Mrs Eales(?) on ‘Pickling Codlins Like Mangoe’

To Pickle Codlins like Mangoe

Make a Brine of Salt and Water strong enough to bear an Egg, put half a Hundred of Codlins into it; they must be full grown, but not ripe; let them lie in this Brine nine or ten Days, shifting the Pickle every other Day; then dry them, and scoop out the Core. Take out the Stalk so whole, that it may fit again; fill them, in the Room of the Core, with Ginger sliced thin, and cut short, a Clove of Garlick, and whole Mustard Seed; put in the Piece, and tie it up tight. Make your Pickle of as much white Wine Vinegar as will cover them, with sliced Ginger, Cloves of Garlick, and whole Mustard Seed. Pour this Pickle boiling hot upon them every other Day for a Fortnight or three Weeks. Stone Jars are best for all Sorts of Pickles. Large Cucumbers may be done in this Manner; but neither Cucumbers, Peaches or Melons, are comparable to Codlins for imitating the right Mangoe.

Mrs Mary Eales (?) A Curious Collection of Receipts in Cookery, appended to The Compleat Confectioner (1742)

I’ve been picking up a lot of windfalls lately. Some of them, are too damaged, or small, or maggot-eaten to be worth bothering with. Into the compost they go. The slightly damaged but salvageable ones are peeled, cored, chopped and made into spiced compote. Some though are intact but, just very, very under-ripe. When I spotted this recipe, that specifically calls for under-ripe apples, I was intrigued. Could it be a good use of my windfalls, I wondered.

Firstly, as in the case of the recipe for Welch Apple Pye I posted a couple of weeks back, the question-mark after the author’s name is because this might not be one of Mrs Eales’ recipes. The second part of The Compleat Confectioner may have been appended by the publisher and could be by a different author or authors as a result.

That aside, let’s take a look at what turns out to be a rather complex and time-consuming method for preserving fifty green apples. The brining process sounds rather like basic lacto-fermentation, although there’s no mention of excluding air from the brining vessel, which I’d have thought would be essential to help prevent spoilage. Perhaps the author assumed their audience would know that this would be required, or maybe the concentration of the salt solution (“strong enough to bear an Egg“) is enough to prevent bacterial infection?

Let’s see if we can work that one out. This source suggests around 30g salt / litre should do be enough to float an egg. A litre of water weighs 1Kg so that should result in a 3% salt solution. That’s pretty close to the 4% solution recommended for basic fermentation in the Noma Guide to Fermentation. Which suggests that Mrs Eales’ (or whoever)’s codlins are being lacto-fermented, pre-pickling.

The other ingredients are simple enough: ginger, garlic and mustard seed are all readily available. I do have a couple of questions over the method though: does “shifting the pickle” mean replacing it every couple of days, or just stirring it around a bit? And when we’re told to “scoop out the core” of the codlins, but also to “Take out the Stalk so whole, that it may fit again“, presumably that doesn’t mean using an apple-corer to drive a hole right through the centre of the fruit, but rather slicing off the stalk end, scooping out the core, filling the cavity with the ginger / garlic / mustard seed mix (should the seeds be whole or crushed, or blended into some sort of a paste with the garlic?) and then replacing the stalk (a.k.a. “the Piece“)?

Then there’s the pouring of the boiling vinegar mixture, presumably onto the stuffed codlins whilst they’re in the stone jar, every two days for a fortnight. Should that be a fresh vinegar mixture every time, or should we drain the current one, re-boil and re-pour? If the former, that’s a heck of a lot of vinegar and spices to go through just to pickle a few codlins!

All in all, it’s a frustratingly typical example of many historical recipes, in which the author assumes that their audience will possess a certain amount of pre-knowledge as to the methods, proportions of ingredients, timings etc. that are required. But for the modern cook it just raises a whole lot of questions, not least of which has to be: how on earth will the finished result in any way imitate a mango? Or is it supposed to imitate a pickled mango? More questions!

A bit of a puzzle, this one, to say the least. If you’re determined enough[1] and have enough time on your hands to give this one a go then I really, really would love to hear about how you get on. Please do email me with your notes and photos, or leave a comment below.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 I wasn’t, so I just peeled and chopped my batch of windfalls, added plenty of brown sugar and spices then stewed them down into a lovely compote, bagged it up and froze it…

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