By Leigh O’Connor.
"Think what a poem a salad would be when dressed with primrose vinegar.” – Florence White, from her 1930s cookbook Good Things in England.
In Angela Clutton’s teeny tiny London kitchen there are cupboards that can barely contain the bakeware and saucepans that are crammed in and must be prevented from falling out every time she opens the door.
Her bottles of vinegar however, have a cupboard all to themselves. Perfectly positioned above the hob and barely an arm’s reach away from where she is cooking, they live in relatively luxurious space, with only each other to jostle with.
In her latest book The Vinegar Cupboard, this food writer and historian explores recipes and the history of this everyday ingredient, which most of us take for granted. There aren’t too many ingredients that manage to bring flavour and adaptability to recipes which are actively good for you, but vinegar manages it easily.
Angela’s book looks at how the many types of vinegar have woven their way through culinary and medical history for centuries, highlighting how we can all benefit from vinegar in our diet. There are also recipes from every corner of the world, championing each chapter of the vinegar journey.
"I know it isn’t just me who has got more into vinegar in recent years,” Angela says. "It has been exciting to feel wider interest in vinegars, growing at the same time as my own. The range of vinegars generically available to buy is expanding rapidly.
"It is not hard now to find fruit, herb, sherry, cider, malt, balsamic and many types of red and white wine vinegars – from Rioja through to Champagne – on store shelves.”
Maybe it is on the back of a trend towards fermenting, which is at the very heart of vinegar making, or because many of us are taking such interest in gut health and fermented foods - whatever the reason it is the ideal time to take a fresh look at the benefits of this ingredient.
"Most exciting of all for me as a cook is that I feel there is a growing interest in vinegar because of the role of acidity in cooking. I hope that by demonstrating the many great ways in which kinds of vinegar can be used to balance and bring flavour, The Vinegar Cupboard will enable even more modern cooks to make the most of this ancient ingredient,” she explains.
"I promise once you have used sherry vinegar to deglaze a pan used to cook duck breasts, then drizzled the resulting sauce over the meat, the doors will be blown off how your culinary mind considers vinegar.”
From how it is made to individual chapters devoted to the various types available with their history and modern recipes, this is a virtual guide to the spirit world of all things vinegar.
Angela first tasted this recipe for scallops in malted butter when Sam Britten of Orkney Craft Vinegar cooked a version of it for her. Made with ‘bere’ malt vinegar, which is produced using Orkney ancient bere grain, it is one of the few examples of Britain’s ancient vinegar being revived by an artisan.
For the home cook in Australia, it is perfectly fine to use any malt vinegar for the buttery sauce, which complements the fatty scallops with its sharpness and sweet, malty notes. A few barely dressed rocket leaves are all that is needed to finish the dish.
Parched peas are a tradition from Angela’s ancestral county of Lancashire – they are black peas, cooked until almost mushy, then smothered in lots of salt and malt vinegar.
"I remember my Mum telling me about having them as a little girl in the late 1940s, sometimes served with crispy bacon. Black peas and malt vinegar are a great combo and one which I think does not need to be filed under nostalgia,” she says.
Her version layers the classic recipe of black peas, pancetta and malt vinegar, with the addition of fresh notes of lemongrass, mint, rocket and Parmesan cheese.
Herb or flower-infused vinegar is used in Angela’s personal favourite, raspberry drop pancakes, which she makes every Shrove Tuesday. Smaller and lighter than America pancakes, they are very tempting for an indulgent breakfast, afternoon tea or dessert, with cream or yoghurt on the side.
Buttermilk is the traditional ingredient for its acidity, which reacts with the bicarbonate of soda to give a characteristic bubble and rise - in this recipe, that is replicated with a mix of milk and infused vinegar. Add a handful of raspberries to the batter, cook quickly in a hot griddle or fry pan to release their flavour without losing their shape.
Photography, info-graphics and flavour wheels enhance the recipes in this collection, ensuring this is a usable and accessible book for all home cooks.
Winner of the Jane Grigson Trust Award in 2018, The Vinegar Cupboard encourages cooks to have an arsenal of as many varieties of vinegar as they can fit in their kitchen – while you might not have a vinegar cupboard, this book will inspire you to at least have a vinegar shelf.
The Vinegar Cupboard by Angela Clutton is published by Absolute Press ($36.99) Out now!