When Merrydown ask me to come up with ways of incorporating their cider into a traditional ploughman’s lunch I think, how hard can it be? But then I read down the email, which says they want me to make my own chutney.
Problem: I have never made chutney before, so this is going to be a learning curve. I think I know where to start though. My grandma included a number of chutney recipes in the handwritten cookbook I inherited, so, trusting her, I retrieve the book from the freezer – put there to destroy paper mites that were feasting on it – and read the relevant entries. Here I hit upon another issue: all my grandma’s chutneys are made with green tomatoes. I’ll have a job getting hold of green tomatoes in April, so I’m left with just one potential: an appealingly named quick pickle. It’s not chutney, but I can rationalise making it because a good ploughman’s lunch isn’t complete without a pickled onion.
My grandma’s pickle is super simple: just pack jars full of sliced onion and sour apple, cover with a salty ‘spiced vinegar’ (no further detail given), seal, and leave for two weeks. To speed up the pickling process, the recipe says you can heat the vinegar to boiling point and pour it over hot so the pickles will be ready to eat when cool. Having done a bit of reading, I decide not to risk diluting the vinegar with Merrydown, I do however choose to invent my own spiced vinegar rather than settle for Sarson’s. It’s here that I hit upon the biggest problem of all.
I heat up white vinegar with a selection of toasted whole spices: exotic peppercorns from Peppermongers, coriander seed, fennel, cardamom pods and allspice berries. I add ginger slices and garlic and salt and cinnamon. The aroma is fantastic. I pour the seasoned vinegar over a jar packed with sliced apple and shallots and admire my creation: it looks and smells perfect.
When the pickle is cool, I retrieve a slice of crisp apple from the top of the jar and put it in my mouth. It’s at this point I wish I had a friend present. The pickle is so overpoweringly salty I can feel my mouth purse as I chew. The quantity of Javanese cubeb peppercorns is so out of proportion, the other spices are like a trio of toddlers at a WWF wrestling match. The one big feat I have achieved here is eliminating all perceptible flavour of apple and shallot from my apple and shallot pickle. It’s back to the chopping board.
I open the free recipe book I was sent with my Merrydown hamper. To be honest, I have treated branded recipe books with contempt ever since I received a book featuring 100 ‘heavenly’ ways with cream cheese. Still; my inexperience, coupled with the speed necessitated by the rapidly spoiling fruit leftover from my pickle experiment, and the fact Ade Edmonson has contributed, has given me enough cause to use the Merrydown Recipe Book spiced fruit chutney as my guide.
Working quickly, I chuck as many apples and plums as I have to hand in a large stainless steel saucepan. I add dried fruit, brown sugar, Merrydown cider and white vinegar. I conservatively triple the quantity of spices listed in the recipe and go light on the salt. I simmer my chutney for a good two and a half hours, watching it thicken and settle to a glossy burnt umber, then I ladle it into sterilised jars. The process really couldn’t have been easier.
The next day, I serve my chutney with hunks of bread, mature cheddar and Stilton cheese. The consistency is dead on, the spicing not frightening. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the nicest sandwich chutneys I’ve tried, plus it’s a lot cheaper than anything you buy at the supermarket. Thanks Merrydown, for galvanising me to pop my chutney cherry, and for providing a good few bottles of refreshing cider with which to wash down my salty pickle.
Merrydown cider chutney
Merrydown cider chutney
450g shallots, peeled and quartered lengthways
5 plums, cut into cubes
2 Bramley apples, cut into cubes
5 Braeburn or cox apples, cut into cubes
150g dates, roughly chopped
250ml Merrydown cider
400ml white vinegar
450g soft brown sugar
1 tsp mustard powder
2 whole dried chillies
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tbsp Maldon salt
6 x 370g jam jars with lids
Put all the ingredients in a large stainless steel saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for about 2.5 hours, or until the chutney is dark and thickened. Transfer to sterilised jars, cover with wax paper disks and seal while hot.
What did I learn?
What did I learn?
• My anxiety about chutney-making was unfounded.
• As with bread-making, good preserving depends on few ingredients but they must be good quality.
• When adapting chutney recipes, pay close attention to the ratio of salt, sugar and vinegar, these are preservatives and altering their quantities can reduce shelf life.
• The vinegar you use affects the flavour of the end product. Using a neutral vinegar like distilled malt is cheap, it also allows the flavour of the spices and fruits that you choose to come through.
• Sterilise jars in the oven for a minimum of 15 minutes at 150°C and lids in boiling water or Milton solution. Importantly, fill and seal jars while hot.
• Top chutney with wax paper to reduce chance of bacteria colonising the surface.
Disclosure: This post was written in association with Merrydown cider who provided me with a sample pack of their product and financial compensation for ingredients used.