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In the garden: Chutneys for relishing plus it's not too late to sow

Is there anything tastier than some cold meats or cheese served with some crusty bread and a big dollop of chutney, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Gardener

I AM NOT a great fan of making jams and marmalades – there’s all that “subjectiveness” around the setting point and it all just seems a bit fussy and precise for my liking.

With chutney however, you just chop a load of veggies, bung them on the stove top, add a few spices, some sugar and vinegar, simmer it for a few hours and throw it in jars. It’s slapdash. I like that.

“Chutnyising” your veggies (there, I just made up a new word) allows you to enjoy your produce for months or even years on end. The chutney season will certainly see you through the winter months and beyond the hungry gap months of March and April, right through until the new season crops start to arrive next year. And is there anything tastier than some cold meats or cheese served with some crusty bread and a big dollop of chutney?

Not surprisingly, the veggies that are most generally used for chutneys and pickles (runner and French beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower and courgettes) are the same ones that GIYers tend to have major gluts of. One suspects that’s not an accident.

Indian origins

Chutneys originated in India – in fact, the word “chutney” derives from the Hindu word chatni which means to “ground to a pulp”. Chutneys were popularised during the colonial era in the 18th century, and known in England as “Major Grey’s Chutney”. Not surprisingly the popularity of chutneys then extended to other British colonies such as the Caribbean and South Africa.

Indian chutneys were generally made using uncooked fruit and served fresh – it was the British who adapted the recipes to use them for preserving food (mainly vegetables), by cooking the vegetables or fruit in vinegar and adding sugar. Traditionally, spices were used to add flavour but also to prevent the growth of bad bacteria – mustard and turmeric are popular chutney spices.

Chutneys are generally allowed to sit for a few months so that the flavours can blend and develop – this is no bad thing either, since there is still plenty of fresh produce coming from the veg patch that should be used up first.

So what are our favourite chutneys?

Well, I’ve included a recipe here before for our favourite cucumber pickle which is on the “must make” list every year. I also make a piccalilli using cauliflower, green beans, courgettes and cucumbers. I am the only one that likes it in our house – so there are quite a few jars of it lurking in the back of a press somewhere. I can also highly recommend the Green Tomato Sour recipe below – it is a delicious way to use up the end-of-season tomatoes that won’t ripen up.

Before we finish, let me make one other point. There is unquestionably, quite a deal of work involved in making a chutney. I think if you embrace all the peeling, chopping, slicing or shelling in the right frame of mind, then it can be incredibly satisfying late evening autumn work. And of course, it’s wonderful to stand looking at a row of jars and get that smug sense of satisfaction that you’ve stored your crop for months to come.

The Basics – Autumn Sowing

It’s not too late to sow:

  • BROAD BEANS – autumn sown broad beans are ready a good month before spring-sown and they don’t get black fly. Try variety aquadulce or supersimonia.
  • PEA – Ditto for autumn sown peas – try variety Meteor.
  • SUGARSNAP PEAS – you might be able to get early varieties of sugarsnaps such as Snow Pea Gigante Svizzero – growth will be slow but you will get small pods early next year.
  • GARLIC – plant cloves one inch below the surface.
  • ONIONS, SPRING ONIONS – Autumn sown onions will be harvested earlier than spring-sown. Try varieties Electric, Radar or Shakespeare. Sow some spring onions too. White Lisbon is a good option..
  • SPRING CABBAGE – if you can get your hands on some cabbage plants from your local garden centre, plant them 12 inches apart and earth up the soil around the base of the stem.
  • WINTER LETTUCE – you can still sow some really hardy varieties of winter lettuce – cover with fleece in cold weather. Try Winter Gem.
  • LAMBS LETTUCE – easy to grow and undemanding. It’s not the greatest taste but will bulk out the salad bowl in lean winter months.
  • SPINACH – the beauty of sowing spinach at this time of the year is that it won’t bolt (which is the great blight of growing spinach earlier in the year).
  • ORIENTAL GREENS – get some oriental greens going now and you can enjoy fresh greens all winter – try mizuna, mibuna, komatsuna, texel greens, tatsoi and mustard.

Recipe of the Week – Green Tomato Sour

shutterstock_236475874 Source: Yulia-Bogdanova via Shutterstock

Despite its name, green tomato sour is not at all sour but quite sweet, with an interesting mellow flavour. This recipe from The Conran Cookbook makes 3.6kg / 8 lb of chutney.

Ingredients

  • 2.7kg/ 6 lb green tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 900g/ 2 lb onions, chopped
  • salt
  • 3 green peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 700g/ 1.5 lb soft light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1.2 litres/ 2 pints distilled vinegar

Directions

Layer the tomatoes and onions in a large earthenware bowl, sprinkling each layer with salt. Let them stand overnight. Drain off the liquid, and put the tomatoes and onions in a preserving pan.

Add the green peppers, sugar, spices and vinegar. The vinegar should barely cover the vegetables, so add more or less as necessary. Simmer for 2 hours. Pour the mixture into the earthenware bowl and allow to stand overnight.

The next day simmer the chutney for about half an hour or until there is just enough thickish liquid to cover the vegetables when they are packed together. Ladle the chutney into heated clean, dry jars. Keep for at least 3 weeks before opening.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Gardener

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