Queen of Pickling: In conversation with Freddie Janssen
Words Francesca Angelini
Photography Helen Cothcort
Whenever I picture a pickle, I think of a jar of yellowing onions sharp enough to make eyes water. That’s a picture that needs an upgrade. Preserving and fermenting are hot right now, and much of that is down to Freddie Janssen, London’s queen of pickling. Her home-brined experimental creations are so clever and good that last month she picked up the Young British Foodie award for the best street food in Britain.
What got you into it pickling?
I grew up in Maastricht where the food is brown, beige, stodgy and heavy and I always wanted a pickle to cut through the richness. When I moved to England a few years ago I started experimenting with making my own. Then Rita’s in Dalston wanted kimchi and pickles for their patty melt and fried chicken, and I started supplying them. I made the kimchi with sesame and soy, which was unusual. Eventually I left my job in advertising so I could do more of it. I turned my home into a pickle factory. What’s great is that every cuisine has their own version of a pickle from when they had to preserve food without fridges and you can pickle anything, really.
Your combinations are pretty bold - from carrots pickled in orange blossom to plums in rosemary to mushrooms in coffee. What’s your best creation?
I did some taco pop-ups over the summer at Sager and Wilde in Hackney. Our second one was carnitas – pigs ear, tail and pork belly - with cobnuts and Szechuan pickled watermelon. It was very pared back and it worked. The Szechuan peppercorn in the brine makes the watermelon go really flowery and zingy. I’m not a chef but it’s so easy to pickle –it’s just a balance of water, sugar, salt and your own spices. It took me a while to get the ratios right, though.
Pickles used to be pretty naff. What changed?
They were not in fashion at all so I was winging it when I started doing my own ferments and preserving. It wasn’t like in New York where you have a beer and a pickle to go with. I think the problem was that the brines used before were harsh. Vinegars can be so strong, but I use rice wine vinegar which is much softer. People weren’t doing interesting things so I had room to experiment and I found people were much more interested in understanding how food is made and liked what I was doing. I started supplying more restaurants, doing pop-ups and got a stall on Saturdays at Druid Street Market.
I guess you’re lucky that clean eaters are into fermenting too?
Yes, it’s good for your gut! If I’ve got a stomach ache I’ll eat sauerkraut, but I don’t go out of my way to eat things because they’re necessarily healthy. For me it’s all about flavour and texture. Like the stilton and kimchi toasties I did at Druid Street market – cheese and pickle is a comfort dish, but it’s not healthy. But what’s not to like?