Earlier this year, I couldn't wait to share the UK edition of Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries II with you, even though the book was a little hard to pick up here in the United States. But now things have changed. As promised, Ten Speed Press has just released the US edition, titled Notes from the Larder, making it a little easier to find, and if you're not up for messing with conversions or if you don't have a kitchen scale that reads in grams, a little easier to use. Let's take a peek at this edition though a favorite recipe, one that I have cooked several times: A Dark and Sticky Fruit Chutney.
This US edition is faithful to the UK edition with the exception of the usual changes: namely, the addition of US measurements and cooking terms and the substitution of common US produce names for the UK ones (eggplant for aubergine, etc.). There's also a nice short introduction to the US edition with some helpful hints for substituting other items such as muscovado sugar and sloe gin.
The book itself has had a slight redesign but is identical in size, shape, and quality. The number of recipes and all the other stats, and indeed my overall positive impression, remain the same from when I reviewed the UK edition.
The Recipe: A Dark and Sticky Fruit Chutney
This recipe is one that I have cooked several times with excellent results. In general, I find that chutney recipes are very forgiving and that you can play around with them without too much worry, and the same is true here. For instance, the first time I made this recipe, I wasn't paying close attention and I dumped everything into the pot at once and starting cooking it. It was only 5 minutes later that I realized that I was supposed to warm the sugar in the oven first and then add it to the pot after the fruit, onion, vinegar, and spices had simmered for a while. I assume this gives the fruit a chance to really adsorb the sharper vinegar flavors before the sweet component is introduced. But my resulting chutney was delicious, and truth be told, I usually stay with my 'mistake' method.
I have a nice sized bottle of malt vinegar in my pantry and so have used it in all of my batches in the past year, although I imagine you could use all cider vinegar if that's easier for you. The same goes with the golden raisins. With my last batch, I was out so I used a combination of dried cherries and cut up prunes with lovely results. I would not substitute the figs, however, unless you are prepared for a much different chutney.
The number of figs listed has never added up to 1 kilogram for me (my tree must yield smaller figs) so be sure to weigh them and don't go by just the number. Also, Nigel doesn't give detailed instructions for how to can the chutney, so if you are interested in that, you may want to consult a website or post on canning. In general, chutney with its high acid and sugar content is pretty low risk to can and I've even kept an un-canned jar in the refrigerator for several weeks.
This chutney is a huge hit in my household and with my friends and neighbors. It's easy to make and easy to give away. Serve it with cheese, like a crumbly aged cheddar or something rich such as Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam or Red Hawk. It's also great on grilled cheese sandwiches or with any dish that requires a brisk, sweet-sour accompaniment. This is not a spicy chutney, and I haven't tried this yet, but I would imagine this would be delicious with the addition of a small, dried chile de arbol tucked into each jar.
A dark and sticky fruit chutney
From Notes from the Larder by Nigel Slater
When, I wonder, did I become the sort of guy who makes his own chutney? The kind of cook who is not content with just throwing something handmade in the oven for supper but now tenderly stirs bubbling pots of dark sugar, fruit, vegetables, and spices until they are thick and sour-sweet.
Looking back through faded, butter-blotted notebooks, it seems that the chutney habit (tomato, runner bean, onion, and now fig) entered my kitchen a decade after I started making my own ice cream and baking my own bread. Probably around the same time I took up growing some of my own vegetables in earnest. My glowing jars came not out of the need to preserve a glut or to make ribbon-decked gifts for my friends but from a desire to have a spoonful or two of homemade relish to go with a piece of cheese and a hunk of bread.
Chutney was originally a way of preserving a harvest of vegetables or fruits for the winter. Onions, shallots, cauliflower, tomato, apples, and plums spoil quickly, and a savory preserve was an alternative to storing the vegetables in vinegar or salt or the fruit in sweet syrup—a delicious treat born out of frugality. I rarely end up with too many vegetables, but the figs in my garden ripen in quick succession, hanging maroon and purple on the tree till they are so heavy they fall, leaving wine-colored splats on the lichen-pocked stone below. The blackbirds dive in to feast, which somwhat assuages my guilt at not catching the fruit before it falls, but better for my own peace of mind would be to find a way of keeping them. A man can only eat so many figs.
Dark chutneys are easy to make. You simply simmer the fruits or vegetables with onions, vinegar, allspice, the darker sugars, dried fruits, coriander seeds, and peppercorns. The basic recipe is straightforward; the details of acidity, sweetness, and spicing are more personal and can be tinkered with to your heart’s content.
Today I pick every fig I can (frustratingly, many are left out of reach), get out my deepest pan, and begin the process of chopping and stirring. It’s a Radio 4 kind of afternoon, the weather seesawing from rain to brilliant golden sunshine, the air in the kitchen running the gamut from jam to sinus-piercing vinegar. As the glossy mahogany cools, it seems a reasonable balance of sweet and sour, but what interests me is how it will mellow over the next couple of weeks.
brown sugar: a generous cup (250g)
figs: 8 large (about 2 1/2 pounds / 1kg)
malt vinegar: 2/3 cup (150ml)
cider vinegar: 2/3 cup (150ml)
onions: 9 ounces (250g), chopped
golden raisins: 9 ounces (250g)
salt: 1 teaspoon
allspice: 1 teaspoon
black peppercorns: half a teaspoon, cracked
coriander seeds: 1 teaspoon
Warm the sugar in a bowl in a low oven. Coarsely chop the figs, removing any tough stems as you go, then put them in a large stainless steel or enameled saucepan. Add the vinegars, onions, raisins, salt, allspice, cracked peppercorns, and coriander seeds, then bring to a boil. Simmer for thirty minutes, until the onions and fruit are soft.
Stir in the sugar. Bring slowly to a boil, then turn the heat down so that the chutney bubbles gently. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes, with the occasional stir to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the mixture is thick and jamlike. Bottle in sterilized jars while hot and seal.
Makes a couple of jars.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Notes From the Larder by Nigel Slater.
Our review of the UK Edition, The Kitchen Diaries II
A Beautiful, Sad, Chutney Kind of Day, a more personal look at making this recipe
Follow Nigel on Twitter — he is an avid tweeter!
Nigel Slater's Website
Reprinted with permission from Notes from the Larder by Nigel Slater, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
(Images: Dana Velden)