It was the end of a long hot day in Kerala and our hosts decided that for dinner we’d go out for an Indian as opposed to eating one in at the homestead where we were staying. So we went to a hotel, by boat.
I was on a Press trip to this leafy, green Indian state, the Ireland of India, where most of the dishes feature fish or coconuts and usually both. Eating in people’s homes on their spice or tea plantations was fascinating, a far cry from the food experienced in Indian restaurants back home in Blighty. But the fact that we were in a hotel where the food would naturally have a broader brush, gave me an idea.
Could we, perhaps, eat British-style, with poppadoms and chutney to begin with? I was met with blank looks. In India these are accompaniments with the meal, not eaten before. But I persisted and eventually a pile of pops and a dish of chutneys, far more ravishing than back home, were produced.
We journalists started to do what comes naturally: scoop a bit of chutney on a pop and nibble it. Then another. We had quite an audience. The waiters gathered round to watch this curious spectacle and so did the chefs. They weren’t to know that one of their compatriots in London in the 1960s had dreamed up the idea which quickly caught on.
I don’t recall whether mango chutney was among the dishes. Probably not. The chutneys in this part of India are looser, runnier than we get here. Sharwood’s is a much sweeter, milder version of the original and, in any case, Indians prefer the savage heat of mango pickle. But growing up in the UK I’ve learned to love Sharwood’s Green Label Mango Chutney, which has become an icon of the British domestic kitchen.
For me, a curry isn’t a curry unless it comes with a dollop of mango chutney on the side of the plate. And if it’s a homemade curry there will almost certainly be another spoonful of chutney in the sauce. Mango is the champion chutney.
It couldn’t be that hard to make it yourself I thought and it isn’t. I made some earlier in the year and was delighted with the results. But my last jar was running on empty and needed to be replaced and when I saw mangoes on offer in a supermarket bought them up.
Most recipes advise you to use under-ripe mangoes and there is a good reason for this. Cutting up ripe fruit can be a bit too squishy and if you want the mango to retain some texture they should be avoided. However, you have to use what you’ve got and my four mangoes all varied in ripeness.
I’ve used the recipe from ‘Jam, Jelly and Relish’ by Ghillie James (Kyle Cathie Ltd) which includes apples, not so authentic, but then this is an Anglo mango chutney! You could always skip them and add an extra mango. What is important is to look at the spicing. Ignore those which specify spiced pickling vinegar or curry powder. I think the vital ones are clove, cardamom, fenugreek, chilli and cinnamon. Some recipes use cumin but the fenugreek is there to give the curry notes.
Ms James does not use ginger but I do. Apart from that, and a little tinkering here and there, the recipe is hers.
This recipe fills four empty Sharwood’s jars (I kept them because I knew they would be useful one day!). You need:
4 medium mangoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 red onion (I used shallots)
2 apples peeled and cubed
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
400ml cider or white wine vinegar
500g soft light brown sugar
10 green cardamom pods
1 tsp nigella (kalonji) (black onion seeds)
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 inch piece fresh ginger or 1 tsp ground
What you do:
Heat a dry frying pan and gently toast all the spices but the fresh ginger until aroma is released then grind
Simmer vinegar with the ground spices, cinnamon stick, onions and garlic for 10 mins then add mangoes and cook for 10 minutes more (depending on how ripe the mangoes are). Incidentally, I added the large stones to get rid of the remaining fruit then pulled them out and scraped them clean but that’s just me.
Now add apples and the water, bring back to a simmer and cook until fruit gets soft.
When you’re happy, add the sugar (which will prevent further softening) and let it bubble away, stirring regularly, until thick and gloopy and you can see the bottom of the pan when you draw a spoon across.
Allow to cool slightly and funnel into hot, sterilised jars, seal and label.
This takes about a month to develop but you can use any leftover in cheese sandwiches.
I found four medium mangoes weighed 1.5kilo before peeling and stoning, giving 950g of fruit.