How do we know it’s fall?
It’s getting dark way too early in the evening, for one thing. And the sidewalk is starting to feel way too chilly beneath my bare toes when I walk outside to pick up my morning newspaper, for another.
But mostly, it’s about the changing guard of flavors, which in autumn make a slow slide from the bright, sunny savor of berries, melons and stone fruits to the tangy crunch of apples, the spicy warmth of ginger and cinnamon and the meaty sweetness of fresh pumpkins and fat, purple plums.
Fall chutneys are a perfect way to capture those distinctive tastes and aromas.
With local strawberries and peaches in our rearview mirror, it’s time to switch gears and think “savory” instead of “sweet.” Or maybe tart-sweet is a better description, because American-style chutneys are cooked to a jamlike consistency with more than a little sugar. They also include vinegar, which works both to preserve the fruits and vegetables and to give them a bit of tang. Onion and garlic often make an appearance. There also can be unexpected aromatics, such as black pepper, red chile pepper and mustard or fennel seeds.
It’s a bit different in India, where the condiment originated (chatni is Hindi for “sauce”), and is often used to enliven rice dishes (think mint chutney, cilantro chutney and tamarind-date chutney). Ingredients can range from peanut to coconut to vegetables such as tomato, onion and beet, and the finished product – which can be cooked or raw – often resembles what Americans consider a relish.
Chutney made its way west across the Indian and Atlantic oceans during the British colonial era. In the process, the recipe was modified somewhat with the addition of vinegar to give it a longer shelf life so it could be eaten throughout the year. The ingredient list also was expanded to include the seasonal bounty of English orchards – think apples, quince and damson plums – along with sweet dried fruits such as raisins for added flavor.
Thick and chunky, chutney can be used to perk up cheeses, bread, cured or roasted meats and as a spread for crackers. It also brightens a grilled cheese sandwich, and when mixed with a little olive oil or water over low heat, it makes a terrific glaze or marinade.
Some tips on making chutney at home.
▪ Always start with the freshest ingredients. If the fruit has bruised spots, cut them out.
▪ Cook the chutney in a nonreactive pan, such as stainless steel, glass or enamel-lined cast-iron. Aluminum and copper react with acidic foods, imparting a metallic taste.
▪ Keep an eye on the cooking pot. Because it contains sugar, chutney can easily burn.
▪ Cook the fruit down until it’s thick and fairly dry. You’ll know it’s done when the mixture sticks to the back of the spoon. It shouldn’t be runny.
▪ Don’t be afraid to experiment with different fruits and spices. Something you’re not particularly fond of eating out of hand can be magically transformed when cooked with sugar and vinegar.
SPICED PUMPKIN CHUTNEY
Forget the pie. This recipe will be your new favorite way to cook pumpkin at Thanksgiving. Red chile peppers add just the right amount of bite while ginger adds spice. I spread it on toast, but it also makes a wonderful dip for crackers.
2 1/2-pound pumpkin, peeled and seeded
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 small red chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 cups light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
Dice pumpkin. Place in wide saucepan with remaining ingredients. Mix well.
Place pan over medium-high heat, bring to boil, then reduce to medium-low. Simmer uncovered until pumpkin is very tender and liquid has thickened, 45 minutes to an hour. (If chutney thickens but pumpkin is not soft, partially cover and cook as needed.)
While chutney cooks, sterilize two 1-pint canning jars and their lids in boiling water for several minutes. When chutney is ready, spoon it into jars, cover with lids and allow to cool. Can be stored unopened at room temperature for up to three months.
– “Kitchen” by Nigella Lawson
SPICED CARROT CHUTNEY
This crunchy, spicy chutney can be served with feta, farmer’s cheese or any other salty pressed cheese. Also delicious with cold meats or on top of rice.
1 pound medium carrots
1 small yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Peel carrots and trim off tops and bottoms. Grate carrots on the largest hole of box grater. Yield will be about 3 cups. Set aside.
Peel onion. Grate it on the largest hole of box grater. Set aside.
Puree the garlic, ginger and vinegar in a blender, on high, for two minutes or until smooth.
Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is reduced.
Remove chutney from heat and let it cool to room temperature. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week. Serve at room temperature.
Yields 2 cups
– “Composing the Cheese Plate: Recipes, Pairings and Platings for the Inventive Cheese Course” by Brian Keyser and Leigh Friend (Running Press, September 2016, $22)
SPICED PLUM CHUTNEY
Supermarket plums can be disappointing to eat out of hand. This sweet-spicy chutney, perfumed with ginger, cloves and pepper, is anything but. It’s good enough to eat by the spoonful right out of the jar. Terrific on roasted chicken or a pan-seared pork chop, and a great way to start your day on top of waffles.
1 whole star anise
1 whole clove
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds red, black, green, or blue plums (tart or sweet; about 5 large), quartered, pitted
Finely grind star anise, clove and cinnamon stick in spice mill or coffee grinder.
Combine spice mixture, vinegar, sugar, ginger, mustard seeds and pepper in heavy large saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, and bring to boil. Add plums; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chutney thickens and chunky sauce forms, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool. Season to taste with salt.
Makes about 4 cups