Harvest storms and chutney making

The Autumn Equinox brought a couple of weeks of south easterlies, the most dramatic winds for our beach. Tangles, piles of seaweed, formed but this kelp and bladderwrack are not the varieties that we want to forage – it’s the deliciously named gutweed that I shall be after, cutting it from the rocks at calmer, lower tides. Foraging inspiration was in abundance at this year’s Orkney International Science Festival, a great reason to visit the Islands in September.

Along with the plastics that are washed up in storms and that inspire us to beach aerobics on our puppy walks as we pick up the debris, there have been plenty groatie buckies – tiny shells that cause beachcombers to walk with their noses almost on the sand and their bums in the air as they search for the good-luck tokens. Our neighbour Kim moved here recently from Lewis and is an expert groatie buckie hunter – she presented us with one the other day, insisting that both the giving and receiving of them brings good fortune.

Homemade preserves are also perfect for giving and receiving. I’ve yet to develop a pickled seaweed recipe or a seaweed chutney – but I expect it could be done! In the meantime, it’s the inevitable green tomatoes that produce the most ubiquitous Orkney chutney as our days shorten and there is a rush to get winter crops established.

My chutney making masterclass on YouTube

A great favourite at Bendigo is Autumn Harvest Chutney – a cornucopia of fruits and veg with plenty of ginger, dates and sultanas to sweeten the mix. It’s a great way to use up bits and pieces from the allotment or garden. Over the years I have given many chutney making demonstrations as it is the hints and tips that people find so useful. Some are here, and some are in my new YouTube video – please watch it and like and share it if you do. It’s a perfect match for the Marmalade Masterclass that became my most-watched food video before I had a YouTube melt-down!

One really important thing about onions for chutney is that the majority are grown from sets, immature onion bulbs. These can develop a tough outer layer beneath the skin which will never soften, even over a long cooking period like chutney making. Don’t waste your other ingredients – take the skin and the outer layer of the onions off. Use them in stock and then compost them or throw them away. Know your onions – it’s better a little bit of veg waste than a lot of badly textured chutney. And don’t forget, as I say in the video – a few spoonfuls of chutney is a brilliant way of getting extra flavour into a casserole, shepherd’s pie or meaty pasta sauce.

Autumn Harvest Chutney

Makes about 5-6 x 500g jars

The ginger makes this preserve for me and I have always loved dates in chutney too. Be warned – you might need to make a double quantity as this is such a delicious chutney, especially if you want to be able to give a few jars away.

• 2 kilos mixed autumn fruits; apples, pears, rhubarb, pumpkin

• 1 kilo onions

• 500g mixed dried fruits: stoned dates, crystallised ginger, sultanas

• 50g fine sea salt

• 1 kg sugar – Demerara or light Muscavado

• 568ml bottle distilled malt vinegar

1. Prepare the fruits and onions, then roughly chop or slice them. Finely chop the dates and ginger.

2. Place all the ingredients in a large preserving pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 1 hour, until reduced to a thick pulp.

3. Pot up in warm, sterilised jars and seal. Clean the jars when cool, dry and label.

Green Tomato Chutney

Makes about 5 x 500g jars

This is my top recipe for this annual favourite – I think nearly every recipe including this are variations on Good Housekeeping or Delia Smith’s creations. Green tomato needs lots of spice and salt for flavour and Demerara or soft brown will give a richer colour than granulated sugar. It takes a lot of cooking to get a thick enough consistency so don’t give up too soon.

• 1.25kg green tomatoes

• 750g onions

• 500g cooking apples

• 75g fine sea salt

• 55g jar black mustard seed

• 2 x 20g jars coriander seed

• 1 tsp cayenne pepper

• 568ml bottle distilled malt vinegar

• 1kg sugar

1. Roughly chop the tomatoes, onions and apples.

2. Place all the ingredients except the sugar in a large preserving pan and stew for about 1 hour, until reduced to a thick pulp.

3. Add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved. Boil rapidly until the chutney has thickened slightly, then pour into warmed jars. Seal with vinegar-proof lids. Clean the jars and label when cold.

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