It was the best of times, it was… nope, wait, right time period, wrong Dickensian referent. Still, there’s just something about even the *word* chutney that, for me at least, conjures up a weird image of London in the snow and the Bengal Lancers. What is chutney? It is one of those cultural icons, something vaguely akin to fruit cake in holiday lore but without most of the jokes. Very, very Victorian and, having done a quick and totally unreliable poll of a few of my friends, not a dish often found on holiday tables in Texas unless host or guests have Yankee roots somewhere back in time. And, northern roots not withstanding, I very much doubt the Pilgrims served it.
I grew up with cranberry chutney on our Thanksgiving table. We wouldn’t have know what we were celebrating without it! Everyone took a little, nobody ate much of it. Its primary job was to be pretty and to go into the leftover sandwiches to make the (by then over-dry) turkey more interesting and palatable. The “family” recipe has come down to my sister, who regularly hosts the holiday. It came originally from my Aunt Jane, a great cook and (I now appreciate it) chutney-maker.
Maybe it just isn’t a food for kids. Chutney is pretty assertive, sweet and sour, full of odd bits of fruit and strange textures, and I love it now. I put a spoonful in my oatmeal (yes, really!) and I think it makes a lovely and yummy appetizer poured over a bar of cream cheese and served with crackers. So, it’s not just for dinner any more.
I’m quite sure that no two people make chutney the same way, and I’m equally sure that actual traditional Indian chutney has nothing to do with cranberries. The chutney concept as we mean it here seems to have more to do with some combination of cooked fruits, often including raisins, with vinegar or some other souring agent, and the kinds of spicing.
Here is my Aunt Jane’s recipe.
Aunt Jane’s Chutney
prep: 30 minutes
cooking time: 25 minutes
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 large firm pears
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 cups golden raisins
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 t. salt
2 T. pickling spices
12 whole allspice
5 whole cloves
Rinse cranberries. Peel, core, and slice pears. Combine all fruits in large saucepan with sugar, raisins, vinegar, and salt. Place all spices on 6 inch square of cheese cloth, tie up to form a spice bag, and add to fruit mixture.
Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, cook stirring frequently for 20 minutes.
Remove the spice bag, cool the chutney and refrigerate or freeze.
A few years ago I discovered a slightly different chutney recipe that I like equally well. I don’t bring it to my sister’s house as one of my nieces is allergic to citrus, but I make it for myself and my friends. It may sound odd, but its good! The lime adds the “bite” so there is hardly any vinegar, and you can vary the sweetness as you like. I like it this way:
makes about 3 cups
cooking time: 30 minutes
2 C fresh cranberries
1 C + 1 Tbsp sugar
1 C water
1 seedless lime, chopped (peel included)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 C raisins*
1/2 C celery, sliced thin
1/2 C peaches, chopped (canned or frozen is fine)
1/2 C pears, chopped
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Wash and pick over the berries. Put the berries, 1 C sugar and water in a large, deep-sided saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring regularly, until the berries pop (about 5 minutes, maybe a bit longer). Prep (chop/slice etc) ingredients as needed, and use the remaining 1 Tbsp of sugar to mix with the spices to they don’t clump. Add all remaining ingredients to the simmering berry/sugar/water mixture, stir to combine well and simmer until thick, about 20 minutes.
(*I like to use 1/2 C tiny Zante currants and 1/2 C golden raisins, but that’s really just for looks, any raisins will do.)
This chutney can be kept covered in the refrigerator (ideally in a glass container with a good lid) for up to a week (if it lasts that long – its good).
Chutney is a good make-ahead dish as it is even better after a couple of days in the fridge. I would love to hear about your holiday food traditions. Will there be chutney on your table? If so, please send me the recipe! If not, try either (or both) of these and let me know what folks think! In any event, enjoy!