Pickling, Preserving and Garnishing with Cornersmith's Alex Elliott-Howery
Australia’s ‘queen of pickling’ Alex Elliott-Howery is no stranger to the kitchen. From what started as a simple passion for being more sustainable and preserving food for her family, to opening up neighbourhood cafe Cornersmith in the Sydney suburb of Annandale that has bloomed into a cooking school, cookbooks and more, Alex has done it all.
We spoke to Alex about the art of preserving spirits, kitchen inspiration, how to garnish your favourite beverages with leftovers and her brand new book. Scroll on for more!
For any readers who are new to the art of preserving, and would like to start with spirits they may have lying around the house, what pairings would you recommend?
I always suggest that when people are starting off with preserving to think about what you like and also what you have. If you have a really average bottle of something or something that you don’t like to drink that could be really good to use in cooking. It’s winter now, so all the wintery fruits are around which seem to suit the flavour of spirits. Orange and whisky are an excellent combination, as are pears and red wine. I feel like gin suits savoury and herbal things really well (why it worked great with the Archie Rose x Cornersmith cucumbers). As things start to lighten up weather-wise, it’s nice to bring the likes of gin, vodka and tequila into the mix…it’s all about trying to match the flavours together with the seasons and the spirits that you have on hand.
Talk us through the art of pickling.
At Cornersmith we teach all sorts of pickling classes. I'm surprised how many people want to learn how to pickle and how to eat them as well. When you first pickle you often end up with lots of jars in your fridge and you don’t know what to do with them. My first rule of thumb is to just get them out of the fridge and start incorporating them into your meals.
Pickling is very sustainable and preserving in general is an excellent tool for everybody to use. How I suggest people use pickling and preserving skills is to do small amounts more often as a way to combat food waste. For example, a couple of sticks of celery in the fridge at the end of the week (even if they are looking a bit sad and tired) would be great to pickle! Add them to some tabouli or as a garnish for your Blood Mary and you have used something you would have otherwise thrown out!
Not everybody is going to bottle apricots for the weekend or preserve their own homegrown tomatoes in cans for a whole year, it’s not really attainable. But, once you start that cycle you will be inspired again and again!
What are your recommendations for garnishing your way to a good time?
Pickled foods are really great if you are looking to add a little bit more bite and tang to what you are eating too and obviously for cocktails as a garnish as well. You can put pickled grapes into a gin and tonic, pickled kumquat into a negroni. The Archie Rose x Cornersmith gin pickles I often just put one slice of those with some brine either into a gin and tonic or martini. All in all, there are lots of different ways that you can incorporate pickled items into your drinks of choice!
And what about the leftover brine or ‘pickle juice’ as some may call it?
Once you have eaten your pickles and you have the brine leftover do not throw that away! That is like liquid gold, you have the base of a salad dressing…just add oil and mustard. You can splash it into a stir fry or marinade. And if it's the right kind of brine, add even just a dash into your drink and that gives it an extra edge which is extra nice as well.
Tell us about yourself! You have had quite the journey!
I am not a chef or a trained cook at all, I’m just an enthusiastic home cook who has always been really interested in sustainability, especially when living in urban areas. I got interested in pickling as a project when I was home a lot when my kids were really little as I tried to be more sustainable, decrease food waste and feed my family with whatever was in the garden. Once I started I just got completely hooked and weirdly turned into an Australian ‘pickling queen’. As the years have gone on and Cornersmith has grown, I’ve become more interested in helping people make good sustainable choices in their kitchen, but also in a really manageable way. Cornersmith has grown into lots of different things. We have this ethos of drawing attention to not just good food, but to make good food choices environmentally as well. It’s been a journey of cafes, cooking schools and cooking books.
I actually have a brand new cookbook launching on October 5 called Food Savers which is an A-Z dictionary for adaptable recipe ideas, preserving and how to waste less with what you have in the fridge.
You can pre-order it here