At this time of year my mind turns to Christmas and the things I should start making now so they have time to mature, like Christmas cake (which, of course, has to have brandy drip-fed into it for at least six weeks) and, for little presents, chutney. This fantastic chutney recipe comes from a book of my mother’s titled Preserving, published in 1971 as part of the Cordon Bleu series. It has been made for decades by my granny, my mother and now me, and is delicious with cold meats and hard cheeses.
(My mother has some fantastic cookbooks, incidentally, including the Supercook books which were serialised in the early 1970s. Collected religiously over a number of years, they formed an impressive encyclopedia that takes up about a metre of shelf space in the larder at my parents’ house. It is constantly referred to for certain recipes like chili con carne and Brunswick stew which were firm favourites of mine growing up and are always top of my request list when I’m visiting home now.)
A word about apples: In the UK you can get Bramley apples, otherwise known as cooking apples. The thing about a cooking apple is its high acidity and low sugar content which mean when cooked it a) breaks down to a mush and b) retains its flavour. In Australia it seems you can’t get Bramleys and the alterative suggested is Granny Smiths. They’re not the same at all (if you tried to eat a Bramley you would wince quite a lot!) but it’s the best we can do, I’m afraid. If anyone happens to know where you can get Bramley apples in Sydney, please leave a comment below!
The recipe begins in rather startling fashion with ’36 large apples’! When I made this last weekend it became quickly apparent that I was only going to fit half that in even my biggest saucepan, so I halved all the quantities of ingredients which yielded nine jars of chutney, and I’ll make the other half this weekend. (I do have a 15L stockpot but it’s cheap and nasty with a very thin base and the last time I made this chutney in it it stuck to the bottom and burned. When I realised and mistakenly stirred like crazy to dislodge the burned layer – only serving to distribute it throughout the pan – the chutney tasted like a used ashtray and I had to ditch the entire batch. Time to chuck out that pan and get a good one.)
So, I’ll quote the halved quantities here for which you’ll need a pan at least eight litres in size with a good thick base. Peel, core and slice 18 Granny Smith apples. The quickest way to core them is to simply chop around the core from north to south pole in four cuts making a square. Chuck the cores or give them to your worms/compost container/pet rabbits.
Cut the pieces of apple into slices about 5mm (1/4 inch) wide and put them into your pan. Add to that ¾lb of sultanas, 1½lb of demerera sugar, 2oz of yellow mustard seeds, one sliced fresh chili, half a rounded dessert spoon of turmeric, 1oz of ground ginger, ¾lb of thinly sliced Spanish onions, three cloves of garlic crushed with salt, and one pint of malt vinegar. Mix well with a big wooden spoon (it helps to lever the spoon against the edge of the pan) and put on a medium to high heat. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring regularly to give everything a chance to get near the heat at the bottom. It will feel at the beginning as though you’ve got very little liquid in there, but as the apple starts to soften it gives up its juice and you’ll get something that looks a little like this:
Now it’s just a case of simmering it gently, stirring occasionally, for an hour and a half to two hours, or until it turns to a brown pulply mass like this (I might have gone an extra half hour, I think):
Meanwhile, sterilise your jars to prevent mould and bacteria forming. First set your oven to 150°C. If, like me, you’ve been hoarding empty jars, get them out, pick the prettiest looking shapes and give them a good wash, along with their lids (don’t use ones with plastic lids), in hot soapy water, rinsing well to get the suds off. This is also a good time to soak them for a bit and scrape the labels off so that you can decorate with your own labels later. Put the jars and lids in a big roasting tin and dry thoroughly in the oven for about 20 minutes.
When your chutney is ready, allow it to cool for five minutes (just so it’s no longer at boiling point) and fill your jars while they’re still hot out of the oven. I found it helpful to fill a jug with a ladle and then pour (or gloop!) the chutney into the jars, helping it with a wooden spoon. Put the lids on straight away and secure tightly, creating a good seal. Put the jars away in a cool, dark place (they don’t need to go in the fridge until opened) and leave for at least a month, in my humble opinion, before eating… if you can bear to wait that long!