Take a good but ordinary cracker and a good but ordinary piece of cheese. Put them together, munch them down and what do you have? A reasonably good and satisfying but pretty ordinary snack.
But add a dollop of an exquisitely crafted jelly, say red currant or crabapple, bright and clear as a jewel, or an equally good chutney, and what do you have? A rarified moment — a bit of suspended routine — and an appetizingly animated taste sensation.
Likewise can be said about a nice little slice of unprepossessing but decent ham or a sturdy grilled chop: good enough by themselves. But add a tart jelly or that savoury chutney and the whole meal is elevated to a feast.
This time of year with so much gorgeous bounty around — fruits both wild and not plus all those garden-fresh vegetables — you'd be just plain nuts not to try your hand at some of your own preserves.
Last week, canning expert Thelma Henderson and I aimed to deflate some of the mystery about canning. Today, it's jellies and chutneys all the way.
It must be my mother's English-Irish side, not my Polish half, that drives me to jellies and chutneys. Growing up, we were never without some kind of wonderful condiments — jellies, jams, chutneys — put up by my mom or her mom.
By Reay Tannahill's account in Food In History, I come by this honestly. Chutneys have been part of English cookery for hundreds of years. Recipes for them made it into English cookbooks by the 1700s, no surprise what with England and other European colonizers having set up trading posts in India a century before. ("Chutney", explains classical language scholar Martha Barnette in her book, Ladyfingers and Nun's Tummies, comes from the Hindi "catni", meaning to be licked or tasted.)
Never having made such delicacies myself, I dialed up Rebecca Craig. Her wonderful chutneys, jellies, jams and salsas with the distinctive Cedar View Estate label, along with a host of other items grown or made on the family farm in Pemberton Valley, can be had this year for the first time at Whistler's farmers' market
I couldn't have picked a better champion. Rebecca happens to be English and, like me, grew up with conserves, sweet and savoury. Besides the delicious products that result — products that are so inexpensive to make and can double as much-appreciated gifts at Thanksgiving and beyond — she has more good reasons for getting into making them.
"There's something special about making a delicacy like a chutney or jelly out of something that's of no use to anyone else at all," she says. Her grandmother, who raised four children in the war in England, took full advantage of this factor as fresh fruit wasn't readily available and could be picked from hedgerows for free.
Here, we have all those green tomatoes happening this season with our unusual summer, as well as free crabapples that can be had on the streets of Pemberton right now as the village is practically begging people to pick them before the bears do.
Then there's the power of family traditions. I'm sure time-tested recipes for jams, jellies and the like are kicking around your family. When you make them you capture not just childhood memories, but something of those who have gone before you as well.
"Certainly for me the chutneys and crabapple jelly remind me of my childhood. The nostalgic feeling you have when you prepare something quite spectacular out of a few simple ingredients... is really quite special," Rebecca says. Plus she knows she's passing this gift on to daughters Charlotte and Chloe while they watch her cook — years before they realize it.
Rebecca has generously shared her family's chutney recipe, below, which has been handed down for a hundred years. It's an easy place to start: chop everything up, put it into your biggest pot and cook it for about an hour.
Beyond ensuring you sterilize your jars properly, a word of caution: making chutney releases the strong smell of vinegar pervades, so you might want to open the windows and warn anyone like Rebecca's dad, who hates the smell.
As for the jelly recipe, it's a recent discovery but can spark tales from Rebecca's older customers, who are thrilled to find crabapple jelly still around.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who has tiny green tomatoes on the vine.
Green tomato chutney
4 lb. green tomatoes
2 lb. tart cooking apples, like Granny Smiths
1.5 pints white vinegar
1 lb. raisins (or sultanas)
6 oz. soft brown sugar
1 lb. onions
1 oz. salt
1 oz. green or red chilies (dried or fresh)
2 oz. ginger root
1 tbsp. mustard seed
4 cloves garlic
Cut up tomatoes; peel and cut up apples and onions; chop raisins. Bruise (i.e. hit with a hammer!) ginger and chilies and tie in muslin bag (or an old handkerchief or a piece of a clean old tea towel). Place all ingredients in a big pot, bring to a boil and simmer until your chutney is of desired consistency, about one hour. Remove the bag of spices etc. and put chutney into sterilized jars.
6 lb. (2.7 kg) of crabapples
4.5 c. granulated sugar
Remove both stem and blossom ends of crabapples. Do not peel or core. In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, bring to a boil the fruit, sugar and six cups of water. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until softened. Using a potato masher, crush the crabapples and cook five minutes longer.
Wet and wring out a jelly bag, or a large muslin cloth. Suspend on a frame over a large measuring cup or saucepan (Rebecca uses an upside-down kitchen stool). Fill with crabapple mixture. Let drip without squeezing bag for about two hours, or until juice measures 6.5 cups, adding up to 1-1.5 cups of water, as necessary.
In a large clean Dutch oven, bring juice with sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Stir constantly. Boil for 15-18 minutes until it reaches gel stage. Remove from heat. Skim off foam. Using a funnel, fill hot, sterilized 250 ml. (1 c.) canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Cover with prepared lids (lids simmered in water). Screw on lids until resistance is met, then increase till fingertip tight. Boil in hot water bath for 10 minutes.
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