During my early childhood years, my family lived in Southern California. Our house was tiny, but the backyard was a huge, tiered thing that sloped upwards to a two-story garage and an alley that served all the homes on the block. That property was a wonderland to a small child and nothing was more magical to me than the fact that we had three productive plum trees.
My sister and I would pretend we were pioneers and the plums were our harvest. We'd proudly present baskets of fruit to our mom. She'd turn them into runny jam (so good on pancakes), butter and my favorite, plum chutney.
When I first started canning, I turned to the recipes I grew up with. I made my mom's blueberry jam, her spiced applesauce and than plum chutney recipe. Because I'm the only one in my household that feels fondly towards chutney, I adapted the recipe to make just a few half-pint jars.
Over the years, I've used this basic recipe with all manner of fruit. In the springtime, I make it with rhubarb. During the summer months, I do it with plums or peaches. When fall rolls around, I substitute chopped apples. And storage pears do the job during winter.
This chutney is magical with cheese. I'm particularly fond of it slathered into a cheese sandwich just before grilling. It's also very nice served with lentils and brown rice or dolloped on top of roasted sweet potato wedges.
Adaptable (Plum) Chutney
Makes 3 half pints
4 cups chopped plums (about 2 pounds) 1 cup minced onion (about 1 small onion) 3/4 cups raisins 2 cups brown sugar 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar 1 lemon, zested 2 teaspoons sea salt 1 teaspoon cinnamon 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
Combine all ingredients in a wide, non-reactive pot (give yourself at least 4 quarts of space to work with). Place pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Once it bubbles, reduce heat to medium and simmer gently, stirring regularly, until slightly thickened.
As the chutney gets closer to done, make sure to stir every minute or so to prevent scorching. You'll know the chutney is finished cooking when you can pull your spoon through the chutney and the space you've created doesn't fill in immediately.
Another way to determine whether the chutney is done is a method popular in vintage canning books. You scoop a small spoonful out of the pot and watch how it behaves once in the bowl of the spoon. If it runs to the edges, it's not there yet. However, if it sits in a high mound, it is done.
If you plan on eating your three half pints in short order, you're welcome to skip the processing part and simply keep the chutney in the fridge. However, if your refrigerator space is as limited as mine is, here's now to make those jars pantry ready.
To process the jars for shelf stability: Fill a small stockpot with water and place a small rack in the bottom of the pot. If you don't have an appropriately sized rack, use a folded kitchen towel.
Sink three half pint jars into filled stockpot and bring it to a simmer.
Fill a small saucepan halfway with hot water and put the jar lids in it. Place it over the lowest flame your stove can produce.
When the chutney is finished cooking, remove the jars from stockpot and place them on a folded kitchen towel. Fill the jars with the chutney, leave 1/2 inch of headspace.
Wipe the rims of the jars to remove any errant chutney. Apply the hot lids and screw on the bands until they just hold (not too tight!).
Place filled jars into the stockpot of hot water and bring to a boil. Once the pot is bubbling vigorously, reduce the heat a little so that it maintains a gentle boil and set a timer for ten minutes.
When time is up, remove jars from the canner and set them to cool on a folded kitchen towel. Once the jars are cool to the touch, remove rings and test seals. You should be able to grasp the outer edge of the lid and lift the entire jar while the lid holds fast.
Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated. Sealed jars can be kept in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
When it's time to eat your chutney, make sure to open a sealed jar at least half an hour before you want to eat. I've found that chutneys need a little time to air out, otherwise all you taste is vinegar.
Marisa McClellan is our guest feature writer for June. She is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated farmers' market shopper who lives in Center City Philadelphia with her husband Scott McNulty. She's the author of the blog Food in Jars and spends most of her days cooking up jams, fruit butters and pickles in her 80 square foot kitchen. Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches All Year Long is her very first cookbook.