I love chutney! A rich combination of autumn fruits, dried fruits and vegetables simmered for hours in a mixture of muscovado sugar and cider vinegar, seasoned with spices and root ginger is one of my favourite things to make. It takes far longer than jam, but is much less stressful, none of this pectin testing and no chilled saucers.
Chutney livens up a dull cottage pie, adds joy to a cheese sandwich and gets better as it gets older. I am very keen on foods that get better as they get older and foods that don’t need to be kept in the freezer in particular.
On a shelf in the garage I found a packet of dried William pears and a bag of dried dates. The pears had little crystals of sugar on them, the dates were a little dry. I cut pieces off them both and tasted and sniffed and decided they were just fine still and perfect companions for my neighbour Carmella’s box of windfall apples and a string of French Onions and would hopefully add texture and body to the apples which would disintegrate in the chutney.
I also took pity on a couple of courgettes and a bag of sultanas yelled plaintively. “Take us, don’t leave us here till Christmas again!” I heard you sultanas, don’t worry!
I added a few of the stubborn green tomatoes from the tray ripening on the window sill to the mix as well.
I sliced up fresh ginger root and put it in a spice bag together with a mix of whole spices that took my fancy. My neigbour Maureen had just treated me to a bag of beautiful mixed peppercorns from the market in Istanbul and I had some allspice berries which I love so I used those as well. You could use cloves, cinammon, whatever you like, lots of room for experimentation.
I added a 500 g box of Billingtons muscovado sugar, and 600 ml of Aspall’s organic cider vinegar.
This was my list of ingredients for this batch, the proportions are all based on the Glutney chutney recipes in Pam Corbin’s indispensable Preserves book:
- 500g box of Brown sugar (muscovado if you can get it)
- 600 ml of organic cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 900 g of peeled, cored and chopped up apples
- 2 medium sized courgettes, diced
- 1 kg of onions, peeled and diced
- 250 g of dried pears
- 250 g of dates
- 250 sultanas
- 200 g green tomatoes
- tsp of salt
- a thumb’s worth of fresh root ginger
- 1 tsp of allspice berries
- 2 tsp of mixed pepper corns
- 1 tsp of coriander (whole)
- 1 tsp of dried chilli flakes
Put the ginger and the spices in a little muslin bag. You can get these from the jamjar website, or make your own if you are crafty. I am not very crafty. Pile everything else into a maslin pan or a big heavy bottomed saucepan. Tuck the spice and ginger bag into the fruit and veg.
Cook on your lowest gentlest heat source. Once the sugar has melted and it starts to cook let it bubble away peacefully and slowly, simmer is maybe the best word for this, for about 3 – 5 hours. You will need to stir it occasionally at the beginning and then visit the pan more frequently the closer it gets to being ready to put in jars.
In the meantime visit your recycling boxes and rummage around for jars. If you are lucky enough to have relatives who always return empties when you give them chutney, cultivate them assiduously. The words, “Would you like my empty jars?” are music to a home preserves maker!
For chutney choose jars with vinegar proof lids. A vinegar proof lid is one which doesn’t have metal that will come in contact with the vinegar – most lids have a plastic covering on the inside but if they are bare metal they are not suitable. Scrub any old labels off that you forgot to remove before. Wash your jars and lids in hot water with a little washing up liquid. Rinse well and then put on a tray in the oven at 140 C/Gas Mark 1 for 15 minutes. I put the lids in a saucepan with cold water and bring them to the boil and keep them simmering until needed.
The chutney will need to reduce considerably in volume and become thick and glossy. You will start to hear and feel a bit of potential sticking going on when you are nearly there. Keep stirring, reduce the heat if necessary to avoid the chutney catching on the bottom of the pan.When it is ready if you drag your wooden spoon through it you should be able to see the bottom of the pan clearly and the chutney should stay open for a bit before closing up again. Think of Charlton Heston as Moses and the parting of the Red Sea if you have any doubts as to what this looks like. If it looks at all watery, it isn’t ready yet.
When you are ready, assemble any kit you need and pour boiling water over and shake dry. I use a funnel and a ladle and usually something to poke the chutney down into the jar with, like a thin silicon spatula.
Fill the jars carefully up to 5 mm from the top. Do your best to make sure there are no air bubbles or pockets of air visible, by packing the chutney down and then, shake the lids to remove any water, and screw them on as tightly as you can. Tap the jars sharply on a wooden surface once the lids are on. Leave the jars to cool completely. Check the lids again when they are cold and don’t forget to label them! Best left for two months or more to mature. We are eating last year’s chutney now. It keeps very well for a long time in a cool dark place.
Yesterday the Frenchman who sells the most wonderful onions, shallots and huge French purple garlic at the Whiteladies Road Farmers market appeared at my door. He was going home this weekend and was obviously trying to sell as much as possible before leaving. I bought more supplies, they are all strung neatly and hung them up in the garage. Then I remembered that I had used ‘his onions’ in this and gave him a jar. “Chutney?” he said, but “what is this?” I tried to explain and in the end, he simply untwisted the lid, which opened with a satisfying pop and took a big sniff. “Ah!” he said, “I willl share zees with my family!” Who knows what a French palate will make of my chutney…
To find out more about the history of chutneys, a term used to describe all manner of variations of these condiments, you could do worse than start here on Wikipedia.