Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Cooking with Apples: Chunky Sweet Apple and Plum Chutney

The further adventures of the non-perfect apples from the trees in our and our neighbour's gardens.

This was the day after the applesauce which was the topic of my last blog. This is the first time I've ever tried making chutney myself and I'm very curious how it'll come out, but I won't find out until Christmas!

I adapted this from several different recipes I found online and got some advice from my sister who's been making chutney for years. I changed a few things based on stuff I like (plums, cinnamon, cumin), stuff I don't like (star anise), stuff I had a lot of in the larder (onions, prunes) and stuff I didn't have and forgot to buy (raisins/sultanas).

4kg apples
1kg ripe plums (3 different types)
500g prunes
1.5kg onions
350ml cider vinegar
350ml white wine vinegar
500g muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pickling spices
1 tablesoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 sticks cinnamon (which had been used in the applesauce the night before and reserved after cooking)

And in a separate photo because I forgot to pull them out of the fridge when I took the above:
juice and grated rind of two lemons


First, a trick I picked up from somewhere: when using unpitted prunes (i.e. with the stones intact): refresh them by simmering them for a short while in whatever liquid you'll be using, and then the stones will come out a lot more easily.

So I halved about half of my plums and added them to a saucepan with the prunes and the white wine vinegar to cook for a few minutes

In the meantime, wash, clean, core and roughly chop the apples (I didn't peel them, the skins add texture and flavour) and finely chop the onions (I suspect I didn't chop the onions finely enough):

Put the apples and onions into a large thick-bottomed pot with the cider vinegar and start to cook on a high heat

In the time it takes to boil, remove the stones from the prunes

Pit and roughly chop the remaining plums, and add them, the prunes (with their vinegar) and all remaining ingredients to the apples and onions:

I think I should have left the apples and onions to cook and soften a little more before adding the sugar (as learned when making goooseberry jam a couple of months ago, the fruit isn't going to disintegrate a lot more once the sugar is added) . I therefore helped the apples to soften while I stirred (I wanted a fairly chunky consistency anyway so I'm not complaining).

As pointed out when making the applesauce, the cooking pot should never be more than about two-thirds full, and this was pretty much brimming over, so I poured part of the contents into a second pan until it reduced enough to be re-integrated:

Leave simmering on a very low heat, uncovered, stirring very often with a wooden spoon. Beware: this is VERY hot and VERY thick and when it bubbles, it spits like molten tar, so make sure your hands and arms are covered when stirring!

There will come a point about an hour later (it might take longer), when the contents quite suddenly start caramelising and turn dramatically darker.

(The greyness is just steam coming off the chutney, this indicates how hot it is, considering the stove is barely burning.)

Leave to cook for another half hour after that point, stirring frequently all the way to the bottom, to stop the contents sticking to the pan.

I did it by feel, but apparently the way to know the chutney is done is if you run the spoon across the deepest contents of the pan to leave a trail, it doesn't immediately spill over (of course I couldn't see the bottom of the pan)!

While it's cooking, prepare and clean jars and lids (this is a 7-litre pot so I prepared jars for seven litres) - see the gooseberry jam blog for instructions. The one difference here is that because this recipe includes vinegar and onions, there's a lot of acid around so you'll need vinegar-proof seals or inlays to prevent the lids rusting to pieces before the chutney gets a chance to mature!

Empty the chutney into the clean jars, insert a piece of vinegar-proof sheeting, and tighten the lids. In the absence of a proper jamming boiling bath, half-fill the deepest metal saucepans you have with clean boiling water, fully immerse the filled jars and boil on a high heat for five minutes (you'll note that most of my jars are too tall and aren't fully immersed). If using modern jar lids (I have no proper preserving jar lids, these are just from various jarred products we buy) you'll hear the little lid buttons click one by one as the pressure inside the jars drops to seal the contents.

Use jarring tongs (one of my many nicknames at school was asbestos-hands for a reason) take the EXTREMELY HOT jars out of the pans of water and set aside to cool.

The next day they'll be cold, so trim the vinegar-proof sheets, label with contents and date.

Put into a a cool dark place for three months to mature and then enjoy. Don't even think about eating sooner! In theory, if made properly and properly sealed, this chutney should be perfectly safe for a couple of years at least. (My sister's chutney made in a similar way has been known to last three years - not that it usually lasts that long without being eaten.)

I made this batch on 23rd September, in full knowedge that it'll be Christmas in three months, and what we don't eat will be given away as gifts. Clever me!

I have six large jars and three smaller ones, and all it cost me apart from gas and stock ingredients, was the sugar (about 70p), the vinegar (about £1.30) and the prunes (£1.60, though they came from our larder where they'd sat for six months), so all inclusive that's about 50p a HUGE jar. You'd be lucky to get chutney like this for less than £2.50 a SMALL jar.

Monday, 27 September 2010

New food blog/recipe/idea: Applesauce

I've been tweeting about the glut of apples from our tree and that of our neighbours this autumn (their house has been empty for the last 8 months and I had permission to help myself), and this is one of the things I did with them: Apple sauce. There'll be another blog along shortly regarding apple and plum chutney.

I had a previous applesauce session using about 4kg of windfalls from our tree which involved loganberries and not a lot of sugar and I think I learned a couple of lessons.

Note: Our tree is a child of the one next door. It grew from a windfall about 15 years ago and was nurtured by my dad, and transplanted about 10 feet to be out of its parent's shade. The apples are something like a cross between a Cox's Pippin and a Braeburn. The flesh is very white and very juicy, but really quite tart and barely edible raw. (Certainly eating more than one a day is guaranteed tummy upset, or worse!)

The word "recipe" for this apple sauce really is overstating the case!

1. Core, peel and roughly chop up 4KG raw apples (I left the peels on about half of them to add more textrue to the sauce) and put in large heavy-bottomed cooking pot.

2. Add about a cupful of water (these apples are very juicy and the water's only there to stop sticking/burning during the early cooking), 500g of sugar (I used about half that in my previous batch and it wasn't enough) - I'd've preferred all brown but I only had a little so I made it up with white - and a few cinnamon sticks to taste (in my case, 1 large stick per kilo of apples plus another couple). Note that my large cooking pot was too small to start with so I had some cooking in a second smaller pot. When cooking this kind of thing, NEVER fill the pot more than 2/3 to 3/4 full because the sauce is going to spit and bubble while stirring!

3. Turn on heat and as soon as it starts to boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened (about 15 minutes). (About halfway through, the volume had reduced enough to pour the contents of the smaller pan into the large one)

4. Leave to cool, remove cinnamon sticks and pour into plastic containers with lids. Freeze. It should keep for up to 3 months in a domestic freezer. Use for cakes, desserts or whatever takes your fancy! My 4kg of raw apples yielded 2x 1litre ice-cream containers plus 1.2litre ready-made soup containers (880ml + 4ooml).