Americans tend to associate fennel exclusively with Italy, but it has been cultivated in England for centuries and gives its oddball snap to a number of dishes. Farmers grew a lot of it so, like any other food at bumper times, preservation was a priority. This recipe comes from anon., The Farmer’s Wife; or, Complete Country Housewife (London 1780). You will need a sterilized quart Ball jar or the equivalent.
-a big fennel bulb or two smaller ones (to fill a quart)
-1/3 cup pickling salt
-about a quart of water
-about ¼ teaspoon mace
-scant ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
-about 1 cup white vinegar
- Strip the thin grassy stalks from the top of the fennel bulb(s): Throw them away.
- Cut the leafy stems from above the bulb(s).
- Slice the bulb(s) lengthwise into slices about ½ inch wide.
- Bring the salted water to a hard boil and push the sliced fennel down into it.
- Cook the fennel for 1 minute and ruthlessly drain them in a colander.
- Pack the slices of bulb into your jar--the fit should be snug--and sprinkle the spices over them, then top them with the uncooked stems.
- Fill your jar with enough vinegar to cover the fennel and seal it up.
- Let the pickle stand in the refrigerator for about a month.
-The Farmer’s Wife does not indicate what kind of vinegar to use and while we are partial to malt, white vinegar is better here to retain the delicate color and flavor of the fennel.