When it’s a jar

If your stores are over­flow­ing with fruit and veg and you’re out of meal ideas, it’s time to start pro­duc­ing your own chut­ney – it’s a cinch to make and lasts for ages in the fridge

The Guardian - Cook - - Back To Basics -

We don’t nor­mally think of spring as a time for mak­ing chut­ney. Au­tumn is – for ob­vi­ous rea­sons – the pre­serv­ing sea­son, when for­ward-think­ing house­hold­ers dry, smoke and pickle the har­vest glut, build­ing up stores to see them through the lean win­ter months.

March is tra­di­tion­ally known as the “hun­gry gap” – the pe­riod when fam­i­lies had to eke out the last re­mains of their win­ter stores while wait­ing to har­vest the first veg­eta­bles of the spring.

Not be­ing a me­dieval small­holder, how­ever, I some­times find my­self out of sync with sea­sonal tra­di­tions. Right now, for ex­am­ple, there’s a glut go­ing on at our house. Ev­ery day I open the fridge I am con­fronted by great muddy heaps of win­ter veg – car­rots, parsnips, and cele­riac left over from the weekly veg box.

I’ve been do­ing my best to get through the root veg­eta­bles – roast­ing them, boil­ing them in vine­gar and but­ter, mash­ing them, puree­ing them with nut­meg and cream, cooking the cele­riac un­der olive oil to con­fit it. I even bought a spi­raliser to make root veg twirls (quite fun, and a good way to get chil­dren ex­cited about parsnips). But I was start­ing to lose heart un­til my col­lab­o­ra­tor on this col­umn, Jane Bax­ter, sug­gested that I make some chut­ney, but with win­ter veg. Hang the sea­sons! A man’s got to pickle when a man’s got to pickle.

The great thing about chut­ney is that once you have made a par­tic­u­lar one once or twice, there is end­less po­ten­tial for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. You can use al­most any fruit or veg­etable, and dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of spices. There are just a few rules of thumb to bear in mind be­fore you get go­ing:

The ra­tio of fruit/veg­eta­bles to vine­gar and sugar will vary depend­ing on the sweet­ness and acid­ity of the fruit and veg­eta­bles. If you use sweet veg­eta­bles, such as car­rots, or fruit, such as dates, you will need less sugar. Like­wise, if you are us­ing acidic toma­toes (prob­a­bly not at this time of year) you can hold back on the vine­gar. As a rule of thumb start with a ra­tio of 3kg veg­eta­bles to 1 litre vine­gar and 500g sugar, then ad­just for taste.

Don’t shred your fruit and veg too fine, as you’ll end up with spicy puree; but don’t be too slap­dash with your chop­ping ei­ther. Just think about the an­noy­ance of hav­ing half an onion fall­ing out of your cheese and pickle sand­wich. Dain­tily chopped veg­eta­bles can trans­form a good chut­ney into a bril­liant one.

Chut­neys get bet­ter when left for a few weeks. They ma­ture. So try not to eat them all at once.

Be aware that it’s of­ten cheaper to buy jars with food in them (such as cheap jam) than empty jam or chut­ney jars. Be­come a jar hoarder.

If you catch the chut­ney-mak­ing bug, it is worth buy­ing a big, pre­serv­ing (maslin) pan. It gives an even heat for those long sim­mers, and feels very Mrs Bee­ton.

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