Once a staple on even the most basic pub menu, the humble pickle is moving upmarket. No decent chef worth his pickling salt is without his own take on one of the oldest methods of preserving food for months on end. Not that delicacies such as the pickled golden beetroot at Simon Rogan's Fera at Claridge's, or Brad McDonald's pickled watermelon rind at his southern US-inspired The Lockhart, in central London, get a chance to last from season to season. Restaurants such as Rawduck in east London, now feature their own pickles menu.
Thane Prince, author of Perfect Preserves, and star of the BBC's Big Allotment Challenge, believes pickling has moved on from being "a home thing that people did if you lived in the country and had a garden full of vegetables and fruit". She says: "Every pub, every restaurant has its own chef's pickles. It sits alongside the huge popularity of pork – Scotch eggs, pork pies, sausage rolls – all natural partners to pickles."
Chefs are reinventing the age-old process for a new era by being more adventurous in their choice of ingredients. McDonald pickles unripe green peaches and ramsom, the wild garlic that grows in hedgerows in spring. He has even used unripe ramsom buds for his own version of capers. Pigs' trotters are next on his agenda.
"There are no limits to what you can use," he says. "Pickles, done properly, are fresh and have high levels of acidity, which open up the palate, carrying flavours to the rest of your tongue." And if you would rather not eat them alongside meat, he adds: "We're all drinkers, right? The acidity puckers you up and makes you want a drink."
At Koya, a Japanese udon noodle house in Soho, London, chef Shuko Oda says their UK base has encouraged them to experiment with fruit, using miso to give an unusual taste to apricots and pears. She thinks the health benefits of eating fermented food, which are full of bacteria that aid digestion, are helping drive their popularity. "It feels as if everyone wants to do pickling now."
It isn't only restaurant chefs who are experimenting. Pickling equipment suppliers, such as Le Parfait, of France, cite a "pickling renaissance" for "significantly" driving sales of its screw-top jars. And Riverford, the organic vegetable-box supplier, recently launched its own range of pickling kits, which are proving very popular.
There are classes across the country, including one this week at the River Cottage in Devon, plus events such as the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival in September.
Sherri Singleton, who runs workshops at The Mistley Kitchen cookery school in Essex and will run the Aldeburgh pickling masterclass, thinks food writers, including Diana Henry and Tim Hayward, have helped to inspire home cooks to take up their jars.