I’m suffering from a touch of self-sufficiency envy. In fact, I’m typing this with Giles and Sue Live the Good Life on in the background. I might live in a tiny studio flat in N1, where the waiting list for an allotment is so long (about ten years) that they’re not even taking names anymore, but I still harbour wistful dreams of pottering about on a vegetable patch of a weekend. Oh to have a glut of something to deal with! I long to preserve, can, and bottle things because it’s the only way to get through the hungry gap; it’s just not the same when you have to go to the farmers’ market to buy a lorryload of quinces.
Anyway, come Christmas time, I let my inner Barbara Good out and allow her to make chutneys, jellies, and jams to foist on my nearest and dearest. Hopefully they find this endearing, rather than irritatingly cheapskate. To jazz it all up a bit, I’ve also made some sweet treats in the past; chocolate truffles and chocolate and peanut butter cups have both gone down well.
This year, I’ve splashed out on a preserving pan, having learnt from my last couple of tries that there are few things hotter or more stubbornly sticky than chilli jam that’s escaped from your too-small saucepan all over the top of the hob. Yesterday was the pan’s first outing, as I made clementine and whisky marmalade (from The Preserving Book) followed by spiced pumpkin chutney (from Kitchen).
The marmalade is pretty straightforward; you can painstakingly shred 900g organic clementines by hand, or blitz them in a food processor until finely chopped (not to a pulp). After simmering in your preserving pan or suitably large saucepan in 900ml water to soften the rind, add 900g caster sugar and the juice of two large lemons (to help the set, as apparently clementines are not particularly high in pectin), stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes until the setting point is reached. Stir in a wee dram (or 1–2 tbsp) of whisky before spooning into warm sterilised jars, topping with waxed paper disks, sealing and labelling. I was pretty smug by this point, I can tell you. This recipe fills four 80z/250ml jars.
Since I was on a roll, spiced pumpkin chutney was next on the list. My initial optimism was rapidly cooled by the fine-dicing of an enormous butternut squash. Damn you, Nigella. Once slung into the preserving pan with a chopped cooking apple, two chopped onions, sugar, spices, and vinegar, it’s just a case of leaving it to simmer for about an hour until it thickens and the squash is tender. Then it’s the usual sterilise/spoon/label/congratulate self routine. Chutney needs at least a month, and two if at all possible, to sit in its jar becoming delicious before you tuck in – don’t get greedy and dig in beforehand, or it’ll just be horrible and the most vinegary thing you’ve ever eaten.
The major drawback of chutney making in particular is the acrid, all-pervading stench of vinegar. There really is no getting rid of it for a few days afterwards, so it’s a good idea to try to make all your vinegar-based condiments in one go. Next on the list for me: red onion marmalade and chilli jam.