2017 has been a year of ‘1sts’, of new experiences… some huge, some life changing, some small, some perhaps only of consequence personally so unnoticed by the rest of the world.
This weekend it was the turn of one of those smaller moments, but one that is no less inspiring than any others on the list. Yesterday afternoon I took a step towards becoming that rural, growing-cooking-eating, creative, slow living goddess that Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter conspire to inspire me to be!. On a sunny Friday afternoon in mid-September… I made chutney!
“Oh… Chutney? What’s so special about chutney?” You might say. Well, only that I grew and tended to the marrows, and nature grew the apples with very little help from me, and both came freshly picked from the Cutty Garden Allotment!
The making of chutney may find a cosy niche in the current fashions of grow-your-own, slow living, real food, zero food waste and reconnecting with nature, but its roots run much deeper. Speak to anyone of my grandmother or great grandmother’s generation and jams and chutneys and preserves undoubtedly will have featured in their lives in a totally different dimension to the overly sweet or vinegary sludge from a mass produced supermarket jar that many of us are used to. [Squeezy bottles of sandwich pickle? I don’t know where to start with that one!] Homemade jars of jam invariably make me think of my Grandma, who was still making jars of strawberry preserve and more, for the village fete and shows right up to the point where frailty of mind and body stopped her doing most things including preserving.
The skills Grandma needed to keep securing the top prizes in the village shows would have passed down to her from a time when preserve making was less a matter of personal pride, but more one of communal survival. Any allotment holder or veg grower will tell you, some months you have more produce than you can possibly handle, other months you simply go hungry. This is where making preserves came to the rescue, the perfect was to use up those gluts, those windfalls and the less than perfect specimens, disguise them and protect them in copious amounts of either sugar or vinegar, and eat like kings and queens for months to come! It was quite common for families to come together, each bringing their own harvests, their own offerings, and a whole day would be put aside for preserving. I can just imagine the kitchens now, filled with cooking smells, laughter, and the spirit of sharing.
I shared the experience with my dear Mum, as her kitchen is slightly larger than mine, and I’m more used to her gas hob than the electric one in our flat [I keep burning the bacon whenever Amp leaves me to tend it! Sorry neighbours!]
So, with a new preserving pan from the hardware store in one hand, a wooden spoon in the other and a heavy basket of produce on my arm, I headed around the corner to my Mum’s house, wondering just what I had let myself in for!
I had done my research. After endless online searches I had a pretty good idea of the principles and process. I came across the blog of a Lady called Jo Clark, a fellow Sussex girl, and what appeared to be a very straightforward recipe for Apple and Marrow Chutney. (You can find Jo’s blog and recipe here: JoClarkeCookingEtc). I will admit to tweaking the ingredients slightly – I added allspice and garlic to the list, [I hope you’d approve Jo!] and I also found the cooking time took longer than the original recipe suggested. The finished chutney is going to be left for a month to mature before I dig in… so fingers crossed it will taste as good as it looks and smells! [Even better, Amp doesn’t eat chutney, so its mine…all mine!]
So here is the recipe if you are inspired to give it a go yourself!
From the allotment
– 1kg Marrow, peeled & chopped small
– 1kg Apples, peeled, cored & chopped small
– 1tsp red chilli, finely chopped
– 1tbsp grated ginger, fresh no need to peel
– 2-3 Red onions (approx 400g), peeled, chopped small
– 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
– 4 bay leaves (I used dried but you can use fresh if you have them)
– 1 tsp ground allspice
– 300g sultanas
– 600g soft dark brown sugar
– 600ml cider vinegar
Put all ingredients into a large pan (preserving pan or heavy metal casserole dish – I have heard its a good idea not to use your best non-stick pan!), stir well to combine, bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer.
Stir occasionally to prevent sugar catching on the bottom of the pan and burning, especially towards the end.
Mine took just over an hour yesterday, until it was a good chutney consistency, just keep an eye on it and wait.
I used a wide mouthed funnel to help get the spoonfuls of hot chutney into the jars, and a damp tea-towel to help hold the warm jars still as I screwed the lids on.
Now…when’s the next village show?!