Okay, so this isn’t really a Christmas chutney, per se … there are no chestnuts or cranberries or anything else that is season-specific.  I just call it that because the first time I had it was over the Christmas holidays.  It’s my mother-in-law’s recipe that she remembers helping her grandparents make when she was a little girl.  And, the fact is, it’s so flippin’ good, it’s a perfect all-year-rounder that you’ll want to have on hand to serve with cheese.  Try it with a cold turkey sandwich and you’ll feel the need to go to confession, even if you’re not Catholic.  My sister thinks it’s laced with crack.  it’s.  just.  that.  addictive.

The thing I love about chutneys is that you can use the ugly fruits that you don’t want to use in their “natural state”, as it were — the tomatoes that have a big, ugly seam or that seem to be slightly underripe, the apples that have a bruise or dent, the peaches that are a bit mealy.  It’s all good!  Throw them in a pot and simmer, simmer, simmer.

Oh, all right.  I’ll acknowledge the one downside about chutney-making — they pretty much all have a vinegar base (that’s the preserving agent), so simmering them for a couple of hours will leave your house smelling like you’ve had a Valdez-sized vinegar spill.  Make sure you undertake this on a day when you can open a couple of windows.

The last thing you need to remember about chutneys are these two words:  Simmer and Sit.  Don’t rush yourself – do this on a day when you can allow things to simmer for at least one hour, sometimes two.  And chutneys need 4-8 weeks, depending on who you ask, to sit and ripen and mellow and meld and for the sharpness to wear off.  So, if you’re planning on giving these away as Christmas presents, don’t put off making it until the weekend before (which is why I’m posting this recipe on the first weekend in November).

My Mother-in-Law’s Christmas Chutney

  • 1/2 lb tomatoes, peeled and seeded
  • 1/2 lb golden raisins (or a mixture of golden raisins and currants)
  • 1/2 lb onions, small dice
  • 1/2 lb light brown sugar (about 1 cup, moderately packed)
  • 1 lb apples, peeled cored and diced – use something slightly tart that will hold its shape when cooked
  • heaping 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Throw the lot of it into a non-reactive pot (stainless steel works, I use Calphalon) and bring to a rapid boil, then reduce the heat and cover half-way, and simmer for at least an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so to make sure nothing sticks.  Don’t use a metal spoon, only wooden to make sure nothing reacts with the acids in the vinegar.  It’s done when you make a well with your spoon and there’s only a trace of liquid pooled in the bottom.

If you taste it now, you’re going to be terrified of how sharp and hot it is from the ginger and cayenne.  Don’t worry, this is how it’s supposed to taste when it’s still in the pot.

While it’s still hot, pour into sterilized jam jars until just below the lid, tap the jar against the counter as you go to get rid of any air.  Screw the lid on tight and let cool (you’ll hear the satisfying PING as the air contracts and the lids pop sealed).

Now, here’s the tricky part – let it sit for a good 6 weeks so that the flavors will marry and mellow.  I promise you, it’s worth the wait!

Jars of Christmas Chutney, ready to rest in the pantry