Homemade chutneys are firmly fixed in memories of my childhood, The pop of the lid when you open the fresh pot, The tang of the vinegar as the fruits and vegetables are cooking and the anticipation as the jars are hidden away in a dark cupboard for three weeks until the flavours have matured, the vinegar has mellowed and the wonderful sweet chutney is ready. To a small child this seemed like alchemy. I’ve never really lost that feeling that there is something magical going on between the cook and all those wonderful ingredients; so when, on my recent trip to Canada, we were told that we’d be given a set budget to buy produce to make chutney or jam, I don’t mind admitting to being a little intimidated by the alchemist Karen, from Lavender And Lovage who was on the trip with me.
Karen is an avid maker of preserves and when I confessed that I’d no idea how to make either chutney or jam without a recipe, she looked a little surprised and then kindly rattled off some ratios. It was no good, I slunk off to a corner and googled a few ideas. I checked out my favourites, Piccalilli – has to be started the day before and Green Tomato Chutney was reliant on the unripe tomatoes. I hadn’t seen an unripe anything on our previous shopping jaunts and plumped for Runner Bean Chutney from Nigel Slater. Recipes in hand, or head, we set off for Welland Farmers market in Southern Ontario not too far from our hotel in Lake Niagara.
The choice of produce was wonderful, the first apples were in, fresh and crisp, the last of the beautifully fragrant peaches were pilled in baskets. The ‘Bushel Guy’ had brightly coloured pointy peppers, aubergines and plump tomatoes in improbably large baskets the size of kitchen buckets. “What do you do with all that produce?” I asked the smart looking lady as she tipped the third basket into yet another carrier bag. She was making canned peppers, skinning them and then slowly cooking with olive oil and garlic before placing into jars for use later in the year.
Bushels were the first of the measurement quandaries I came across, most of this wonderful produce was sold in quarts, I wanted 750 grams. I’ve no idea what a quart weighs, it was like trying to decipher a foreign language. Finally a local came to my rescue as I asked if anyone knew how to judge a pound. My runner beans were in both green and yellow, perfect for chutney in a jar, I bought my quart and a few onions ready for cooking later. I wished I’d done a circuit of the whole market before making up my mind as there was such wonderful produce to choose from including some lovely Tomatinos on a stall at the back, perfect for a salsa and not available in the UK. But I had my recipe and I really needed to stick to it.
Next stop was the Niagara Food And Wine Institute where, under the kind and keen eyes of TV chefs Anna and Michael Olson, our hosts for the weekend, we set about making our preserves in a professional kitchen. Michael had bought some fabulous local sausages and buns to make hot dogs to try the chutneys with and some local vanilla ice cream for anyone who was making jam.
At the end of the cook each of us placed our pans on the end of the bench for Anna and Michael to do a Masterchef style ‘judging’. Even though it was all in fun and all the chutneys were delicious, it gave me an inkling as to how the contestants feel.
The critique over, we pilled the preserves all very different, Peach, a traditional South African chutney, an apple chutney, my runner bean chutney on perfectly cooked sausages. Finishing with Kavey’s delicious peach jam with Ice Wine, an inspired combination.
I had no idea that making chutney was actually easy, you can use almost any fruit and vegetable and it’s perfect for using up a glut. Since arriving home I’ve created recipes for Tomato Chutney, Red Pepper Chutney, Apple Chutney and my favourite Beetroot Chutney. I’ve discovered the secrets of alchemy and so can you. Homemade preserves make perfect presents or are an inexpensive luxury to enjoy at home.
- 1.5kg Raw fresh beetroot Peeled and finely chopped
- 1kg Apples, I used Granny Smiths, peeled, cored and finely chopped
- 190g Currants
- 275g Red onions, finely chopped
- 2.5 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 100g Stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped
- 750g Light brown Muscovado sugar
- 750mls Red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp Maldon salt
- 12 Allspice berries
- 2 tbsp Mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp Corriander seeds
- 8 Cloves
- 2 Sticks of cinnamon
- Place all the ingredients in a large pan and stir well together, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Simmer for about 1 hour, stirring every now and then until the beetroot is tender.
- Spoon into sterilised jars and seal.
- It will keep for about 6 months unopened, store in the fridge after opening.
I went to Canada as a guest of the Canadian Tourist Commission, my thanks to Ontario Tourism and Niagara Tourism and to Anna and Michael Olson for their time and wonderful food expertise.