chutney challenge

By Jenny Costa

If you have never made chutney before, I’d love to challenge you to!

Making chutney is an amazingly satisfying process: from finding the best recipe, sourcing the ingredients and mixing them all together to labelling the jars, lining them up, and dolloping a spoonful on a cracker. Chutney can spice up the most lacklustre of sandwiches, salads or leftovers 

There are hundreds of combinations of ingredients for chutney – most have a fruit base but many non-sweet vegetables can be used too. The basic composition of any chutney is fruit/veg, spices, sugar and vinegar and then it’s as simple as chopping them all up and throwing everything in a pot.

Chutneys come under the heading of ‘preserve’ which seems like quite an austere, old-fashioned word, but they are actually really straightforward and fun to make. Images of enormous vats bubbling away can be a little daunting but it can be as simple as ‘I have some apples, a bit of spice, tomatoes and onions lying around, let’s make chutney!

The great thing about chutney is that there is endless potential for experimentation. Once you have the basic concept you can experiment with all sorts of ingredients- bananas, mangos, apples, nectarines, apricots, tomatoes, rhubarb, dried fruits or a combination of all of them! You can use almost any fruit or vegetable, and different combinations of spices.

Autumn is the traditional time, at the end of the harvest, while people stocked up for the winter months ahead, to make preserves that would keep food interesting. Therefore many chutney recipes are based on autumnal fruit and veg – a quick google will give you an idea to get going on some and creating your own in no time.

So before you get going, here are some really basic golden rules that I would advise you stick to:

  1.  Chop veg roughly the same size so that everything cooks at the same time. If you shred your fruit and veg too fine, you’ll end up with spicy puree; but too chunky and you’ll end up with half an onion falling out of your cheese and pickle sandwich. Daintily chopped vegetables can transform a good chutney into a brilliant one.
  2. The ratio of fruit/vegetables to vinegar and sugar will vary depending on the sweetness and acidity of the fruit and vegetables. So sweet vegetables, such as carrots, or fruit, such as dates, you will need less sugar. Acidic tomatoes (probably not at this time of year) you can hold back on the vinegar. As a very basic ratio 3kg vegetables/fruit to 1 litre vinegar and 500g sugar, then adjust for taste. Fruit, vinegar; sugar 1:1/3:1/6
  3. Sterilise jars by running them through a dishwasher cycle, or washing them with hot soapy water and placing in an oven at 100C for 10-15 mins.
  4. Chutneys are best left to mature for a couple of months before eating because the acids from the vinegar soften and the fruit flavours have time to meld and become more complex.
  5. Fill with the warm chutney, pressing down well. Half screw on the lids until the jars are cool: then it is OK to tighten.

Many recipes state a time but this can vary hugely depending on the fruits ripeness and the fruit or veg you are working with. A good way of knowing when its a good consistency, is to pull a spoon through your chutney and it should leave a line behind it.