Tuesday, 29 October 2013


I love making chutney and pickles in the autumn.  My grandmother made all our chutney, jam and marmalade until she was well into her nineties, and when she died my father and I took over the role between us.  It's just my kind of cooking - don't worry too much about quantities, lob everything into a pot, boil for 30 mins, and enjoy the results for the rest of the year.  You can't say fairer than that.

Andy's parents brought round six pounds of green tomatoes so I tried out a recipe from my grandmother's cookery book...

I'm not sure when this book was published as the cover is long gone, but it must be pre-war.  The introduction talks about the novelty of baking meat in an oven instead of roasting it in front of the fire.  I also had to google what the 'gill' of vinegar in my recipe was (one quarter of an imperial pint, it turns out.  Another recipe calls for 1d - British pre-decimal pennysworth - of linseed).  The faff was well worth it: the chutney's lovely.  This recipe is very similar and a lot more accessible...

We also had windfall apples from my parents, and I went shopping at the Exotic Superstore on Farnham Road in Slough.  Four mangos, eight limes, three bunches of spinach, and some onions and chillies came to £2.97 - unbeatable.

So, I've been having a half-term holiday preserving binge.  As well as the green tomato chutney, I've made lime pickle, mango chutney, corn relish, strawberry jam, apple sauce and pesto.

And this is what I've learned from my many preserving mistakes...

  • Equipment - you don't need to bother with having a proper jam pan, thermometer or tripod strainer.   I make all my preserves in my big enamel stewpot.  The only special bit of kit I own is a jam funnel, which makes it much easier to fill the jars. My wonderful collapsible silicon one from Lakeland has been discontinued, but this one is close - linky.  I also buy jars, simply because I'm not organised enough to collect enough old pickle jars in time.  These from Asda at £3.50 for 3, are easier to use than the more expensive brands, although you won't be able to buy replacement seals.
  • I've never been successful at measuring the setting point for my jam.  I just rely on the cooking times in my recipe to get it roughly right.   Homemade jam is so nice it doesn't matter if it's a bit runny.  On the other hand, if you boil jam for too long, you'll be chiselling it out of the pan.  I know this because the first time I made jam, I didn't realise that it would solidify as it cooled and ended up with a huge lump of blackberry rock welded to my stewpot.  For some reason I always find the boiling times in Nigella's recipes are always too short, so I google a similar recipe for a more accurate time.  (This is probably down to Nigella using a proper wide-topped jam pan, now I come to think of it). 
  • Chutney thickens as it cooks, so needs a lot of checking and stirring towards the end of the cooking time.  When it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, it's time to turn the heat off, even if the recipe says there's still five minutes' cooking time to go.
  • For orange marmalade you need Seville oranges, on sale for a short period in February and March.  I hate handling the sticky boiled oranges with my hands, so cut them up with a knife and fork.
  • You can sterilise the jars simply by washing them and sticking them in a low oven, on top of a baking tray, for 15 minutes.  
  • A tip from one of my favourite books, Cooking Like Mummyji: to preserve coriander (cilantro) and fenugreek, just wash, chop finely, and pop into plastic bags in the freezer.  The coriander defrosts instantly when you sprinkle it on hot food.
  • You can freeze small portions of pesto and sauces in an ice cube tray, but it's so much easier to pour the sauce into silicon cake cases like so...


...and when they're solid, slip the ice cubes out of the moulds and into a food bag for the freezer.

Just to clarify, as Lizzie has just asked me why I'm posting pictures of 'weed cakes' on the internet, that's frozen pesto in the photo above.  Not marijuana.  I promise.


  1. I love home made Chutney. The old recipes are the best i think , better then the some of the newer ones.

  2. Your preserves look gorgeous and I love the silicon cake case idea! I have an old cookbook that lists 'oyster forks' as essential home equipment :-)

  3. Love the idea of 'Oyster Forks' in every kitchen!