Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Saving Money at Christmas

Not long ago I saw a tinplate box in a shop - an empty tinplate box. It was intended for storing cupcakes and the price was £20. Now, I know the pound ain't worth too much these days, just a bit ahead of the Confederate Dollar in fact, but £20 for an empty box seems a bit steep.

So here's my money-saving tip for 2010, offered free of charge. Visit your local friendly supermarket and buy a large tin of biscuits. Cost, £10 tops, maybe only £6 with special offers and so on. Eat the biscuits. You will be left with an ideal tin for storing your cupcakes in; albeit it won't have pretty pictures of cupcakes on it, in fact it will quite likely have pictures of biscuits, but for heaven's sake it's only for storage. You aren't going to serve your honoured guests out of the tin are you? That would be frightfully common!

Anyway I reckon that saves at least £10, maybe £14 and you get a load of free biscuits too!

'Cupcakes' is an Americanism. When I was a lad (and that's a long while back now) my mother made the things every week and called them 'buns'. Sometimes we'd go to Belle Vue Zoo and feed some to the elephants. You're not allowed to do that now as apparently cupcakes are bad for the elephant's digestion. Which makes you think. If an elephant can't digest a cupcake, how on earth are we supposed to do it?

By the way, I hear that cake stands are going for big money right now. Because cupcakes are all the rage and people want cake stands to put them on. Funny old world. Whatever next? Fish knives to become fashion items?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Pickled Onions

Do people outside the north of England still pickle their own onions? Honest question, I don't know.

The pickling season starts round about October when suitable onions are sold in supermarkets and certain garden centres. There is, of course, nothing to stop you making use of your own onions or shallots, the only key requirement is that they be relatively small, as they have to fit in jars.

Peeling them takes ages. It's a horrid, tedious task and, be warned, leaves a strong smell of onions on your hands. If this worries you, wear gloves. Top and tail the little onions and remove their outer skin. If the first layer is wrinkled or displeasing to the eye, strip it off and discard.

Next, soak them in brine for at least 24 hours. This is to make them crunchy. Apparently you can just put them in salt, but it would take an awful lot of salt to cover the batches we do. So brine is probably easier.

Now, put them in jars. Any old jars will do. Of course if you are posh you will have bought special jars for the purpose. But you don't need to. It does help though if the jar has a lid that can be sealed. (If it doesn't, use grease-proof paper and an elastic band to seal the jar. Not ideal but it will work.) Squeeze as many pickles as you can into each jar.

Next, pour in pickling vinegar. The special vinegar is best, but you can use ordinary malt vinegar instead and add spices to taste. If you like your pickles sweet (ugh!) add sugar. Make sure all the pickles are covered by the vinegar.

Leave in a cool place for at least three months. You might get away with opening them a little earlier, but they will be immature. I prefer to leave them for six months. Even twelve months at a pinch, but there is then an increasing risk that the pickles will go soft and taste horrible. I'm sure there's a scientific reason for this but I have no idea what it is.

A nice mature pickle should beat any shop-bought pickle into a cocked hat. It's the equivalent of real ale against fizzy 'keg' beer. Nothing is better sliced onto a cold beef sandwich, or as part of a ploughman's lunch. You can even eat them on their own if you've got the taste for them. Mmmmm!

A word of warning - the unsliced pickles are probably best kept away from small children as there may well be a choking risk. Better safe than sorry.