Welsh Witterings: The Pleasure of Preserving – making the most of seasonal fruits and vegetables
Culinary history has plenty to teach us especially when it comes to preserving food. Circumstances may differ, times undoubtedly change, but even in the age where most people own deep freezes and refrigerators’ preserving fruits and vegetables is still as relevant as ever.
There are some fantastic historic recipes for preserving, as well as habits and tricks which we largely lost and can learn from to make the most of seasonal gluts.
One of my favourite ways of preserving fruits and vegetables is by turning them into Chutney. I can think of few things as satisfying as a pantry stocked full of home made chutneys and preserves. I love a good chutney – whether it’s deliciously tangy green tomato or rich plum chutney the versatile art of making chutney allows you to savour the best of British produce all through winter.
With their ability to transform a hunk of bread and some cheese into a memorable meal, chutneys have come to be considered a thoroughly British treat, but chutney is a prime example of how Britain has been a culinary borrower throughout history. The original chutney of India (Hindi: chatni) was usually a highly spiced relish made from fresh fruits. During the colonial era the British took the concept of chatni home. During the long voyage home its name and ingredients changed with British cooks transforming it from a fresh relish to a sweet, sharp preserve that is heavenly with cold meats and cheeses.
Chutney is one of the easiest home preserving methods to master, unlike jam and marmalade there is no setting point to worry about and this preserve is not a case of mysterious kitchen alchemy; instead it is a simple process and once you have mastered the formula you can make up your own recipes and combinations with continued success.
The world of chutneys is full of endless possibilities with a seamlessly never ending series of combinations and recipes waiting to be tried in accordance with personal taste and the ingredients to hand. Whether sweet or sour, hot or mild; made from fruits or vegetables or a combination of the two there really is chutney to suit everyone’s pallet.
I love the fact that chutney is a preserve that is good for using up end of season produce as well as seasonal gluts. Those windfall apples and green tomatoes can all be converted into comforting chutney. To the chutney’s base ingredients you add various spices and other fruits like raisins, sultanas, dates and vegetables such as onion and garlic for the flavour. The vinegars, sugar and salt are there not just for the flavour but they are also the preservative and will mellow over the months to make chutney that will transform any sandwich into a memorable meal. It would be a mistake to think of chutneys as a mere condiment that can spice up cheese and crackers for a chutney can take a starring role in a dish, take plum chutney for example, added to a game casserole it can transform the dish to a whole new level, whilst adding apple chutney to a cheese and potato pie makes for a tasty supper dish that is warming and hearty. Indeed chutney is a busy cook’s best friend, for whilst the pantry remains well stocked with chutney there is never the need for a dull meal.
Apple and Pear Chutney
This is a great recipe for using up windfall apples and you can easily adapt the spices to suit your own palate and change around the ingredients depending on what you have to hand. If using windfalls as I do, remember to discard bruised, damaged or spoiled part of the fruit as it will inhibit the taste and keeping ability of the finished product. My golden rule is always, if you don’t consider it good enough to eat raw then leave it out of the preserving pan.
Grated zest and juice of 1 large grapefruit
Juice of 1 lemon
3 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Piece of fresh ginger (about 20g), peeled and grated
150g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
600ml cider vinegar
400g soft brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
- Peel, core and coarsely chop the apples and pears, and place in a large saucepan or preserving pan. Add the grapefruit zest and juice and the lemon juice and stir well (this helps to stop the fruit browning due oxidation before you begin to cook). Add the onions, garlic, ginger and raisins and stir again and set over a medium heat.
- Add the hazelnuts to the pan and stir in the vinegar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for 15-20 minutes, until the fruit is soft but holding its shape. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, sterilise 5 x 500ml jars. Preheat the oven to 120°C/fan100°C/gas 1/2. Wash the jars in warm, clean soapy water, then rinse in clean water. Put upside down on a clean baking tray and dry in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the tray of jars from the oven. Handle the jars with a clean tea towel.
- The chutney is ready when most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is quite thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the cinnamon, ground cloves and turmeric. Ladle into the sterilised jars whilst warm. Close the lids to seal. Don’t forget to label and date your chutney, as once you have a few batches in the larder it’s amazing how easy it is to get muddled and lose track of what’s in the jars.
From my book, ‘The Pleasure of Preserving’ comes one of my favourite recipes for using up rhubarb when you’ve tired of crumble. It’s a simple recipe that is delightful with mature cheeses and makes a fantastic finishing touch to curries.
500g onions ( peeled and diced)
500g soft brown sugar
600ml white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp medium curry powder
- Prepare and chop the rhubarb and place in a preserving pan with the onions with half of the vinegar, salt, ginger and curry powder.
- Cook gently for approximately 1 hour and then add the remaining vinegar and the sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved
- Simmer fora further 45 minutes to an hour.
- Ladle into prepared jars whilst still hot.
- Label and set aside for 3 months
Six Tips for Chutney Success:
- Cut the vegetable ingredients into equally sized chunks to allow them to cook at the same rate.
- Use only stainless-steel or enamel pans for making your chutney, as the vinegar reacts with other metals such as copper and aluminum.
- Make sure the insides of your jar lids are plastic-coated, as bare metal might react with the
vinegar and spoil the chutney.
- Jar Health Check – ensure that your jars are in good condition and scrupulously clean.
Sterilising the jars is a vital part of making chutney that will keep. Wash jars and lids in hot
soapy water, rinse well, then place upside down in a low oven until dry or put them through a
hot cycle in the dishwasher. Once sterilised use the jars immediately. If the jars are sterilised correctly
chutney will keep in a cool, dark place for at least a year.
- Fill the still-warm jars up to the neck with warm chutney,
cover immediately with a lid. It is important to work swiftly and cleanly. If you do spill or
dribble chutney around the rims of you jars wipe them with a cleans cloth dipped in boiling water, to prevent the growth of mould.
- Remember that patience is a virtue, so keep the chutney for a couple of months before using, thus giving the flavours a chance to mature and the vinegar time to mellow.
One of my favourite recipes is for green tomato chutney, which I remember making with my mother when I was young and this recipe has been passed down through my family.
Tangy Green Tomato Chutney
5lbs green tomatoes;
1/2 – 1 teaspoon of salt;
1-2 teaspoons of mixed spice;
1 and 1/2 pints of distilled vinegar.
Slice the tomatoes, cut-up the onions and cook them together in a covered saucepan till they are soft. Add the sugar, spices, and vinegar and cook gently without a lid on the pan and with occasional stirring until the chutney is of the desired consistency.
Traditionally chutneys are made at the height of summer and in the early autumn, because this is when the British garden produces bumper crops of fruit and vegetables, however, there is almost always something is season that will make a good base for chutney. Once you have started making Chutney you will never have a dilemma over what to do with surplus fruit and vegetables and you will never be stuck for what to give as a thank you gift
The Pleasure of Preserving: Inspired Recipes for Preserving Throughout the Year is available in Paperback – priced at £12.99 from independent book stores or directly from the author by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org