Getting In A Pickle – gorgeous spiced plum chutney

Accidents in the kitchen always seem to happen when everything’s just at that critical point… and any cook worth their salt, when scalded by a volcanic eruption of boiling sugar and vinegar, is likely to think ‘never mind my arm, have to save the chutney!’

So it was Thursday evening.  The chutney is fine, incidentally, thank you for asking!

Red plumsAs well as bringing some beautiful French apricots back from their holidays, my lovely in-laws also arrived with a couple of kilos of fabulous red plums.  This put me in a real quandary, let me tell you.  Plum jam is one of my favourite things in the whole world.  But then this spiced plum chutney (originally Delia’s, credit where credit’s due!) is my very very favourite chutney.  It has a lovely fruity character topped with just a subtle hint of Christmas spices, and is wonderful with a lovely sharp mature cheddar, or a slice of home-cooked ham.

What eventually made my mind up was my jam jar situation.  I’ve done a lot of preserving in the last few weeks – it is that time of year after all! – and the jars I have left are a motley bunch.  Quite a lot of them have held things like sauces, curry pastes, and even pickles and chutneys.  The sorts of aromas that ‘hang around’ jars and lids, despite your best cleaning and sterilisation efforts.  It’s not really the flavour sensation you want with your breakfast jam!

This chutney is full of big flavours, and will swamp any faint ‘eau de korma’ residue it might have to deal with!

My well thumbed 'bible'The recipe is somewhat modified from the one in my very well thumbed copy of the Delia Smith ‘Complete Cookery Course’, reprinted from the 1982 edition.  Conveniently, it’s also available at ‘Delia Online’, here.  I’m not going to duplicate the recipe, since it’s freely available for you to read, but I changed the quantities and slightly modified some of the ingredients to suit my 2kg batch of plums, and what I had in the cupboard.

This is a BIG batch of chutney, producing 9 jars about 1lb in size, and a further eight small kilner-type jars, plus a bit extra which wasn’t quite a full pound jar.  I estimate in total it makes about 12lb, or 6kg.  It needs a very big pan – my large stock pot was over half filled, before reducing, and has a capacity of about 15l.  Unless you’re planning on eating an awful lot of chutney, giving lots of it away, or selling it (I think it would go really well at a farmer’s market!) I’d probably suggest scaling these quantities down to half or even a third (Delia’s original quantities are for 1.3kg of plums, which is still a very big batch).

I used the following –

  • 2kg of dark red / purple plums.  The tart / acid ‘cooking’ sort are probably better than sweet eating plums for this recipe.
  • Four smallish Bramley apples, totalling about 800g in weight.
  • 5 large-ish onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 3 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • 750g of seedless raisins
  • 750g each of soft brown and demerera sugar
  • 3 pints of malt vinegar (excuse the switch to imperial measures – this is about 1.7 litres, malt vinegar comes in pint-bottles in these parts, so it’s a measure of convenience).
  • 3 desert spoons of salt
  • a large cinnamon stick, 15g of whole allspice berries, and 20g of mixed peppercorns (the mix was about 1/3rd allspice berries, oddly), and a tablespoon of whole cloves, all tied up in a muslin parcel.
  • A giant stock-pot, food processor, and enough jam jars to contain your chutney (lots, and lots, of jam jars!), which should have plastic-lined lids to help resist the vinegar.

Whole spices with muslin

First wash, then stone and quarter all your plums. I find the quickest way to do this is to first slice along the line of the plum, down the visible ‘seam’, and divide the plum in two. The stone will cling to one of the halves, and especially with the smaller firm-textured cooking plums, won’t want to come out easily.

Stoning plums - 1   Stoning plums - 2   Stoning plums - 3

Take this half, and slice in half again, across the sort axis of the stone this time. The stone will now be sticking conveniently out of one of your quarters, and can easily be pushed free.  Cut your other half into quarters, too, and you’re done.  Incidentally, stoning plums can stain your fingers and fingernails a rather attractive nicotine brown colour, I think as a result of the tannins, so if you care about this, consider wearing gloves!

Chopped apple in food processorThe recipe calls for minced onion and apple.  I put mine through my food processor in batches, but left some nice texture in both.  The first time I made this recipe I didn’t have a decent food processor and diced all the apples and onions very finely by hand.  It works, but I can’t say I can recommend it!

Mixed ingredients in panAfter your fresh ingredient preparation, it’s very simple really.   Add all the other fresh, dry, and liquid ingredients, and toss in your spice bundle (Delia recommends tying your bundle of spices to the pan handle, but I really can’t see any benefit to this!).  Bring everything to a simmer, stirring to mix as it all comes up to temperature.  Your kitchen will smell rather like Christmas-gone-wrong about now – festive spices mixed inexplicably with onion and vinegar.

Cooking away nicelyThen let it bubble, stirring occasionally, for about three hours (my mixture was about six inches deep in my very big stock pot – a wider pan, or a smaller batch, which would allow the mix to sit in a shallower layer will reduce noticeably faster) until the mixture is reduced, glutinous, and the vinegar mixture has thickened so that it doesn’t immediately flow back into a channel cleared with a spoon.  I had to ladle out a couple of spoon-fulls into a bowl to check this.

As it starts to reach this stage, it will tend to ‘glob’ with really big bubbles, particularly when stirred, so learn from my experience and take care to protect your hands and arms from scalding!  This is the point that it’s at risk of sticking and burning, too, so keep stirring when you think you’re getting close.  Once it’s ready, fish out the spice bag, and bottle straight away into your hot sterilised jars.

Bottled chutney

It will be at it’s best if you allow it to mature for at least three months before eating – just in time for Christmas, then! – though I had some of the ‘extra’ today with some bread and cheese, and it’s already very good!  It will keep very well, too – I’ve eaten this chutney after at least four years’ storage.

Now, I wonder if I can get hold of some more plums to make some jam, too …

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7 thoughts on “Getting In A Pickle – gorgeous spiced plum chutney

  1. Pingback: Pressing The Flesh – home-made coarse farmhouse pate – Blog Advent (23) | Country Skills for Modern Life

  2. Pingback: Very Cheesy – baked camembert with garlic and thyme | Country Skills for Modern Life

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