem was spelt out in greater detail by Frederick Accum twenty years later [Accum (1820)]. The difficulty was that vegetables like the GHERKIN, FRENCH BEANS and SAMPHIRE tended to turn yellow in the pickling process, and the simplest way of rectifying this was to contaminate them with COPPER, either by boiling the ingredients in a copper or brass vessel, or by adding VERDIGRIS or other copper compound. Mrs Raffald, for example, specifically stated that KDNEY BEANS should be soaked in brine and then put 'in a brass pan, with vine leaves both under and over them, ... and set ... over a very slow fire until they are a fine green' [Raffald (1772)]. One can only view with suspicion a VINEGAR advertised in 1743 which 'will always preserve the Pickles in their natural Colour' unlike most others [Newspapers (1743)].

OED earliest date of use: a1440

Found in units of CASE, JAR Found rated by the GALLON

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Accum (1820), Bradley (1756, facs. 1996).

Pickle pot

[pickling pott; pickle water and spichet pots; pickle pott]

A POT or JAR with a relatively wide mouth to facilitate access to the contents. Martha Bradley advised that 'nothing but Stone or Glass will hold Pickles, for the Vinegar and Salt used in preparing them, eat through anything else. Glass is too brittle, therefore Stone Jars are the only proper Convenience' [Bradley (1756 facs.1996)]. Her advice was sound and usually either EARTHENWARE or STONEWARE was used, heavily glazed. Since pickling was a standard domestic operation, the pots were for sale, but producers of commercial pickles may well have had their own, distinctive pots.

OED online earliest date of use: 1834 under Gherkin

Found described as BLUE, BROWN, STONE
Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers.
References: Bradley (1756, facs. 1996).


Preserved in PICKLE. There are two main methods. The first is to steep in BRINE. This was used for various types of goods that needed preserving while in transport prior to further processing (like for instance many animal products such as GUT STRING). The second method was designed both to preserve and to enhance the flavour of various foodstuffs, usually by an initial steeping in brine, followed by boiling in VINEGAR and SPICEs.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1552

Pickled was also an uncommon variant of SPECKLED; hence 'a parcell of Children Pickled Hose' [Inventories (1719)].

As a variant of speckled: Found describing HOSE

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Mason & Brown (1998).

Pickled butter

This was a speciality of one London retailer, who marketed it for 'keeping to distant Climates'. It was presumably SALT BUTTER, possibly packed with additional SALT or in BRINE 'and packed in double Casks' containing either 28 LB or 56 LB [Tradecards (1800)]. It is a good example, one among many, of a commodity specifically prepared for natives of England serving overseas.

Sources: Tradecards.

Pickled cabbage

Whenever the pickling of CABBAGE is mentioned, it was probably RED CABBAGE. According to Martha Bradley red cabbage was 'the easist done of all Pickles, and is the cheapest, though it is not without its Merit' [Bradley (1756 facs.1996)]. The PICKLE was of the simplest sort, and combined VINEGAR with some spices and SALT. It has the advantage of being ready in a few days and it will keep. SAUERKRAUT is a different form of pickled cabbage, which was also available.

OED online earliest date of use: 1768 under Pickle

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Bradley (1756, facs. 1996).

Pickled herring

Also known as WHITE HERRING, HERRING was one of the most widely available FISH in the early modern period, but they were highly seasonal and very perishable. They were therefore pickled in SALT, BRINE or a conventional, spiced PICKLE. According to John Houghton, 'Three barrels of Spanish salt ... are sufficient for salting one last' [Houghton]. The alternative method of preserving by dry salting, drying or smoking gave the RED HERRING, and the two were frequently listed together, for example [Tradecards (19c.)].

For some a pickled herring was not highly esteemed; according to one quotation in the OED it 'giueth a saltish and vnprofitable nourishment' [OED, Saltish].

OED online earliest date of use: 1570

Sources: Houghton, Tradecards.

Pickled lemon

[lemons pickled]

It is surprising to find that it was thought necessary to PICKLE a citrus fruit like the LEMON, which will keep perfectly well, but both John Houghton and the Books of Rates confirm that they were imported in this form [Rates (1660)]; [Rates (1784)]. Houghton claimed they were imported from Spain, and used by confectioners [Houghton]; [Houghton]. Some cookery books, like the New London Family Cook, even gave a recipe for pickling LEMONs at home [Macdonald (fl. 1800)].

Not found in the OED online

Found imported from Spain by the HOGSHEAD Found rated by the PIPE, TON of 252 GALLON

Sources: Houghton, Rates.
References: Macdonald (fl. 1800).

Pickled oysters

[pickle oisters; oysters, the small barrel, in pickle; oysters pickled]

Those who could afford it, made strenuous efforts to obtain fresh supplies, though the product was not always satisfactory [Eland (1931)]. For other people, pickled oysters were widely available in prestigious shops and were advertised from the beginning of the eighteenth century at least, as in 'right Ground Oysters pickled to be sold by the Pot for 2s there being 25 large oysters in the Pot' [Newspapers (1708)], and 'PICKLED Tenby Oysters. Large Sizes' [Tradecards (1800)]. Occasional entries in the Gloucester Coastal Port Books show pickled oysters were carried up river from Bristol, indicating that they were also available in the provinces. Probably the BARREL in which pickled oysters have been noted [Inventories (1627)] and the SMALL BARREL in which they were rated [Rates (1660)] were probably much smaller than a standard barrel for beer or the like. In discussing the sizes and capacities of barrels, Randle Holme finished with the comment '... till you come to a Rundlet for Oysters pickled, containing about a quart, or a pint and half' [Holme (2000)].

Recipes for pickling OYSTERS at home were also common. The method involved boiling them in their own liquor with SPICES, or in VINEGAR or WINE [Recipes (Ketilby); Recipes (Recusant)]. By the mid-nineteenth century the term was also applied to a pickle made with finely chopped PORK 'with pepper sauce and black pepper' [OED].

OED online earliest date of use: 1849

Found described as FINE Found in units of BARREL Found rated by the SMALL BARREL

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1998), Holme (2000).

Pickled roses

[pickle roses]

The nature of this commodity is somewhat obscure, but it probably referred to ROSE petals, preserved in some way that retained their virtue. Roses had a relatively short season in flower, while the petals were needed in APOTHECARY and PERFUMERY all the year round. This supposition is supported by the contexts of the examples found in the Dictionary Archive, for example, in the stocks of two grocers with other items of perfumery, [Inventories (1660)] and [Inventories (1716)], and of an apothecary [Inventories (1675)].

Not found in the OED online

Found in units of CASK

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).

Pickled salmon

[pickled spiced salmon; pickle salmon]

SALMON was preserved by boiling in VINEGAR and a variety of SPICES, and then stored in airtight conditions covered with the boiling liquor or PICKLE. Both May and Raffald included similar recipes for pickled salmon, which the former claimed would keep for a year [Recipes (May)]; [Recipes (Raffald)]. Pickling appears to have been a popular form of preserving salmon, which was not necessarily available fresh, and apart from being prepared by housewives, pickled salmon was available in the shops.

OED earliest date of use: 1730

Sources: Houghton, Newspapers, Recipes, Tradecards.

Pickled walnuts

According to Mason and Brown, pickling WALNUTs became fashionable in the mid eighteenth century, with the first detected recipe being by Eliza Smith in the first edition (1727) of her cookery book. In later editions no less than three recipes were included [Smith (1758, facs. 1994)]; [Mason and Brown (1999)]. However, pickling walnuts is mentioned earlier, for example by John Evelyn in his Acetara [Evelyn (1699, new ed. 1996)].

The method used walnuts when they were well-formed, but the outer cases were still green and the shells soft. Since walnuts do not always ripen successfully in England, pickling was a good way of using a crop that might otherwise have gone to waste. There was some difficulty in retaining a good colour; a problem solved in many such cases by using a COPPER compound [Accum (1820)]. Smith did not spell out the full solution, but her method appears to have been similar to that of Mrs Raffald, for KIDNEY BEANS [Raffald (1772)], whereby a COPPER or brass vessel was used, and VINE leaves placed above and below the walnuts, which would have assisted in leaching out the copper into a solution and thence into the ingredients.

OED online earliest date of use: 1739 under Pickled

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Evelyn (1699, modern ed. 1996), Mason and Brown (1999), Raffald (1772), Smith (1758, facs. 1994).


Apart from the more common meaning of the process of making PICKLE, pickling was a TEXTILE in the form of an imported LINEN CLOTH [Rates (1582)]. A quotation dated 1825 in the OED indicates that it was very COARSE and used for making BAGs to carry seeds and 'dairy maid aprons' [Yaxley (2003)].

OED earliest date of use: 1545

Found in units of YARD Found rated by the HUNDRED - ELL of 112 ells

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates.
References: Yaxley (2003).