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This is the time of year that the mister hates the most.  Nearly every weekend, I’m chopping, grating and simmering and putting up chutney for Christmas presents.  To him, that just means that nearly every weekend the house has a lovely vinegary aroma.

For folks who like to give homemade presents, this is a great one.  Not only is it the perfect beginner’s chutney (only six ingredients!), it’s also great for procrastinators – unlike most chutneys, it doesn’t need a month to season.  And if you have a food processor with a grating blade, prep will take no time at all.  So, you can make it in the afternoon and take it as a hostess gift that evening.  This recipe makes a good 8-10 jars, so make a big batch then stash them in the pantry or a storage closet for when you need a quick gift – particularly if you take some nice crackers and a good buttery brie to go with it.

Beet Chutney

  • 2 lbs beets, peeled and grated
  • 1 lb onions, trimmed, peeled and cut to a small dice
  • 1 1/2 lbs tart apples, peeled and grated
  • 1 lb raisins (I like a mix of raisins and currants)
  • 4 cups malt vinegar
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 2 heaping tsp ground ginger

Put the lot of it into a large pot, bring to the boil and reduce to a good simmer for 90 minutes – 2 hours.  The final product should be thick, but still a bit juicy.  Put the hot chutney into warm, sterlized jars, then enjoy the pinging sound as the jars cool and seal.


Don’t you love weekends? 

Yeah, I know it’s a daft question – who doesn’t love weekends?  But, I mean, the whole philosophy of it all – that you work hard (or study hard) 5 days a week, then get a couple of days to spend time with family or friends, or do stuff that you like to do, or, heck, do nothing at all.  Basically, it’s a chance to remember what you work or study FOR.

For me, it’s usually full of what I fondly refer to as “life maintenance” – bathrooms that need cleaning, carpet that needs vacuuming.  In fact, as I write this, I hear the washing machine kicking into the rinse cycle.  But, I always try to make time to do something that I want to do in the kitchen – something that isn’t my everyday stuff.  It could be trying a new dessert or bread recipe or taking advantage of whatever is in season at my favorite green grocer.  Whatever, it’s nice just to be able to spend some time do something a little different from the everyday – and at a leisurely pace.

This year, I decided to jump into jams anding charge headlong into chutneys – they’re something that I absolutely love to eat, and, frankly, they are ludicrously easy to make.  As we go through the growing season in 2011, I’ll post jam and chutney recipes so that you can make the most of whatever is either growing in your garden or fresh at the farmers’ market!

In the meantime, here is a great, hearty chutney from Pam Corbin — perfect for settling down with a cheese sammich and chips.

English Ale Chutney

  • 1 lb onions, diced
  • 1/2 lb rutabaga, small dice
  • 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and small dice
  • 1/2 lb apples, peeled, cored and small dice
  • 1/3 lb cauliflower, just the tiny florets
  • 2-3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 lb dates, pitted and diced
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups demerera sugar
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 heaping Tbsp English mustard powder
  • 2 heaping tsp ground ginger
  • 1 heaping tsp mace
  • 1 heaping tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups ale or stout (NOT lager)

Put all of the ingredients except the ale or stout in a large pot and add 2 cups of water.  Bring to a rapid boil, then lower to a simmer, cooking for a good 90 minutes.  Add half the ale and cook for another hour.  Add the other half and cook for a final hour.  It should be reddish-brown and thick and the vegetables should still hold their shape but be tender.  Spoon into sterilized jars and make sure there are no air pockets.  Let sit for 3-6 weeks.

it's just begging for some strong cheddar and crusty bread

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

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