Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christmas Chutney (Homemade Gifts)

I have grown up enjoying the chutney that my Nana used to make regularly, and it used to be the only one I liked. Every now and then we'd get a new jar, and it was delicious! Homemade jams and chutneys have always sounded like such a good idea but I've never attempted it myself. One of my best friends recently treated me to a night out at a cooking demonstration where they made a REALLY tasty chutney and made it look very simple - so I thought I'd finally have a go.

I spent a while researching how to seal jars at home, and have chosen the method below which suited me for what I wanted. It isn't the only way of doing it, but as the chutney's are for gifts I wanted to make sure they would be sealed safely!

Makes: 12 x 7oz Jars of Chutney (I used normal jam jars with screw top lids, bought new)

  • 1 Kg Fresh Figs - washed, trimmed and cut into 12 pieces per fig
  • 1kg Plums - washed, stoned and halved
  • 200g Raisins
  • 500ml Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Red Onions, finely chopped (If they are large onions, use only 2)
  • 4 Tsp Salt
  • 2 Tsp Chinese Five Spice
  • 2 Tsp Paprika
  • 700g Dark Muscavado Sugar
  • 12 x 7oz Jars (or similar depending on quantity you want in each jar)
  • Large pan, doesn't have to be a preserving pan.
  • Kraft Tags or Similar
  • Wax disks to fit inside the top of your jar (I didn't use but see below - I used a water bath)
  • Large Roasting Tray
Note: Fresh figs are out of season by October so they are a little pricey now. I would suggest (and I will do the same) making your chutney in the summer when they are cheaper. Next year I will try and adapt the recipe for dried figs as they are significantly cheaper. Best made in advance, as chutney develops in flavour over time.

I've been told it will keep for a year at least if sealed properly and airtight. I have recommended on our gift tags that they are used within a year, and once opened refrigerated and consumed within 2 weeks. I have kept a jar for testing to make sure they are ok before giving as gifts (purely because this is my first time and I want to be sure!).

Note about sterilizing and sealing the jars: I researched the best way that I felt I could do at home, and have included this in the method so you don't need to think about timings of doing two things at once. If you have done this before at home and have any tips or a different way of doing it that works for you that is fine, and I'd love to hear them! I found this blog post the most useful after hours of searching and finding lots of different methods!

  1. Place all the fruits into the large pan.
  2. Add the vinegar, salt and spices.
  3. Bring to the boil making sure you stir continuously to prevent it burning.
  4. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 10 minutes (without lid), or until the fruits have softened.
  5. Sterilising the jars and lids: Whilst waiting, wash your jars and lids. Place the lids in a saucepan so they are upside down and covered with at least 1 inch of water. Place your wet clean jars in your roasting tray and fill the tray with enough water to cover about 1cm of the tray.
  6. Once the chutney fruits have softened, add the sugar and keep stirring until it is all dissolved.
  7. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil.
  8. Cook the chutney until it is thick, so that when you run a spoon through it there remains a channel. This took just over 1 hour although the original recipe said it was much less. 
  9. Sterilising the jars and lids: Whilst you are waiting for your chutney to thicken, put your tray of jars into a cold oven. Turn the oven on to 120°C (Fan) and leave in the oven for 30 mins (I left mine in for the whole hour of the chutney thickening and they were fine!). For the lids, bring the pan to the boil and leave on a gentle boil for 30 mins. I also sterilized a metal spoon  and some metal tongues in the lid pan so that I could use them for grabbing the lids and putting the chutney into the jars.
  10. Once the chutney is at the desired thickness, and whilst hot, pour into hot sterilised jars and screw on the lid, making sure you don't touch the inside of the jar or lid. Make sure you screw your lid on "hand tight" - i.e. tight enough to do it up but not with all your strength!
  11. Allow to cool for at least 12 hours and don't touch the lids or press the tops!
  12. The hot chutney should create a vacuum in your jar as it cools. Once they are cool you can test the jar by pressing the top of the lid, if it moves, your seal has failed. If it doesn't move then it's safe to be stored away until opened.
Troubleshooting - has my jar sealed!?

I made the mistake of not screwing the lids on tight enough, so when I tightened them I wasn't sure the seal was still intact as a couple you could press down on. As they were for gifts I decided to use the water bath method to make extra sure they would be sealed. I knew they would be ok as the vinegar and sugar content is high enough for it to be preserved but I didn't want to take any risks. I put them in cold water in a large pan and covered with 2 inches of water, brought to the boil and gently boiled for 15 mins. I then left them in the pan to cool overnight and tested the seals the next day. They were fine (and I had peace of mind!) so are now in the garage ready to be gift wrapped.

Wax disks: I was told afterwards that they would probably have been ok if I had put a wax disk on the top of the chutney inside the lid making sure there were no air bubble. I'll be doing this next time although the water bath method was simple enough.

Storing: Having searched around it seems that a chutney's flavour develops over time, and they are best made 4-6 weeks in advance. They will keep for at least a year with enough sugar and vinegar content, as long as they are in a cool place (although a lot of online advance says they will keep for many years!), Once opened they need to be refrigerated and will keep for up to 4 weeks.

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