During post- Christmas drinks with the neighbours I’d drunk enough gin and tonics to float a battleship and felt courageous enough to confess. That bag of apples they’d given me in November, and which I had individually wrapped in paper, put in boxes without touching and stored in the attic and cellar, had all gone bad. I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong.
“Probably poor keepers. I’ll give you a bag of Bramleys to take home,” the husband said airily. He has two apple trees. He and his wife are dismissive of the first, an unknown variety, which provided my apples, because they are poor cookers. But I know that if you use them right away they are ideal for my signature tracklement, curried apple chutney. The other is a Bramley.
It is not my recipe. It is from an excellent preserving book called Jam, Jelly and Relish by Ghillie James, which she calls Gardeners’ Windfall Chutney. It has two great virtues – it doesn’t require quality apples so you can scrump away regardless and it doesn’t need to mature so can be used at once, although it will improve with keeping. And it is exceptionally easy to make, a chutney for chumps!
One year I made a supply with apples from several gardens and a box left on a wall saying ‘help yourself.’ A jar given in return was, it was reported, finished inside three days. It is simple to make, everything goes into the preserving pan at once and all you have to is watch and wait and stir. But it will take up much of the day.
This is the recipe, with my tweaks
1.5kg of apples, peeled, cored and chopped finely
1 onion, chopped
4x400g tins of chopped tomatoes
750g granulated sugar
3 tsp curry powder
2 tsp of ground ginger
1 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp salt
575 ml malt vinegar
If you don’t have a big pan, halve the ingredients. Put everything in the pan on a medium heat, stirring to prevent catching, for about two and a half hours. It will reduce, thicken and when you trail a wooden spoon in the pan and see bare metal at the bottom it is ready. Allow to cool a little and ladle into clean, sterilised jars. I made about 10 jars of different sizes.
One footnote: The recipe doesn’t exactly make clear if the weight of apples is gross (before peeling etc) or net. I found from 1.5kg of apples I had 600g of peel and core and I was being careful so replaced it with another 600g of apples, before peeling.
2016 UPDATE: This year I made eight and three-quarter jars from apple trees in my street and I got them mainly off the trees rather than relying on windfalls. There are a lot of apples to process and if having peeled and cored them you do not want to faff about cutting them into thin slices carry on as above but do not include the sugar at the start.
Wait until the fruit is soft and you can mash it with a potato peeler. Then add the sugar, which tends to harden the fruit. Do watch out for the mixture spitting when you stir. Best to use oven gloves.