|Chutney, ready for maturing.|
OK, we shall get all the autumnal food writing/blogging clichés out of the way, right from the outset. The equinox is definitely marking the turn of the seasons. From the long, dry(ish) summer we move to the soft, mellow months of autumn (fall, as it is sometimes called). There is mist in the morning, a nip in the air of an evening, the crunch of fallen leaves under foot, and trees hang heavy with sweet, plump fruit…
Oh to hell with blinkin’ cliché avoidance, I love autumn! It’s that bit of the annual cycle when it almost seems like nature does home delivery. Around every corner things are ripening or coming back into season. For those who like to cook with seasonal food, the available larder undergoes a veritable explosion of flavoursome produce. Sweet, ozone-tinged native oysters, the subtly gamey flavour of the first roast pheasant of the season, and the sugary tartness of soft fruit, they all compete for the food-lover’s attention. Yeah, yeah that’s probably a complete middle-class foodie cliché, but…
There is no denying this has been a bumper year for fruit of all kinds, especially the soft fruit that excels in Scotland. The delayed spring, followed by a pretty decent summer has resulted in a bumper crop of raspberries, brambles (blackberries), currants and plums. Ripe – clichéd pun intended – for cooking and preserving. Sadly, the drying green (wee patch of garden) to the rear of Scrumptious Scran Towers is not blessed with fruit trees. Yet I am fortunate that some friends of mine abandoned Edinburgh earlier this year, to renovate a property in the city’s rural hinterland. And in the lovely garden that adjoins their house are some impressive fruit trees. We are talking amazing plums!
So, how delighted was I to be offered a punnet – well actually a couple of kilos in a posh carrier bag – of lovely looking, fragrant fruit? “Very”, is the answer. They might have been of the “Victoria” variety, to be honest, I’m no expert. That they tasted “amazing” – yes, another cliché – is beyond argument. Lovely as the fruit was, there was too much for two of us to consume before the plums went past their best. Preservation was the answer. As I don’t have a very sweet tooth, plum jam really wasn’t in the running. A chutney, however, that would mature for a couple of months and be prefect to serve with cheese and cold cuts during the festive season. Oh, yes please.
So, combining the tasty plums with a few left over figs that I didn’t use in a pudding when my parents recently paid me a visit, I present to you my spicy plum and fig chutney. Mixing the fruit with sour sherry vinegar, Demerara sugar, a blend of spices typical of Spain and North Africa, together with a chilli zing and a good glug of rich Pedro Ximénez sherry, this is pickle has a smashing combination of flavours. Left for a couple of months to mature, the chutney will make an ideal accompaniment to cheese or cold cuts of meat. And by way of a thank you to the lovely friends who supplied the plums – a few jars will be winging their way to you soon.
- 1.5kg plums
- 500g fresh figs, chopped
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 200g of Demerara sugar
- 1½ tablespoons sweet smoked paprika (pimentón)
- A good thumb-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 large red chilli, finely chopped (deseed if you want less of a kick)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 350ml sherry vinegar (of good quality)
- 50ml cider vinegar
- 200ml sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry (or port, as an alternative)
Preparation and Cooking
- Stone the plums (I slice around the natural indent of the plum and twist apart) and chop them.
- Place the coriander, cumin and fennel in a square of jam-making muslin and tie tightly.
- In a large pan, place the plums, figs, onions, garlic, chilli, ginger and sugar. Mix the vinegars together and add 300ml to the pan, together with the smoked paprika and the muslin spice bag.
- Season the ingredients and bring to a simmer over a medium heat, in order to dissolve the sugar.
- Simmer for a further 30mins, stirring frequently, until the ingredients become tender.
- Add the remaining vinegar, together with the sherry, and continue to cook for a further 30 minutes (stirring frequently once again) until the mixture thickens.
- To tell if the chutney is ready pull the back of a tablespoon over the top of the mixture to create a shallow trough. If no liquid appears in the indent, it is ready, otherwise continue to cook for a further 15 minutes, or so.
- Transfer the hot chutney to sterilised jars and cool before sealing the jars.
- The chutney should be left in a dry, cool place to mature for at least a month before it is ready to eat. Place any opened jar in the fridge and consume the contents with 3-4 weeks.