Some time ago, Edie, a staunch Margot supporter, set me a challenge and I have found countless ways to evade that particular gauntlet, as when it was thrown down, it made me rather nervous. The challenge: to enter a Real Jam Festival competition. Dear Reader, you will realise my fear straight away. Jams, jellies, chutneys: staunchly Barbara’s territory. Margot, making jam? Whatever next?! Growing vegetables and knitting my own yoghurt….. I stewed on it, for want of a better word. I couldn’t let Edie down and after all, this is all about my journey from townie to bumpkin. I simply could not pass up this opportunity to try my hand at some real ‘Jam and Jerusalem’. With the deadline for entries looming, I felt that maybe little old Margot might be welcomed into the billowing bosom of the Women’s Institute with this little challenge. I so dearly wished to see myself clutching a winning entry with its WI seal of approval. Oh to have an awardwinning chutney!
I had a brainwave. I would make a chutney and make it Christmassy. There is nothing like the smell of Christmas and I thought I might just be able to capture that in a chutney. Christmas is all about aromas for me. Those which bring back powerful memories like the heady scent of oranges and cloves, brandy in the mincemeat, fresh pine needles…. I could go on for hours! I had already gone slightly stir crazy buying Frankincense and Myrrh scented candles much to Jerry’s glaring disapproval. To try and get back in Jerry’s good books, I did splutter that I could enter the competition and then, in the spirit of all things ‘Margot tries etc’, I could even pass off the leftover jars of chutney as Christmas presents. This, of course, appealed to Jerry’s frugal nature.
Just reading the entry requirements alone made me quiver with anxiety. I hadn’t realised quite how seriously these things were taken and perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew. I had half thought that these jam jousts were the preserve of ladies in lavender and little old biddies in hand-knitted cardies. Still, always up for a country challenge, I set to work.
It seems that chutney had its origins in India (in Hindi, chatni). Generally a relish or pickle made with fruits and spices, it was brought home in the days of the Raj by the British. No doubt it raised eyebrows at dinner when produced by footmen in silver pots and accompanied by a large clove-studded roast ham. Through the haze of time, I could just make out guffawing monocle-wearing gentleman crying “By Jove, what is this?” “The Indians call it chatni mi Lord.” “Chutney you say Dawson? A spicy number what what!” Scouring through hundreds of recipes ancient and modern, it was clear that coming up with my own unique recipe was going to be tricky.
I decided the only way to safeguard a good entry was to create my very own scent of Christmas. Haphazardly, I threw all the ingredients on to the kitchen table and approached the making of Christmas chutney with careless abandon. Chopping all the fruit and the onions took an age and I only thought of the food processor when I was on the last onion… Plopping it all in my giant pan, it looked awful. No. It really did. Take a look for yourself.
I was beginning to feel a little light-headed from the fumes of the cider vinegar (no recipe seems to mention that a gas mask may be needed) when I realised that making chutney was going to need one other ingredient. Patience. Something which, dear Reader, I have never had much of. After the 2 hour mark, I stirred and tasted. CRUNCHY onion. Oh dear. Not sure a chutney should have crunchy onions in it. Hmm. Most of the liquid was gone too.
Right, time to improvise a little more. Adding enough water just to loosen the slop, I then left it to simmer away with the pan lid on. In the end, it simmered gently for 4 hours. I know, I know. Far too long for chutney but I had to do something to stop the judges choking on onion slivers. Sniffing the wafts from the chutney cauldron, it did have a faint whiff of Christmas. It would have to do. Sterilising the empty jars in the oven for 10mins, I then filled them and cut a greaseproof circle to cover the top. (The jars had been a rigmarole in themselves. I made Jerry, Primrose and Poppy devour their contents to cries of “Not jam again!” so that I could reuse the jars). Carefully going through the last of the instructions, I readied my jar of passable Christmas chutney. Entries must be plain – no labels, logos or ribbons. They do take entries from young jam enthusiasts but I wasn’t sure I would get away with passing the jar off as Primrose’s work! So there it was, my entry. I wondered if they might give me some extra marks for the quirky jar? I had, after all, recycled an old Indian pickle jar for good karma!
Well, Jerry gave it the thumbs up and I was quite proud of my first attempt so Dear Reader, we shall just have to wait and see what the WI judges think…. You never know, dear old Margot might just manage a little mention! Well one can hope, can’t one? In the meantime, Edie darling, at least you know what you are getting for Christmas and have time to rush out and purchase a jar of trusty Tracklement’s to replace it!
Margot tries…..chutney (and REALLY this is all my own work….I can’t blame any chefs, cooks or foodie bloggers for this concoction)
1kg apples, plums, fresh cranberries (mix all the fruits and then see if they collectively weigh a kilo)
2 onions (I think they weighed 400g in total)
half a reasonable knob of ginger
around 250ml of cider vinegar
around 300g soft brown sugar
3 star anise
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin (although it felt like more as the aroma was evocative of sweaty Londoners’ armpits on the tube. Beware of this)
Plop it all in the pan and then wait a serious number of hours. Improvising required.