Pickled Ash Keys

The keys of Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) provide a unique taste sensation. If you’re into Slow Food then this is certainly a slow recipe as it takes three months before you can indulge your taste buds.

One thing to make sure is that you pick your Ash Keys when they are very young, and the small seed within the ‘wing’ has barely developed. You can see the seed if you hold the Ash Key up to the sunlight.


  • 2 cups of Ash Keys without stalks
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • water

Suggested Instructions

  1. Wash your Ash Keys, then place in a pan covered with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Strain off the water and return to the pan with some freshwater, then bring back to boil and simmer a further 5 minutes.
  3. Drain off the water again, allow to ‘dry’ slightly and then pack into warm dry jars, but allow an inch of space from the top of the jar.
  4. Put the spices, salt and sugar into a bowl and add the vinegar.
  5. Put the bowl into a saucepan (cover it), add some water (not to the bowl but just into the pan) and bring slowly to the boil. I’ve never been very good at this so my one splutters and bubbles furiously, even when its on simmer. I’m sure there’s some scientific reason, but as I failed miserably at science I don’t have an answer. Allow to gently boil for about 5 minutes, then remove the bowl and let it sit for about 4 hours or until it is cold.
  6. Strain the liquid through muslin or sieve into a jug and pour over the Ash Keys filling the jars right to the brim.
  7. Screw on the tops or better yet use the kind of jars I have in the picture above.
  8. Store for 3 months and let the pickle ‘mature’.
  9. Give your friends a shock when you serve this up as an after-dinner treat, along with some fine cheese.

Further Reading

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  1. Not sure if it counts as foraging but Ash for firewood has a couple of lines in a poem on the subject
    “Ash tree dry or ash tree green
    Makes a fire fit for a queen”
    Its true too – our sycamore needs at least a years seasoning but ash burns right away. (Only branches that have fallen off…)

  2. Hi Robin
    I made a batch a couple of weeks ago and they are fermenting madly! Liquid leaking out of the Kilner jars and bubbling furiously. What should I do now?

    • If you were using raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the mother, the method here seems designed not to kill the vinegar’s bacteria – using a bain-marie and simmering for a few minutes ought not to kill a strong healthy culture. So, the vinegar culture has probably started to metabolise the sugar in the pickling liquid. If it were me, I wouldn’t throw it away – I would let it ferment and just expect it to be very vinegary…

  3. Hi –
    If you want to avoid the “spluttering”, perhaps you could sit the bowl on the pan with a knife (or some other bit of cutlery) between the edge of the pan and the bowl. This should stop the steam building up to the point where the only option it has to escape is to lift the bowl.

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