I once went to a dinner party at which the person sitting beside me handed me a small bowl full of green tomato chutney. “You’ve got to taste this,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s fantastic.” Modestly, I told her, “yes, I know: I made it.”
I’m sure part of her enthusiasm stemmed from the novelty of the thing: this sort of sweet-and-sour condiment doesn’t figure at all in the Italian cooking cannon. But it’s also because this chutney is fantastic: I’ve given quantities below but they are more or less immaterial. Whatever proportions (within reason) you use, what comes out at the end is invariably wonderful. I can take very little credit for tasty results.
For the quantities given below, you will need an enormous pot. I had such trouble getting it into my eight-litre maslin pan that I had, initially, to ladle out some of the liquid until the whole thing reduced, at which point I put it back in. Huge quantities, however, are worth trying to cope with, I feel. This chutney involves lengthy, very dull, preparation: I prefer to make this amount on one damp afternoon than go back to it several times to make smaller batches. But that’s just me.
I had a little twinge of guilt harvesting the crop for this year’s chutney. Usually I feel generous, giving those very last fruits – clinging to the plants though plunging temperatures mean they don’t have a hope in hell of ever ripening – a raison d’etre. But this year’s unusually wonderful September weather meant collecting green tomatoes knowing that given a few more days they would have turned beautiful red: oh well, I would have been hard pressed to think of anything else to do with them, now that my passata is made and I’ve eaten more fresh tomatoes in the space of a few weeks than most people do in their lives.
The bulk of the ones I picked for chutney were San Marzano. These were the very last I put in the ground, and have been the last to mature. Of course I should be using these plum tomatoes for passata or bottling whole, but they never do particularly well in my garden. They’re the ones most likely to develop blossom-end rot or be attacked by shield bugs. So using them up in chutney before the rot sets in isn’t a bad solution.
Green tomatoes – 5 kg
Onions – 1 kg
Shallots – 500 g
Apples – 1 kg
Garlic – 10 cloves
Sugar – 1 kg
Vinegar – 1 lt
Cardamom, black peppercorns, coriander, cloves – 1 tbsp each
Cinnamon – 1 large stick
Fresh Chilli – 4
Ginger – piece about 8 by 2 cm
Remove the stalk ends from the tomatoes and chop them roughly. (If you have some strong objection to tomato skin, drop the fruits whole into boiling water for a moment, then plunge them into a bowl full of cold water briefly and the skins should be easy to remove. I find that the skins more or less disappear during the cooking process, and therefore never bother with this extra complication.) It’s worth putting the tomatoes in the preserving pan at this point with the vinegar and all the spices (in a muslin spice bag or not, depending on your tastes) and beginning the process of slowly bringing them to a gentle bubble, while you continue with the rest of the long, long chopping process. Add the other ingredients as they are ready.
I like my chutney to have bulk and character, therefore rather than dicing the onions and shallots I simply slice them finely. The ginger should be peeled and minced. I love crunching on stray lumps of ginger, and so tip it straight into the mixture; if you prefer, it can be placed in the spice bag. I peel the garlic and chop it roughly; if you can’t face garlic lumps, mince it finely. And as for the chilli, I use bright red ones (they don’t lose their colour much during the cooking process), remove the seeds, and slice them into thin rounds.
Whatever apples you use – a good, strong-flavoured cooker is best – they will probably have dissolved into a pulp by the time the chutney is ready. So peel them and chop them to any size you have the patience for at this point in the proceedings.
When it’s all bubbling gently, pour in the sugar, stirring as you do so to ensure that none of it sticks anywhere.
At this point you’ll need a book to read, or some pressing work which can be done in the kitchen, because the chutney must now bubble away uncovered (I have a wire mesh top which I put on to stop it spitting) for anything up to three hours, until it becomes a dense, dark-amber, fragrant mess. It doesn’t need quite as much stirring or hawk-like watching out for burnt-on sugar as a jam. But that doesn’t mean you can take your eye off the ball completely: your sultanas could catch on the bottom, for example, and you’ll need to be on hand to make sure that the bubbling is proceeding smoothly. When stirring, be careful as you move the thicker mass towards the bottom of the pan: you could unleash great splashes of scalding chutney, so wear an oven glove to protect yourself.
Chutney doesn’t technically need to reach gelling point. It just needs to be fruit and vegetable pieces in a thick syrup which doesn’t run about the place when a blob is put on a saucer. Put it into sterilised jars, put lids on tightly, label and store for at least a month before eating it.
© Anne Hanley, 2011