Apple and Walnut Chutney

Here in Paddock Wood we are at the heart of Kent apple-growing country. In the Spring I catch myself singing 1940’s songs as I am driving to Tonbridge and realise that once again I have started with ‘I’ll be With You in Apple Blossom Time’, sub-consciously picking up on the blossoming fields alongside.This was one of my Dad’s favourite songs, crooned in full Bing Crosbie style whilst doing the washing up.My parents married on 1 May, presumably aiming for apple blossom time, but it was in Grimsby and apparently it snowed.

Right from the outset I had been planning an apple-based chutney but it took two and a half years before someone suggested the combination of apple and walnut.This instantly appealed and now here it is.Apples provide the strongest note, making this a tangy chutney which goes very well with cheese.The distinctive but mellow walnut taste creeps up on the outside.This would be a really good choice for a ploughman’s lunch, maybe sat outside watching the blossom blowing.

 

Artistic concept image courtesy of bored husband aka the web designer

Christmas Chutney

What is special about a Christmas Chutney?  Having had a quick Google, the consensus seems to be that a Christmas Chutney is like a normal chutney but more so: in the same way that a Christmas pudding is a steamed pudding only more so, and a Christmas dinner is a roast dinner only more so (and presumably a Christmas tree is a pot plant only more so).  At Christmas we do the same sort of things but we stretch them upwards and outwards and put baubles on them.

So, having got that sorted, I decided that my Christmas Chutney needed to be piquant and spicy to get the appetite going after all that roast dinner and pudding, that for very obvious reasons it needed to complement cold meats, and in the spirit of baubles – that it should be pink.

The main ingredient is plums, which provide the pink and the piquancy.  Orange and cranberries provide the Christmassy flavour, and the spiciness comes from mustard seeds, chilli, cinnamon and star anise.  I love star anise actually.  It is a magical sort of spice and even looks like a star so what more could you ask for?  Incidentally, its main use is in the production of flu vaccines and there was a worldwide shortage a few years ago when swine flu was at its height.  There is plenty in the shops at the moment though so that can only be a good thing.

Christmas Chutney (like cream eggs but unlike hot cross buns) will only be available in the run-up to Christmas. 

All I need now is a sunny day to take some photographs… 

Pink Grapefruit Marmalade

I started Ivydene Preserves early in 2015 when instead of my usual 18 jars of Seville Orange Marmalade, I made 72.  I never thought I would sell them but, to my surprise and joy, by the run up to Christmas I was running very low on supplies.  As this was my first product it seemed unthinkable not to have any marmalade at all on the stall and so I decided to experiment.  Using ordinary oranges seemed a bit dull so I decided to try using pink (or ruby) grapefruit.  I continue to be surprised by the popularity of this marmalade!  Maybe because it is something different? 

According to the invaluable Wikipedia, the grapefruit originated in Barbados as a result of cross-pollination.   Until the nineteenth century the grapefruit was known as the ‘shaddock’.  It is called grapefruit because of the way the fruit grow on the tree – resembling a bunch of grapes.  (I’m glad I’ve got that one sorted).  It appears that the pink grapefruit appeared in 1906 and then in 1929 the red grapefruit was patented.  Extensive development of the red grapefruit then took place in Texas.

It should be noted that grapefruit and grapefruit juice have been found to react with many drugs.  I don’t know if the long cooking involved in marmalade making would change this but if on medication it is probably wise to check.

 
 

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Damson Jam

The damson, for the uninitiated, is a small, purple plum.  It is one of the few remaining undomesticated fruits.  In fact the only others I can think of are the sloe, the blackberry (bramble), the elder as in elderflower and elderberry, and possibly the cobnut.   So it is all about locating your damsons and then being there at the right time to pick them.  Unlike the sloe, which seems to be in a state of reasonably-ripeness for some time, the damson is ripe only briefly before it becomes soft and floppy and beloved of wasps. Damson trees apparently make good and hardy windbreak hedges which explains why damsons are often discovered on a country walk.  (Particularly when you haven’t got a carrier bag about your person).  They are close relatives of the sloe, the bullace and the cherry plum. 

According to Wikipedia the name may come from ‘Damascene Plum’ with the suggestion that the damson was cultivated in Syria in ancient times.  There seems to be a great deal of debate about this though as the damson as we know it appears to be a peculiarly British fruit.  It is possible that the Romans caused all the confusion by introducing the sweeter cultivated Damascene plum and then maybe thinking that our astringent little northern cousins were the same thing.  It sounds like the sort of thing that toga-clad loungers might airily declare to be true while the cook in the kitchen shook his head sadly, as he as he added another heaped amphora of honey to his damson jam.

I’ve lifted this straight out of Wikipedia for its local significance:

'Farleigh Damson' (syn. 'Crittenden's Prolific', 'Strood Cluster') is named after the village of East Farleigh in Kent, where it was raised by James Crittenden in the early 19th century. An 1871 letter to the Journal of horticulture and practical gardening claimed that the original seedling had been found by a Mr. Herbert, the tenant of a market garden in Strood,  who had given it to Crittenden.  It has small, roundish, black fruit, with a blue bloom, and is a very heavy bearer. Its heavy cropping led to it being widely planted in England.

So in 2015 I did make damson jam but not very much of it.  It was very popular, however, since then I have made significantly more.  

 

Mango Chutney

I read somewhere that the best place to eat a ripe mango was in the bath. Certainly a ripe mango is a very sticky thing and the stones are likely to fly around the kitchen as they slip from my hands, spreading fragrance and stickiness wherever they land!

I’ve always liked mango chutney and so it seemed obvious to start to make my own. I am aiming to make my chutney light in colour and not too thick, particularly for use in a cheese sandwich. I love the combination of a strong Cheddar cheese and sweet and spicy mango chutney. I don’t use any other fruit or vegetable – just Indian spices and chilli, ginger and garlic.

 
 

Mustard Pickle – ‘Piccalilli’

So, my Dad, hailing from North London, used to call this ‘Mustard Pickle’, and my Mum, born in Grimsby, called it ‘Piccalilli’. I seem to remember that my Mum considered that a version of this with large chunks of vegetables might be called ‘Mustard Pickle’ but that if it was finely chopped enough to go in a sandwich then it was ‘Piccalilli’. I have put both on the label...

The origins of the name ‘Piccalilli’ seem to be very old and not particularly clear. Our newer dictionary defines it as a pickle of various vegetable substances with mustard and spices and describes the etymology as dub which I think is lexicographer-speak for we haven’t a clue. Our older dictionary (compiled by Dr Annandale and presented to Daisy Digby of East Ham for ‘Regular Attendance and Good Conduct during the session 1898-9’) considers it to be an imitation Indian pickle of various vegetables with pungent spices. Both of these sound reasonable to me, although various vegetable substances does make me think that it was probably written by a very academic man who couldn’t quite bring himself to go and ask his cook what she put in it...

According to Wikipedia, The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to the middle of the 18th century when, in 1758, Hannah Glasse described how "to make Paco-Lilla, or India Pickle" An apparently earlier reference is in Lady Anne Blencowe's "Receipt Book", written c. 1694, which has "To Pickle Lila, an Indian Pickle" credited to Lord Kilmory. The more familiar form of the word appears in 1769, in Elizabeth Raffald’s The “Experienced English Housekeeper”, as "To make Indian pickle, or Piccalillo. The spelling "piccalilli" can be seen in an advertisement in a 1799 edition of The Times.

So there you go. Been around a while. Still good.

This is very much an August and September pickle, requiring that elusive vegetable, the marrow, as well as cauliflower, cucumber, onions and beans. It’s a good way to make use of home grown produce when the weather is too hot to want to eat meat and two veg and the gardener in the family is continuously proudly presenting runner beans.

Mustard Pickle is not gluten free as it contains a small amount of wheat flour used as a thickener. Mustard has also been identified as one of the allergens that have to be indicated in labelling so this is my first allergen containing product. Store it out of the sun or the colour will fade.

 

The Red Onion Thing

My aim is to be seasonal. I think that we have lost a great deal in terms of flavour by prolonging the time produce is available. When I was little, strawberries and cherries were never refrigerated and came and went within a few short weeks - and they were delicious. Now they are available for most of the year and it is rare that I buy any which are truly wonderful in the same way. It’s not impossible – but it is rare.

The Red Onion Thing, however, can really be made at any time of the year.

The Red Onion Thing is so named because I don’t really know what it ought to be called. It’s probably a relish, or a pickle or possibly a chutney (although that ought to be spiced). I don’t personally like the term ‘Red Onion Marmalade’ but it could be that too. The red onions are cooked down for a long time and then caramelised. I am a bit nervous of this process which is really ‘burning on purpose’. The smell of the caramelisation process always reminds me of bacon and this would be very good with a bacon sandwich, barbecue, burger, ham or Cheddar cheese. I think this one is a traditional ‘side of the plate’ pickle.  

 

Hand Cut Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville oranges come into the shops in the middle of January and marmalade making has always been a very welcome diversion for me in the middle of this gloomy month. When I first started making marmalade the oranges were larger but the pith was much thicker. Over the years not only has the fruit got more user-friendly but the season has lengthened from about a fortnight to the end of February.

These are the oranges that grow on the trees lining the streets in the south of Spain. Once in Baetha, under cover of darkness, we swiped one off the tree and took it back to the hotel room to sample. The pith was thick, the tiny fruit was bitter, but the smell was incredible.

Making marmalade is a long old process and each batch takes me about six hours. The skin is all cut by hand and the cooking takes around three hours in total. The only part of the fruit that is not used is the tiny stalk, so my much-loved compost bin doesn’t profit very much from marmalade making. My wormy workforce do get the cooked out pith and pips though – I’d love to know what they think of them.

The best thing to do with marmalade is to eat it on warm buttered toast but another lovely idea which comes from Delia Smith, is to melt it in a pan with some port and use it as a sauce for duck. 

Tomato and Chilli Relish

Sunshine on a side plate! The first part of making this reminds me a lot of making Gazpacho with all those wonderful smells, and it’s a real summer buzz.

In my view tomatoes are a success story for the prolonging of seasonality. When I was little, winter tomatoes (which you had to buy for salad tea on Christmas Day) were pale orange on the outside and almost white inside. They smelt of nothing and tasted much the same. But I can now buy tomatoes from Spain or Morocco in the middle of April which are red all the way through and smell and taste as though they have been sitting ripening in the sun. Keeping them on the vine seems to be a win-win solution as well – got to be easier to pick that way – much easier to handle and they keep the smell. I keep my tomatoes in a basket on the worktop, not in the fridge.

I use both fresh and dried chillies so hopefully the flavour of the chillies, as well as the heat, comes through.

This relish is hot and sweet and goes really well with mature cheddar. It looks pretty too.

 
 

Strawberry Jam

‘Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those are the two most beautiful words in the English language,’ wrote Henry James. So now, there you are, summer afternoon, table spread under the cedar tree on the lawn, cane chairs, straw hats, Test Match Special on the radio, the England opening batsmen both reaching their centuries, sipping your tea from a bone china cup and anticipating a home baked scone layered with nice soft butter, clotted cream and of course, strawberry jam.

When I was little, strawberries were only in season for a very short time so we tended to eat them fresh while we could rather than make jam. Like most children I adored strawberries and couldn’t understand my Mum not liking them at all. It turned out that during the war she had worked in a jam factory for a while. On the first day the girls were all told to eat as many strawberries as they liked. Apparently after a few days no one wanted them any more... How sad is that?

At their best strawberries should be bright and shiny, red rather than orange and smell slightly acidic. Ideally, when you bite into them they should be red all the way through and when you pull out the calyx the hull should come out in once piece. In the summer I pick my own strawberries on the allotment now and they are wonderful. I think I could live on strawberries to be honest, but a few of my own are finding their way into the jam.

For me, making strawberry jam is one of the key elements of summer. It’s always a lovely day, the back door is open, the birds are singing and the kitchen is full of the heady smell of strawberries boiling away with sugar and lemon juice.  

 

The Ivydene Pickle

The traditional time for pickling is towards the end of the summer when there is rather a surplus of fruit and veg and also a general sense of mild panic that the fridge is not big enough and that something has got to be done.  Gardeners start to get twitchy about the number of plants bearing just a few final tomatoes and courgettes and start muttering darkly about winter cabbage.  Green tomatoes proliferate.  What were courgettes before you went on holiday are now marrows the size of babies.  Pickling spice appears in the supermarket together with large bottles of pickling vinegar.  It is clearly time to make some pickles for Christmas. 

The Ivydene Pickle is a traditional ‘brown’ pickle but, unlike its famous relative, does not contain rutabaga or carrots.  It is based on a recipe called ‘End of Season Relish’, which, for obvious reasons, was known in our household as ‘End of Reason Relish’.  I did, in fact, think of calling the Ivydene Pickle that.

This one improves with keeping. (As do husbands! - Ed.)

 

This picture comes from the RHS Wisley website and is a good illustration of what I mean…

 
 
 

Blood (Tarocco) Orange Marmalade

Traditional marmalade, like another well-known product starting with the letters ‘mar’, tends to be something that people have strong views on.  Generally speaking it is either loved or hated.  I think myself that it’s because of that distinctive bitter taste that you also get from the skins of grapes and berries. 

I began to wonder if it was possible to make a marmalade that tasted sweeter and gentler and when someone gave me a crate of blood oranges to play with I turned some of them into marmalade.  The juice from these oranges is the most beautiful delicate rose-pink and I had high hopes of the finished product being the same, but after cooking, the finished colour is still distinctly orange.  The resulting marmalade though is sweet and fragrant. 

The blood orange is so called because of its red pigment which Wikipedia tells me is due to the presence of anthocyanins, a family of antioxidant pigments common to many flowers and fruit, but uncommon in citrus fruits.  The red colour develops during the cold winter nights where the fruit grows in Italy.  The variety I use is Tarocco – the Italian blood orange.  Like Seville oranges, the season is very short.