As we strolled through the hallowed aisles of the fabulous Global Market, a new Bites feature was born. From time to time, as the mood strikes us, the Scene's staff of gustatory experts will venture out to Global or one of Nashville's other international markets and return with some intriguing foreign foodstuff that piques our preoccupation with piquant, perplexing and perhaps preposterous palatable pleasures. (By the way, if you've never been, Global Market is a gold mine for epicurean adventurers. It's a little hard to find, but well worth the search. It's at 918 Vine St., just across the street from Adventure Science Center.)
We've chosen to christen our feature by looking across the pond at that curious and distinctly British condiment, Branston pickle, whose very existence is closely and fatefully intertwined with the birth of our own U.S. Constitution. The list of ingredients—including, “in variable proportions,” carrots, rutabaga, marrows (the vegetable, not the bone stuff), gherkins, sugar, malt vinegar, dates, apples, tomato paste and other assorted seasonings—leads us to believe Branston pickle was invented when someone accidentally ate a spoonful of the compost pile.
According to the label, it's great on cheese, salads, cold meats and sandwiches. (Whatever you do, DON'T attempt to put it on hot meats. God have mercy on the fool who tries.) We sampled it with cheddar and crackers, and reactions were mixed. Among them:
“Branston has a dark, savory flavor with plenty of salt and tang. This flavor is rounded out by the awesome crunch of assorted diced veggies.”
“The stuff was reminiscent of a tart, chunky steak sauce—which I suppose makes it rather unlike steak sauce. A lot of worcestershire flavor, though.”
“The color and packaging lead, at least the Southern palate, to expect the sweet flavors of chutney, molasses or apple butter, making the vinegary kick all the more jolting.”
“It has a sharp smell, salty taste. Not offensive, not tasty. Wouldn’t seek it out but don’t mind it.”
“I guess there are worse things you can do with leftover vegetables and salt.”
“It's a little like vomit. But it tastes better.”
“It has the kind of tang that normally appeals to me, but I didn’t like the chunks.”
Personally, I like me some Branston pickle—I'd even buy it again. It's definitely not an everyday condiment, but if you're watching one of those British period pieces where repressed people bandy about in prissy outfits and bemoan their unrequited love, I can think of no better snack than some Branston and Stilton on some Carr's water crackers.
And what's the connection between Branston pickle and the Constitution, you ask? Well, though it was first made by Crosse & Blackwell in Branston, a suburb of Burton upon Trent, in 1922, the relish is currently made in the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds, where in 1214 the English barons met in an abbey—the ruins of which still stand in the town center—and swore that they would force King John to accept the Charter of Liberties, which led to the creation of the Magna Carta, which in turn influenced the development of the document that outlines our democracy's supreme law.
So in essence, Branston pickle and the U.S. Constitution are virtually synonymous.