Saturday, 14 June 2008

On thirteen moons, and chutney

There's something distinctly wrong with the weather today. It hasn't rained.

Ariège, like much of south-western France, has had some pretty spectacular storms this week. The track leading to Grillou and our neighbours' house is all but washed away, the ground is un-standable-on, the electricity's been off more times than I've had hot dinners, the broad beans are horizontal, and the sheer force of the almost continuous rain has been so intense that it's even come through the roof more than once. In fact I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I discovered yesterday that a friend's house had been quite seriously flooded during Wednesday evening's epic performance. Now I'm just tired of it, and want the sun to come out. Someone told me that it's all because this year has 13 moons; I've just looked it up - 2008 does indeed have 13 new moons, but only 12 full moons. Does that make a difference, I wonder? My 'gardening by the moon' book (yes, I do, and yes, it does. Work, that is) tells me that the weather often changes around 3 days after either a full or a new moon, which means it could change around the solstice. Watch this space for more revelations from the cutting edge of science ...

Anyway, while chaos was reigning around me, I amused myself making some cherry chutney. No, I've never made it before, and no, I didn't use a recipe, but the wonderful thing about chutney is that you can wing it - unlike jam, which demands perfection and tends to throw its dummy on the floor at the slightest provocation. And very well it turned out, too. So here's (roughly) what I did:

Spiced cherry chutney

1 1/2 kilos of cherries, stoned and cut in half
2 large onions, chopped
1 tart apple
250g sultanas
200g raw cane sugar
150 ml red wine vinegar
150ml balsamic vinegar
2 sticks of cinnamon
4 peperoncini (small Italian dried red peppers)
1 1/2 teaspoons Szechuan pepper
1/2 teaspoon black cardamom seeds
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 leaves fresh mint, chopped

Grind the whole spices (not the cinnamon) together with the salt. Then tip all the ingredients into a big pan - a jam pan is perfect - and bring the mixture up to the boil. Check the flavour - balance of sweet-sour-hot, balance of spices - and adjust to your taste. Then boil the mixture for an hour covered, plus another 45 minutes uncovered. It wants to have a good bit of vigour but not too much - neither gentle simmer nor raging torrent, but somewhere in between.

Towards the end of the cooking time, sterilise some jars by putting them in the oven at around 150 degrees C for 20 minutes. The chutney is ready when it's thick and glossy, with not too much liquid left - if it looks a bit thin, give it a bit more heat for a few minutes to reduce it. When it's stopped bubbling, spoon it into the hot jars. Put the jar lids into a bowl and cover them with boiling water to sterilise, dry them with a paper towel then screw them on. You'll have about 4 or 5 smallish jars.

The idea now is that you leave your chutney well alone for at least 3 months - purists would say 6 - to give it time to mature. But you won't.

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