Saturday, 24 September 2011

A journey of discovery - Classic Apple Date & Walnut Chutney

I've never been a fussy eater, and my family will testify to the fact that as a child I would always greedily finish every scrap of whatever was put on the plate in front of me.  And then ask for seconds.  But there are just a very few exceptions to this - I have always had a dislike and a completely irrational fear of 3 things:  baked beans, tomato ketchup and chutney. Especially chutney.  I had never actually tried it, but just looking at a jar of something worryingly brown and alien with little cubes of unidentified vegetables that's neither liquid or solid and both sweet and pungently vinegary freaked me out so much that I was scared to have any where near my plate. 

But a few years ago this all changed.  Melissa and I had our very first vegetable patch, and that September we were overrun with so many delicious homegrown courgettes and green tomatoes we didn't know what to do with them.  Not wanting to waste our lovely produce we'd spent so long nurturing, I reluctantly had a stab at the Courgette and Tomato Glutney recipe in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook.  This may just have been one of those rare occasions where I was wrong.  (Yes Melissa - you now have that in writing for all to see!)  Of course using our homegrown vegetables made it extra special, but this recipe was really good and I was converted. We gave jars away as Christmas presents and have done the same every year since.

For a while I thought we only ever needed this recipe - it wasn't too sweet or too acidic, just a really good balance of lovely flavours.  And to be honest, I was still a bit scared to try another recipe, in case my irrational fear came back.  But last year I discovered a fantastic recipe for Apple Date and Walnut Chutney.  And it might just go one better than the River Cottage recipe - sorry Hugh!

With 3 carrier bags of apples from my dad's garden in need of preserving I thought this would be the perfect chutney to add to our collection for the next Brighton Bakery stall (at The Lantern Fayre on The Level on 8th October - more details soon!).   For those of you that can't make it down to Brighton to buy a jar, I thought I would share my recipe, inspired by this one by West Ealing Abundance.

Oh and be warned - the peeling and chopping does take ages (as with all chutneys) so make sure you have several hours free and plenty of patience to make this, I promise you won't be disappointed with the result.  This recipe can always be halved if you'd prefer less chopping!


My Classic Apple Date & Walnut Chutney Recipe
Makes 15 x 340g jars

6 large brown onions, chopped
2.4kg cooking apples, peeled, cored & diced (prepared weight)
800g dates, chopped
250g walnuts, chopped
630ml cider vinegar
240ml balsamic vinegar
250g soft brown or demerara sugar
8tsp mustard seeds
8tsp finely grated fresh root ginger
450ml water
a little oil

1. Start by preparing and chopping the apples, onions and dates - these should be chopped fairly small and evenly - you want them all about the same size.
2. Grease a very large maslin pan with a little oil and add the cider and balsamic vinegar, the sugar, mustard seeds, ginger and water.  Stir over a low heat (without boiling) until the sugar dissolves into the liquid.
3.  Add the remaining ingredients (apples, onions, dates and walnuts) and give it a good stir with a long wooden spoon.  Turn the heat up to medium and bring to the boil.  This will take a while as there is lots in the pan - stir it every so often and liquid will start to rise and it will start to bubble.
4. Simmer the mixture very gently, for about an hour and a half, until thick and pulpy, but with the chunks of apple still clearly discernable.  Stir the mixture occasionally, more frequently near the end to ensure it doesn't catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.  You'll know when it's done when no excess liquid remains and you can draw your spoon across the bottom of the pan and reveal the base for a couple of seconds. 
5. Pour into warm, sterilised jars while still hot and cover immediately.  Mature for 2 months to develop the flavours before eating.  The chutney will keep well for a year.

Here's how mine went, step by step:

All the ingredients filled my maslin pan nearly to the brim!
After an hour it has reduced and turn a lovely deep colour
It took 10 attempts to take this picture revealing the bottom of the pan!
Do I really have to wait 2 months to try this? :o(
I hope you try this recipe out, it's a real winner.  I'd love to hear how yours turns out if you do!

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