These pickles need to be prepared at the beginning of spring when the plant’s flowers are still in bud and its stems are young and tender. The Alexanders plant has a central flower bud at the tip of each stem, with a circle of smaller flower buds tucked away just below the main umbel. Even if some of the main flowers are already open you may find some still-unopened buds in the surrounding flowers beneath. The buds are pickled raw, while the tougher stems are cured in salt overnight before being submerged in the spiced vinegar. Both pickles retain a little crunch, as well as the plant’s mild aniseed aroma, and are a good accompaniment to cheese and cold meats.
Note: You’ll need two sterilised 300ml jars – use proper preserving ones which will be able to withstand the heat of the hot pickling liquor.
- Pick the flower buds and rinse them in cold water. Set aside to drain in a colander. When dry, pack the flowers into one of the jars, leaving a space of about 2cm at the top, and put the lid on. Put the jar in the fridge until the stems are ready for pickling.
- Strip the leaves from the stems, then cut the stems into lengths that will fit into your preserving jars. Using a potato peeler, pare away the fibrous outer skin on the stems, until you reach the pale, juicy core. Lay the stems in a shallow dish and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of fine salt. Toss the stems to coat them well, then cover the dish. Put it in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- After curing, the stems will be sitting in a pool of brine, and have softened considerably. Drain them in a colander and rinse them well. Drain them again, then dry them by pressing between sheets of kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Pack them stems into your second preserving jar. Take the jar of buds out of the fridge, remove the lid, and put it and the open jar of stems beside the stove.
- When you’re ready to pickle, put the vinegar and water into small pan and add 1 teaspoon of salt, along with the sugar, spices and sliced ginger. Set the pan over medium heat and bring the vinegar to a boil, then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and let the vinegar simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat then slowly pour the hot vinegar into the jars, ensure the contents of each jar are fully submerged. Put the lids on the jars and leave to cool.
- The flower buds will be ready to eat in 3 days, but you should leave the stems for about 2 weeks. Unopened, the pickles should keep for several months.
Recipe and photos by Otherwise for Wild Food UK