I started growing my own vegetables when I was about 11. After a long winter hording my pocket money, poring over seed catalogues and haunting the seed display in our local hardware shop, I bribed my younger brother to help me dig a few beds in the overgrown back garden. An early adopter of raised beds, my growing spaces were enclosed with random pieces of wood that we filched from around the house when our mother’s back was turned.
As it had been long neglected, the soil in the sheltered space was like black gold and everything I planted thrived, including – to my surprise – a set of tomato plants That summer we actually had enough sun to ripen a lot of the fruit, much to my mother’s delight. She was always a sucker for real tomatoes after her own childhood experience of discovering the sweet taste that they had when picked ripe from the vine.
Despite that summer’s sun, there were still plenty of unripened tomatoes left on the plant at the end of the summer so, ever the busy child, I picked them all and decided to make Green Tomato Chutney. Unlike jam making, which requires a little skill to figure out the setting point, chutney is child’s play. Peel, chop, mix in saucepan and simmer (gagging at the vinegar fumes!) until it resembles something you might like with cheese: an easy make for any age. Only one thing – at the time, we weren’t a chutney-eating household. I never did know what happened to all my lovingly filled and labeled jars.
This year was the third year in a row that we’ve had to pull up a collection of tomato plants without actually getting to eat a single tomato. What can I say? We’re optimists. We just keep on trying. The plants had seemed very happy when they were planted out in the raised beds this year, putting on a great growth spurt. There were plenty of flowers that set well, swelling into a substantial amount of little green marbles, just ready for the sunshine. But it came too late. When we uprooted the plants to make room for a late planting of leeks on Sunday, I collected those green fruit and, now an affirmed chutney lover, decided to see if Green Tomato (and Apple – needed to bulk it up) Chutney is worth eating.
With some windfall cooking apples from my mother’s orchard (a grand name for the few elderly, nettle-bound trees that still produce fruit!), this is the recipe that I used. I can’t yet tell you if it’s worth it or not as the chutney has to mature for at least a month before we eat it but it certainly uses enough vinegar to fumigate a whole house, never mind a small cottage! Best made on a day when you can leave all your doors and windows open. You can play around with the green tomato/apple ratio – I only ended up with a scant kilo of tomatoes so balanced it out with the apples.
Green Tomato and Apple ChutneyGreen tomatoes – 1kgApples – 1.5kg, peeled, cored and choppedGinger – about 2cms, peeled and finely choppedFresh chillies – 2, finely choppedSultanas – 225g, choppedOnions – 500g, choppedSalt – 2 teaspoons Demerara sugar – 500g Malt vinegar – 500mlMustard seeds – 1 heaped tablespoonPut all the ingredients into a large, heavy based pan. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.Simmer, stirring regularly, for 2-3 hours until reduced to a thick, rich pulp. When the chutney is ready you should be able to draw a wooden spoon through it and see the base of the pan for a few moments.Decant into warmed, sterilised jars, cover and label. Store in a cool dark place, allowing to mature for at least a month before using.Makes approximately 10 jars.