I grew twenty four tomato plants this year, hoping for a bumper crop with which to make roasted tomato passata. Only four tomatoes ripened on the plants, which left me with an absolute glut of unripe green ones, which meant only one thing, lots of green tomato chutney.
I made some last year, following the recipe in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook and while it wasn’t a complete disaster, I was so focused on following the recipe that I over cooked it badly. This is the bit that I came unstuck over:
It is thick enough if, when you draw a wooden spoon through it, the chutney parts to reveal the base of the pan for a few seconds.
It took over four hours of cooking to get it anywhere near to this point, by which time it was just a thick dark brown paste; not really what you’re looking for in a chutney. This year I decided to go with the:
Let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for two and a half, to three hours — maybe even a bit more.
As a reference, rather than the being able to see the bottom of the pan. In the end I made three different batches, which I cooked for different lengths of time. It was interesting to see the difference only fifteen extra or fewer minutes cooking made to the final amount and how it looked.
Making chutney is a pretty simple process, chop up a load of veg, mix with some dried fruit, sugar, vinegar and a spice bag, then cook. The art would appear to be in selecting the fruit and veg to use and manipulating the spice bag to suit. It’s one of those things you can make at practically anytime of year, with whatever you have a load of. While I quite fancy trying Gingered Rhubarb and Fig, wrong time of year; or Pumpkin and Quince, right time of year; with so many green tomatoes and courgettes/marrows, there really was only one choice.
The problem I have with this kind of recipe, is that one mans simmer, is another mans boil. How hard am I suppose to simmer it…? Just a bit of a blip every now and again, or just short of an all out boil? This kind of thing really makes a difference with the cooking times, as not one of the three batches was anywhere near ready after two and a half hours, so does this mean I wasn’t cooking it hard enough? Any harder and I’d have been burning it to the bottom of the pan, which very nearly happened with the second batch anyway, as I wasn’t concentrating.
Given the above, I cooked all three batches on the same setting on the hob, just with fifteen minutes difference between each of them. So the first batch was cooked for three hours, the second batch for three and a half and the final batch for three and a quarter. In retrospect, I didn’t think that the first batch had been cooked for long enough. It wasn’t dark enough in colour and it was a bit watery. The second batch I felt was maybe a touch over, while it still had good colour and clearly identifiable chunks in it, I just felt that the optimal was slightly less. Hence splitting the difference with the third and final batch.
I’ve no idea what the second and third batches taste like, as there was none left over after potting up. The first batch made five big jars (454g or 1lb if you prefer), one small jar (227g or 8oz), with a bit left over in a ramekin. The second batch made four and a half jars exactly, while the third batch made five jars exactly. So for each fifteen minutes, I was losing about a 227g jar’s worth of chutney. As the recipe says it makes ten to eleven 340g jars, there is obviously a bit of a mismatch between it and my experience. As five 454g jars (2,270g) is way short in volume terms, of ten 340g jars (3,400g).
The only thing I can think of, that could possibly be causing the mismatch, is the pan I use. As much as I want one, I don’t own a jelly pan, so make do with my five litre stock pot. As a jelly pan is purpose built to aid evaporation with its sloping sides, I can only think that using the stock pot requires more time, as the straight sides inhibit evaporation. Maybe I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and buy a proper jelly pan for next year; I already have it on a list of things I’d like to buy, along with a tamis, tart rings, dariole moulds and a larger jelly bag setup.
I had some of last years chutney at lunch yesterday and know that all three of these batches are better. So while I know that I’ll be giving away most of the sixteen jars that I’ve produced, I’m really quite looking forward to cracking into whatever I keep in a few months time.