GARDENINGEVERYONE these days likes to 'eat the seasons’ — the seasonality of fresh food being a byword for healthy living — but sometimes for us gardeners the late summer delivers an enormous over-abundance of produce.
Jams, chutneys and preserves of all kinds let us prolong the seasonality of the late summer bounty, converting it to wholesome, colourful jars that will cheer up the colder months, perking up winter salads, cold meats and smoked fish.
Attractively labelled and presented, preserves also make perfect Christmas presents.
Chutneys are my favourite way of using up spare vegetables and for those without a garden, they are easy to make with ingredients that are cheap to source from farm shops and supermarkets at this time of year.
A world of unexpected discoveries, triumphant tasting and simple joys then awaits.
Chutney recipes are straightforward (with no tricky jam 'setting’ to navigate) — all that is required is some simple equipment and a leisurely afternoon in which to prepare the ingredients.
Chutneys, first introduced into western kitchens from India in the 19th century, were originally part of the 'waste not, want not’ ideal, and seen as a vital way of preserving food that would otherwise spoil.
These chunky spiced condiments, preserved in their cooking using sugar and vinegar, were often given interest and piquancy with Oriental spices.
The key ingredients for chutneys, in addition to the basic vegetables and fruit, are vinegar, sugar, spice and salt.
Although there is some flexibility in deciding which combination of vegetables and fruit to use, the vinegar and sugar act as preservatives to prevent the chutney spoiling in storage, so the proportions of these and their relationship to the vegetables should remain constant.
The spicing of preserves is where creativity and personal preference come into play. There is great scope for experimenting with different combinations of spices, and for adding heat with peppers and chillies.
Spices are always best freshly ground to lend their full aroma to the mix.
Essential equipment for a batch of chutney will be a large, broad preserving pan, preferably stainless steel, a wooden spoon with a long handle (helps to avoid burns from splashes), a selection of jars with suitable lids, plus a funnel and ladle for filling the jars.
Sterilising the glass jars and lids is a vital step to ensure that the batch of chutney remains safe and uncontaminated, as any bacteria present in the jar has the potential to multiply and become a health hazard.
There are two usual ways to sterilise jars, either wash them in a dishwasher on the hottest cycle, making sure they are completely dry afterwards, or alternatively place clean jars in a low temperature oven around 110C to 120C for at least 20 minutes.
One of my recent successes is the exotically titled Silk Road Chutney, named after the ancient trading route that brought fabulous silk fabrics and spices from East to West.
This chutney has a distinctly Moroccan feel with apricots, almonds and aubergines in the recipe, blended together with the wonderful aromatic spice mix, ras-el-hanout.
The finished result has a glowingly rich colour, subtle flavours and is very difficult to keep for a month without sampling.
The period of maturation in the jar, of at least a month, where all the flavours mellow together is the ideal minimum — in fact, well-made and sealed chutneys will keep for months or years in a dark, cool cupboard, getting better over time.