Monday, 24 August 2009

A tragic tale of chutney

The Head Chef sat down to lunch recently and suddenly found himself in the midst of a deep personal crisis. The picture below is the the clue to his discomfiture - he discovered that he was not only down to the last jar of spicy plum chutney, but also down to the last inch of the last jar.

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?


Rubys mamma x said...

Oh wow that sounds like an amazing chutney recipe-i cant wait to try it out!! Just need more jars, i used four for the damson jam last week and think i might try freecycle for the next lot. I did find it fiddly not burning muself when i was taking the jars out of the oven and then screwing the lids on while they were hot once full, should i have let the jam cool in the jars first-help!
Kirsty x

Sophie - Chez Sophie said...

Oh what yummy chutney, I love making chutneys and jams for people as gifts. But it does worry me when my stocks get low.
Luv Sophie xxx

marigold jam said...

I can see why your friends beg for a jar of this for Christmas. You could take orders for the stuff you'd make a fortune! I hope the Chief Chef can make do with a jar of Branston(!!) till Christmas or maybe he will just have to try it when not fully matured.


Kate Bruning said...

How lovely to see farm life at the opposite end of the spectrum. I was just looking at our plum trees blossoming and wondering how many months it would be until we have fruit. Thank goodness we still have lots of jars of jam left... So glad you left a message so I could find you. xxooxxooxx

Michela said...

Hello Pomona!
How sad that summer is ending, but I'm sure you're having a lot of fun cooking chutney for the Head Chef!
Here we made some jam (peaches, figs), tomato sauce, pickled peppers, pickled asparagus, even some beans and as your chutney, they need time to mature...
The pantry looks happier when it bursts out of jars, don't you agree?!
Have a good week!

andamento said...

That sounds a delicious recipe. I planted 2 plum trees in the garden last year but they've yet to fruit. Once they do, I'll be looking for this recipe again.

sarah-jane down the lane said...

Chutney and cricket, what a combo!
Brilliant weekend! Here down the Lane we were glued to TMS! How Tuffers makes me laugh!
Sarah x

Menopausal musing said...

I am looking forward to our first greengages this year!!! We also have tiny mirabelle plums just ripening. (If you don't know them, they are small and yellow) First tasted them in France..... a delight. You are right about chutney, it definitely tastes better the longer it is kept.

Tabiboo said...

Snap!! Well not plum chutney, but a weekend of cricket on the radio and jams, jellies and liqueur makings - divine.

Nina x

Cottage Garden said...

Pomona, those chutneys look delicious - just think how tasty they will be for Christmas - worth waiting for! Great recipe!

Here we made some jams: raspberry from the allotment, apple and plum - courtesy of friends who have an orchard at their smallholding and strawberry from our very own never-ending supply!

I'm going to be hedgerow foraging pretty soon too!


Hen said...

Oh, I feel for the head chef! We are on our last jar of last year's ratatouille chutney which goes fabulously with bbq food for some reason. I have an aubergine and a few courgettes to start this year's batch only to have come home without the peppers, duh! So, that's what I must do tomorrow (or errm, soon), spurred on by the head chef's sterling efforts. I have that Delia book which I consider to be THE best, comprehensive basic cooking book. I shall therefore dig out the plum recipe and maybe in 3 months time, we can have synchronised plum chutney eating!
Hen x

Rosa-Munda said...

Yummy! I can just smell it now. Your chutney sounds delicious. I have a bowl of lovely plums from a friend so will have a go at this receipe later. Thank you!

Isobel said...

Hi Pomona,
I just found your blog. I really enjoy reading about the plum chutney as I am really willing to make some.
I bet yours just tastes delicious!
Take care. x

Flower Girl said...

Mmmm...the plum chutney sounds good & has reminded me that I'm supposed to be making more rhubarb chutney before autumn hits us! Rebecca x

Elise said...

Hello, I'm leaving you a comment to say just what a beautiful blog you have here. Such fascinating and interesting posts. And your pictures... just perfect ! Thank you for sharing all this - and best wishes to you...

Torie Jayne said...

Oh! That sounds like such a yummy chutney! x

Greedy Nan said...

Found a recipe today to use any plums you might have and not want to chutnify. It's Russian Plum Vodka! All you need are plums, sugar and of course vodka. Mix it up and stir for 6 weeks [after all you don't have anything else to do]. Then decant. Use the drunkard plums for puds or ice cream topping and drink the boozy liquid.

periwinkle said...

I can't say I've ever had that type of chutney before but it sounds lovely... as for the cricket , my Hub is an avid fan so was jumping for joy, and one of our 2 yr olds first words was " four" with a bit of hand waving lol

Mila Way said...

plums are ma favourites for jams and chutneys!


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