Chutney is a wonderful invention that ticks all possible boxes. It’s a gratifyingly easy rainy day activity in the kitchen that allows you to process large quantities of excess fresh fruit and vegetables. The end result as delicious as it is culinarily versatile – what’s not to like?
Originally from India (chatni in Hindi), making chutney is a convenient way to preserve fruit and vegetables. In fact, once made, the longer you keep your chutney before opening, the better the taste that will have developed. Three months’ maturing is the minimum recommended time.
Making your own chutney is really not at all difficult. Of course, a patient and practiced grandma at home is the gold standard when it comes to the being taught the ancient art of chutney making. But if that’s not possible, check out some of these cookery classes and workshops to give you the basic skills.
When it comes to making chutney, the possibilities are limitless. Choose whichever fruit and veg you like most, or from a harvest glut; chutneys are the perfect way to use up end-of-season produce. Windfall apples, green tomatoes, seemingly never ending courgettes or the last of the rhubarb can all be turned into delicious chutney, customised with your choice of dried fruit, onion, garlic, ginger or spices for extra flavour.
Chutneys can be sweet or sour, hot or mild, and made from fruits or vegetables or both. What’s more, because everything is going to be chopped up and cooked to a smooth pulp, there’s no need to be fussy about the appearance or quality of the produce you use. Misshapen fruit or vegetables are not a problem.
Making chutney is like making savory jam, except it’s easier as you don’t have to wait for it the mixture to set. You will need:
- A large saucepan – stainless steel or enamel pans are best as they don’t react with the acidic vinegars which may impart a metallic taste to the end product. Aluminium, copper or cast iron pans are not recommended.
- A large wooden spoon for stirring the pan, plus a small but long handled ladle for filling the jars
- A chopping board, a large stainless steel vegetable knife and a nylon or stainless steel sieve
- Muslin or cotton squares and some string
- Preserving jars – Choose large or small ones as desired. You can use old jam jars as long as they’re not chipped or cracked in any way. Check the lids to make sure they’re not metal inside (most have a plastic coating which is fine). Alternatively, you can buy Kilner style preserving jars with glass lids and rubber seals.
- Wax discs for sealing your chutney in the jar – these are available in different sizes to suit small/large jars.
- Jar top covers for decoration, and labels are also a good idea
Apart from the produce you’re going to ‘chutnify’, there are three key ingredients you will always need:
Vinegar is essential for the preserving process. Use good quality vinegar with an acetic acid content of at least 5%. Malt, distilled malt (white) or white/red wine vinegar is commonly used but you can experiment with cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar or other types too.
Sugar is also key to the preservation process. Choose regular (white) granulated or any brown sugar as desired. Brown sugar gives a darker colour and more molasses rich taste to the finished chutney.
Spices – there’s such a wide variety of flavours you can use to ‘spice’ up your chutney, it’s exciting to try out new flavour combinations. Cinnamon and nutmeg, ginger and star anise, mustard seeds and chilli flakes, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, garlic, vanilla, cayenne pepper… Whole spices can look nicer than the ground variety – and are also easier to remove before decanting the chutney into jars.
The basic process
There are recipes aplenty in recipe books and all the internet, from Jamie Oliver’s 6 trusty chutney recipes to Mary Berry’s Christmas Chutney and everything in between. However, the basic process is common to them all:
- Wash and cut your chosen fruit/vegetables into evenly sized small-ish chunks, discarding any blemishes, stones or pips.
- Place the produce in a large pan with the sugar, vinegar and spices, as per recipe, and cook down gently until the sugar has dissolved, stirring often.
- Bring to a boil, then simmer the mixture until the consistency is thick and syrupy. This can take 1-2 hours or more. Check periodically and stir. When you can run a wooden spoon through the chutney so that it leaves a channel on the bottom of the pan for 1-2 seconds, it’s ready.
- Have your just sterilised, hot jars ready. Sterilisation is essential for the chutney to keep unspoilt. The easiest way to sterilise your jars (and lids) is to wash them in hot soapy water, then place them upside down in a pre-heated oven (150C / 302F / Gas Mark 2) for 15 minutes.
- Ladle the hot chutney into hot, just sterilised jars and place a wax disc on top of each and loosely place the lid on top. Put aside and when completely cool, screw the lid on tight. Alternatively, use Kilner jars.
Mike James is a UK-based independent writer, aspiring chef and a big fan of homemade recipes. Published in numerous online and print publications, Mike specializes in business technologies for work… and tasty food for fun. Particularly, cheese. Loves the cheese.