Let Chutney Get You Out of a Jam
Today's chutneys are popular condiments, usually served in assortment and adapted from the Indian originals.
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We live in the city, but lining our fences is our own little fruit-basket orchard: one tree each of nectarine, white peach, Granny Smith apple, persimmon, navel orange, lemon and pomegranate. Make it eight flavors if you throw in the Santa Rosa plum that drapes over from the neighbor's yard. Or nine if you count the beautiful mission figs from the nearby riverbank. Then there are the lovely green grapes that grow wild on our parkway fence.
I enjoy tackling this colorful crop and treat it like a gift to be preserved. But a family can eat only so much jelly.
And the sugar! Most jam recipes call for more sugar than fruit. All this jam-and jelly-making gets very expensive. And near the start or the end of the season, I often didn't have exactly four cups of peaches for a batch of jelly — I had a little more or maybe a lot less. And the freezer was full.
I discovered a way to get out of the jam. I started making chutneys. Then I branched out into fruit butters and conserves.
This solution is as old as a civilization. Chutneys are an integral part of Indian cuisine. The English word derives from the Hindi "chatni," which roughly translates as "finger-licking good."
Today's chutneys are popular condiments, usually served in assortment and adapted from the Indian originals. Homemade chutneys range from barely cooked, salsa-like combinations to well-defined spicy relishes that best can be described as savory jams.
They're great on just about any plain roasted or grilled meat. Chutney works with turkey, ham, beef, pork and chicken from the oven. It's wonderful with grilled chops or pork tenderloin, perfect on grilled chicken. Some chutneys are even tasty with grilled sausage or on top of burgers.
Plus you can use chutneys like any relish or chili sauce. Stir some into plain rice to give it a tangy sweet boost. Spread it over cream cheese on crackers.
It's low in calories, with almost no fat and a fraction of jam's sugar. And it will keep for four weeks refrigerated or more than a year if processed in jars in a hot-water bath.
In addition to the base fruit or vegetable, common ingredients are onion, vinegar, raisins, brown sugar, garlic, mustard and ginger. Often, a little hot pepper or cayenne gives it a kick. The goal is to balance sweet with sour and spice.
For preserving purposes, the savory jam type works best. Because their recipes are not dependent on added pectin in precise proportion for jelling, chutneys can be adapted to the amount of fruit on hand. Freely mix and match ingredients to accommodate the available fruit.
Some combinations mix better than others. Tomatoes and plums taste like a popular chili sauce. Also good are tomatoes and apples or tomatoes and pears. Yellow tomatoes and peaches or nectarines preserve the golden color of the fruit while adding a familiar ketchupy note.
Citrus works well in moderation: one orange, lemon or small grapefruit to 2 pounds of peaches, nectarines or apricots. Limes can be a bit tart (a little of their flavor goes a long way), but still good.
Or just use all of one fruit. Peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears and tomatoes work well. Traditional tropical fruits for chutney include mangoes, papayas (ripe or green) and bananas. Avoid berries; their delicate flavor and texture get lost.
Instead of raisins, you can substitute dates, dried cherries or dried apricots, or candied citron, pineapple or citrus peels. The vinegar can be cider, red or white. Or try a little balsamic vinegar with dry red wine.
Chutneys take patience. They need to be stirred often to prevent sticking or scorching. Depending on the amount of liquid in the fruit and the size of the batch, the simmering process can take from 30 minutes to two hours. Chutney is done when it will mound on a spoon like thick applesauce.
Conserves are mixed-fruit jam-like mixtures using nuts and raisins. They're like fancy jam with something extra and make a nice holiday gift. They can be used like a sweet relish, accenting roast turkey or ham, or they can top toast.
Without added pectin, they're best made in small batches so the sugar can dissolve quickly. Use a candy thermometer to make sure it gets to the jelling point (220 degrees). Add the nuts in the final five minutes of cooking.
Fruit butters take a fraction of the sugar used in conventional jams or jellies and are great spread on bread or topping pancakes or french toast. Use 1 cup sugar to 1 pound fruit. (For example, basic peach butter uses 2 cups fruit pulp to 1 cup sugar, whereas peach jam uses 4 cups fruit to 5 1/2 cups sugar.) You can reduce the sugar more if the fruit is very sweet. Five pounds of very ripe peaches may need only 1 1/2 cups of sugar. (Let taste be your guide.) These butters can be spiced with a little cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Debbie Arrington writes for the Sacramento Bee.
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