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The joys of chutney!

Chutneys have not featured much in the traditional meals for the French wine harvest, but when I have cooked for a crowd it always seems a bonus, adding value to a plain pork roast, or cold meats, and terrines. During the Pandemic, chutneys have felt like a little treat in my household.

In the bad old days in Britain, it was a way of using unripe tomatoes at the end of the summer. Combined with malt vinegar it resulted in harsh, flavourless stuff and it put me off making chutney for years. This recipe converted me.

Elizabeth David’s Apricot Chutney ( From Summer Cooking, published Penguin)

2lb. ripe apricots

10 oz brown sugar,

1 onion

1/4 lb sultanas

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger ( or 1/2 tsp. ground ginger)

1 tbls. salt

1/2 pint Orleans vinegar

1 tsp. coriander seeds

2 - 3 cloves of garlic

Halve the apricots and stone them. Slice the onion and garlic. Put all the ingredients in a large pan and boil until the apricots are quite soft. Take them out and put into clean jars. ( Use a perforated spoon). Boil the rest of the liquid rapidly until it turns to a thickish syrup and pour into the jars. Seal down.

(It is important not to use metal lids as they will be corroded by the vinegar ).

I find this quite addictive - it remains fresh and fruity, absolutely brilliant with hot or cold roast pork. It is also extremely delicious with hard cheese, like farmhouse Cheddar. And much else, but I leave it to you to discover your favourite combinations.

The plum chutney that follows is wonderful with cold duck!

Jane Grigson makes the point that I have already mentioned, that chutney is much improved by using wine vinegar.

By the way, important for those who are gluten intolerant - malt vinegar is a no go ingredient.

Jane Grigson’s Plum Chutney ( from her Fruit Book, published Michael Joseph)

1 kg stoned plums ( in France Quetsch or greengage are good, Victoria in UK more usual)

250g sliced apple

250 g sliced onion

125g raisins

125g coarsely shredded carrot

250g demerara sugar

1 level tbls. salt

1 level tsp. ground cloves

1 level tsp. ground ginger

1 level tsp. ground allspice

1 small red dried chilli

600ml white wine vinegar

Mix the fruit, onion, raisins, carrot and sugar together in a basin. Put salt and spices into a pan, and pour in the vinegar. Bring slowly to the boil, and add the basin of fruit etc. Stir up well, and bring again to the boil. Leave to simmer steadily until thick and chutney-like (ie jammy, shiny). Remember it will become thicker as it cools down. Pot and cover with plastic film or the usual jam covers, rather than metal lids which will turn very nasty in contact with vinegar. Store for at least a month before using, in a cool dark place.

This method can be adapted. Recipes for chutney are not set in stone; they evolved to use up a glut of home grown fruit, to have something in store for winter months.

Making chutney is easy. Yes, really! I think you will see what I mean if you try it. Once you have got the hang of it, you can change any recipe to suit what you have to hand. I sometimes add walnuts, or other nuts. You can exchange currants, or even fresh grapes, for sultanas. Etc., almost ad infinitum.

Personally, I use red wine vinegar as we always have some from our vinegar-mother vat, which as in many wine trade families, uses wines left from tastings. The point here is to use a wine vinegar you like.

Chutney definitely benefits from a bit of ageing. I think the flavours need to meld together and mature a little. I usually use a batch made a year earlier, but have frequently found chutneys at the back of the shelf that are still delicious after being forgotten for several years.


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