Monday, 24 August 2009
A tragic tale of chutney
So being a man of a decisive, do-it-now nature (or not, as the case may be), he decided to take the matter in hand and a day or two later bought a tray of plums from our neighbour. We have planted a range of plums, damsons and gages this spring, but they have yet to produce, and given the lack of rain this year, I shall be glad if they merely survive their first year.
The tray of plums only spent a day or two on the scullery sideboard, before they joined the bowl of plums which had been sitting on the kitchen table for a few days more - the Head Chef is not one to do things lightly.
But this weekend he set to work - all that chopping and bubbling was a good excuse to spend the weekend in the kitchen in the company of this radio.
Those of you who are cricket lovers might recognize the place on the dial, but for the innocent I will relieve you from your mystification - just think Test Match Special - and if that doesn't help - have a look at Sal's blog where she has a wonderful picture. Leather on willow, cakes in the commentary box, and all that jazz. It was a very exciting weekend for cricket lovers - in fact, almost painfully so - but isn't England playing cricket always a bit painful? But it was all right in the end, and we won the Ashes, and all went to bed happy, unless their ticket was for today.
But back to the spicy plum chutney - this has been our most popular chutney ever, and friends and relatives beg to be given some for Christmas. I do sometimes succeed in sneaking jars out of the house, but only when the Head Chef is not looking. They usually have to be signed out, and the recipient and occasion approved in triplicate.
We use varying combinations of plums (nice big juicy ones), Bramley apples, raisins (preferably flame), onions, garlic, dark muscovado sugar, demerara sugar, whole allspice berries, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, ground ginger, salt, and cider vinegar. We tend to adjust the spices according to how much we have in the cupboard when we make the chutney. The recipe is based on an original in a very old, dog-eared copy of Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course from the 1980s, so I don't know if it is still available, but for 6lbs of plums we would use 2lbs each of apples, raisins, muscovado and demerara, and about the same of onions, but the exact amounts are not crucial. The spices are also adjustable to taste, but for this amount of fruit, rough quantities are a large tablespoon of cloves, 2 large cinnamon sticks, 2oz allspice, 6 cloves garlic, 4 very heaped teaspoons of ginger, 4 tablespoons of salt and 4 pints of cider vinegar. There is no need to be particularly accurate in your measurements, though - there is quite a lot of leeway for adjustment in chutney.
Stone and halve the plums, chop the apples and onions, crush the garlic. All the whole spices are put in a muslin bag and then hung from the pan handle, otherwise you have nasty crunchy bits to stick in your teeth when you eat the chutney. All the ingredients go in the pan together - a preserving pan is best, two even better, bring to the boil and simmer on the lowest heat possible for hours until it has thickened up - the slower the better. Just watch that it doesn't stick or burn on the bottom. Pour into sterilized jars while still piping hot.
The whole house smelled of chutney all weekend - now, for me, that really does herald the beginning of the end of summer. And I have come home from work today to more chutney smells - the Head Chef is now boiling up the ones that got away on the marrow front.
But you know what the real tragedy is - chutney needs time to mature, three months at least, and the taste gets even better as it ages. So Christmas is really the time to crack open the new season's product.
Do you think the Head Chef can make the final inch of last year's chutney last that long?