Chutney. Anglo Irish history in a glass jar. A real ‘come-all-ye’ of a food, made from any and all of the fruits of autumn’s bounty. Apple chutney uses up windfalls. Plum chutney traps the goodness of Victoria plums when there’s a glut. Tomato chutney, green or red or both uses up the last fruits of the season. Several chutneys have a bit of everything in them. Waste not, Want not.
Some families like chutney, some don’t. The word itself originates in the Hindi ‘catni’ and came back to England and Ireland from the Raj in India, via British families who served in the Indian Empire. A spoonful of chutney is great with cheese. No curry is complete without a dollop on the side. Sandwiches filled with cold meat are canonized by the addition of chutney.
Like many Irish people, I have a historical ‘dual citizenship’. While one lot of my antecedents were involved in the Irish language revival in Dublin in the early years of the twentieth century- one of them was interned in Frongoch for his efforts- the other lot, from Loughrea, Co.Galway were fighting for ‘King and Country’ in World War 1- the Somme, Gallipoli. Sebastian Barry’s novel ’A Long, Long Way’ captures my Great-grandfather’s life very well. Chutney was not just a cute ‘hostess gift’ for my Granny, it was part of a well-stocked pantry to feed a large family through the winter months. People get very creative on a low income.
This lot of chutney was made for a wedding. My second daughter will marry her beloved Englishman at the end of December. His Dad’s people hail from County Clare and his Mum from England- her family distinguished themselves in the British Navy. Taking our lead from the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland last year, we look forward to welcoming our English visitors and showcasing the best of everything Irish. “Grass-fed beef” anyone? (or, as I asked myself last year when the media were a-buzz with descriptions of the banquet menus….what other kind of beef do we ever eat here in Ireland?)
The chutney will accompany cheese which the happy couple want to serve, not after dinner but as part of the midnight snack, in between dancing and-er-more dancing. There’ll be the best of Irish cheese, sourdough bread from Arún Bakery which has been devised especially to accompany cheese, and Red Tomato Chutney.
Red Tomato Chutney
Ingredients ( accuracy is not essential in a chutney recipe)
- 6 lbs tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- 1 lb onions, chopped
- 1 oz garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- ½ lb stoned dates, chopped
- 8 ozs sultanas
- ¾ lb Demarara sugar
- 1 ½ pints malt vinegar
- 1 oz yellow mustard seed
- ¼ oz blades of mace
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg (fresh, if possible)
- Assemble your implements. Vinegar interacts with many materials so it’s important to have a non-reactive pot( stainless steel), a wooden spoon, glass jars for storage.
- Chop tomatoes, onions, garlic. Tip into a large stainless steel pot with a lid. Add vinegar and bring slowly to the boil.
- When all veggies are cooked and softened, add sugar and spices and dried fruits. Simmer on a low heat for a few hours until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has thickened. Bear in mind that it will thicken further on cooling.
- Sterilize glass jars. Wash them first and leave upside down on a rack in a warm oven for 30-45 minutes.
- - Using a glass measuring jug, scoop the chutney out of the pot and fill the jars to within an inch of the rim. A jam funnel makes this job slightly less messy. Cover with wax discs and allow to cool.
I made double the above recipe and have put by a jar for the bride’s Grandad and Nana, who both love it.
Now, if only I could be as organized about dressing the mother-of-the-bride for the big day…….