My dad used to have this Major Gray’s Chutney that I thought was repulsive as a kid. He would slurp that stuff down, mainly with lamb, but with all kinds of fatty meat. As I later learned, a child’s palate is not fully developed and can’t always appreciate the subtle interplay of seemingly opposing flavors such as sweet and sour. As an avid fan of Top Chef, I have seen many of my favorite competitors making chutneys to great effect and it has spurred my curiosity.
A chutney, stated briefly, is a sweet and sour relish used to preserve fruit or vegetables that originated on the Indian subcontinent. It was brought to England when they conquered, occupied and colonized India, and has become a more popular condiment in today’s hip and trendy food world. Last year we started a garden and, while some of the vegetables produced just enough for us to eat and enjoy, some things like our jalapenos and superchilis went absolutely bananas late in the fall, and we were left to ponder the question of “what the heck are we going to do with this stuff”. That led me to explore different ways to preserve things and put them up for the winter months.
Last year we tried to grow tomatoes and had very little success. (The squirrels might disagree — THEY had a very successful tomato season). This year, we were more determined to experience the unexpurgated joy of homegrown tomatoes, and we planted not only Austin red pear and sweet cherry tomatoes, but some medium-sized beefsteak varieties. While we didn’t get much fruit over the summer, around the beginning of September, the squirrels had their fill, and we got a rather large crop of cherry tomatoes, but the beefsteaks have not gotten enough fall sun to ripen. With an impending freeze, we decided to harvest as much of the green fruit as we could and figure out what to do with them. When we did an online search for “what the heck do you do with green tomatoes”, we saw several recipes for Green Tomato Chutney and being the adventurous sort, I decided to just go for it.
After reviewing several of the recipes, I discovered a few common elements: green tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, onions and raisins. Different people used different kinds of vinegar ranging from plain white to malt varieties. I also noticed that there weren’t a lot of spices involved. Putting myself in a madras frame of mind, I decided to take the basics and just wing my own recipe from what I had around, which is totally in the spirit of a traditional chutney. Here is what I came up with.
2 lbs green tomatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 medium onions, large dice
2 apples peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (I used Gala)
½ cup currants (we were out of raisins)
3 small jalapenos (everything we cook has peppers in it these days)
2 cups of apple cider vinegar
1 stick cinnamon
1 tbs coriander seeds, crushed
1 tbs ground black pepper
2 tsp dried ginger
2 tbs salt
1 cup brown sugar
Sprinkle two tablespoons of salt over the onions and green tomatoes and set in a container (in the refrigerator?) overnight to leach as much of the juice out as possible. Drain the liquid but don’t rinse the fruit. Put the vinegar, sugar and spices in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the diced apples, currants and the drained onions and green tomatoes. Simmer on medium low for an hour or two until everything is soft and the liquid is well reduced and has the consistency of a thick syrup. Preserve in jars like you would any kind of jam and enjoy. It is a particularly good counterpoint to rich meats but don’t let it stop you from having a peanut butter and spicy green tomato chutney sandwich on whole wheat toast.