How do you like them apples?
For the past five years or so it's been a tradition in our home to feast on cheese and biscuits on Christmas Eve, with a glass of port or damson gin and a good dollop of this year's chutney. Last year it was a lovely green tomato chutney made with the glut from my neighbour's garden, but this year I spied a great big tub of baking apples on the walk to school with a sign saying "free apples". I can't resist free food and I hate to see anything go to waste, so I filled a carrier and planned this year's Christmas preserve.
I'm not one for exact recipes, but I've never made a bad chutney, it really isn't difficult. You do need a big pan, a few hours, and a lot of patience though. And jars! The main rule is to make sure that all the vinegar is reduced and doesn't pool when you draw a spoon through your pan. The amount of sugar, type of vinegar, and spices are really a matter of taste but you must ensure that the vinegar you use has an acidity of no less than 5% in order for your preserve to last. I find the cheap malt vinegar from any supermarket is as good as anything.
Before you start, thoroughly wash your jars and put them on a baking tray ready to go into the oven at 100c or Gas mark 2 or simply a low setting for 20 minutes to sterilise. Do this one your chutney has started to cook down so you can pour hot chutney into hot jars.
Spiced Apple Chutney (makes about 5lbs)
3lbs baking apples, cored, peeled, and chopped chunkily.
350g of dried figs roughly chopped (you could substitute dates or raisins)
3 - 4 medium-sized onions chopped fairly finely
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch of fresh root ginger, peeled and minced
3 chilis chopped finely (depending on how hot you like things you can leave in the seeds or take them out, I like things spicy so I used 3 birds eye chilis and left the seeds in)
500g soft brown sugar
750ml malt vinegar
1 tbsp salt
1 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Combine everything in a preserving pan, or the largest pan you have, and cook on the hob on low until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently, then raise the temperature to medium and simmer for an hour and a half or until the vinegar has reduced and you can draw a spoon through the mixture without vinegar pooling, stir often so it doesn't stick. Ladle into hot sterilised jars and seal with a wax disc and a cellophane lid. You can use the lids from your jars but only if they aren't damaged and are coated with plastic on the underside so they don't react to the vinegar.
The chutney needs time to develop and mellow out, I like to leave it until December. This chutney goes particularly well with a mature cheddar or a creamy Lancashire cheese.