From 1990-1997, James and I lived in a small town in England. We rented a beautiful old house which, in the way of English country houses, was known by its name rather than a street number. How it used to puzzle our friends here in the USA when we gave them our address simply as “Stokes House, Ham Street”! The house had a wonderful walled garden filled with fruit trees. There were cherries, two or three types of plums, apples, pears and even mulberries. Much more than James and I and three small girls could eat!
It is common for people to give British cuisine a bad rap and, while I would be the first to admit that a Marmite Sandwich might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are some things they do very well. One of which is preserving the bountiful harvest the countryside produces. No English country “fete” (fair) is complete without tables of jams, pickles and chutneys for sale.
One of the things I love about Asheville, North Carolina is its close connection to food and fresh produce, and cooking for the Carolina Bed & Breakfast gives me reason to indulge in creating my own preserves for our guests’ use. Recently I was at the Farmer’s Market where I was unable to resist a basket of fresh red plums. I used a lot of them making a plum clafouti and decided to turn the rest into plum chutney which we can serve with cheese in the evening (or eat ourselves with poultry. etc)! If you have ever eaten a British Pub Lunch than you have certainly come across a “Ploughman’s Plate”: thick bread, a chunk of either cheddar or stilton cheese and chutney”. It’s a great combination–you can use this chutney for it if you like!
You will need:
3 1/2 lbs washed plums
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
8 oz of seedless raisins
4 oz pitted dates, chopped
1 1/2 lbs dark brown sugar
5 cups malt vinegar
1/2 oz salt
1 oz ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
(Sorry about the weights, this is how I learned to do it. My recipes all come from the U.K.)
Put everything together in a large saucepan,. If you have a deep frying pan, this will do well. You want to expose as much of the surface as possible to aid the reduction. My pan is a special jam-making pan but you don’t need anything so specialized
Heat it gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, then bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it boil, uncovered for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It will look very watery at first
But the plums will break down and it will start to get thick. Towards the end, keep an eye on it so the bottom doesn’t burn.
It’s done when you can draw a wooden spoon across the bottom and it takes a second before the chutney fills back in.
Potting the chutney:
My Method (the Old Fashioned Way):
Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water. Rinse them well and set them in a 275 degree oven for fifteen minutes. When they are good and hot, pour the hot chutney carefully into the jars. Take a circle of wax paper and place it wax side down on the surface of the hot chutney. Screw the lids on loosely. When they “pop” as they cool then you can screw them on securely.
Chutney is a preserved food. Both the sugar and the vinegar inhibit bacterial growth. If you want to be completely sure, you should pot the chutney in clean jars and then process it in a bath of boiling water according to USDA instructions.