Irish Pickling Spices — A Very Brief History

Irish Pickling Spices, illustration by Betsy Beier

The art of pickling foods has been around for over 4000 years. The process has been instrumental in history by providing a way to preserve foods for longer periods of time yet also gives rich flavors to otherwise common foods. This cooking method allows for meats and/or vegetables to be eaten on long journeys. This was especially common during sea exploring days and/or times of war. During both World Wars, corned (or salted) beef that was then pickled was very popular because of both meat rationing and long months at sea.

Corned Beef made in Ireland was heavily traded from the 1600’s through the 1800’s. It was a high priced exported commodity that ironically not many Irish people were able to afford within their own country. Today, corned beef and cabbage are commonly associated with dinner served on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve read that this has become more of an Irish/American tradition than actually in Ireland itself.

Regardless of whether or not it is St. Patrick’s Day, this pickling spice recipe can be used year round in a variety of foods to add depth and flavor. Below are ideas for various recipes using the spice mix.

Irish Pickling Spice Mix

1T coriander seeds

2t cloves

1T dill seeds

2T whole mustard seeds

1T fennel seeds

2T allspice berries

1/2 stick of cinnamon

1T cardamom seeds

2T black peppercorns

1T dried ginger

6–8 bay leaves crushed

1t red chile flakes

This spices should not be ground, but mixed as whole seeds and/or crushed leaves. Combine the spices and use on a variety of foods. Store the mixture for up to 6 months in an air tight container when not in use.

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