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Friday, 25 April 2014

Grandma's Green Tomato Chutney

When I was a kid I used to watch "Cockleshell Bay" as part of the TV series Rainbow, about the adventures of two children, a boy called Robin and his sister, Rosie, in their little seaside town. It always ended happily, of course, and the children would say to each other, "Let's go home for cheese and chutney sandwiches."  The reason I remember this is because at the time it was the sort of thing I would do with my brother.  Thanks to my grandma's passion for making green tomato chutney, we always had a plentiful supply of homemade chutney should we need to whip up a cheese and chutney sandwich. She had jars of it in her cupboards and, because she also gave lots away, my mum and my aunt had plenty of it in their cupboards too. Summer holidays particularly, whether at home or at my grandma's, involved a lot of cheese and chutney sandwiches, or at least that's how I remember it.

With time and age my grandma stopped growing tomatoes and making her beloved chutney and we moved on to the always popular Branston Pickle (which, technically speaking is a vegetable chutney not a pickle). So my later childhood was more likely to have featured a ham sandwich or a cheese and pickle sandwich. My best friend at school ate cheese and pickle sandwiches every day for about 10 years, such was her love for them. I won't be snobbish about it, I like a cheese and pickle sandwich even now and, yes, there is usually a jar of Branston in my cupboard.

I was 18 years old when my grandma died and I inherited her recipe books, along with her green tomato chutney recipe. It would be another 8 years before I got into preserve making and actually made the recipe. Six weeks of maturing in the jar and then it was ready to dollop into a cheese sandwich. One bite and there I was back on the picnic blanket in the woods with my grandma and brother eating cheese and chutney sandwiches.

Green tomato chutney is a very useful recipe either for using up unripe tomatoes at the end of the season or salvaging what you can from a tomato crop yielding to blight. As such, it is an essential part of my range, but more than that, it tastes good too. Even if you don't have the childhood memories associated with the flavour, it is a mild, old-fashioned, inoffensive chutney which compliments cheese perfectly. It's a safe bet too for people who would rather run away and hide from the modern flavours of garlic and/or chilli that can be found in so many foods. My mum is the sort of person who would rather not have her taste buds assaulted by these, but, of course, for her the chutney is extra special as brings back memories of her own childhood and mother. With her birthday next week, I have made her some of this special chutney this week and this is why all these memories have come back to the surface.

I'm pleased to say that my own daughters now enjoy a cheese and chutney sandwich and I like the thought of the recipe having touched 4 generations of the same family (more for all I know). Don't worry, it's not a great family secret with closely guarded ingredients. I will share the recipe with you too in the hope that if nothing else it will stop your unripe tomatoes going to waste in the autumn. It would be better still if you could find the time to make up a cheese and chutney sandwich picnic and find some willing family members and go off and enjoy a quintessentially English afternoon in slightly uncertain weather conditions in a park or wood somewhere. After all, at the end of an exciting adventure who needs to "live happily ever after" when you can "go home for cheese and chutney sandwiches" instead!

Grandma's Green Tomato Chutney

Ingredients (makes 2-4 jars)
2lb (900 g) green tomatoes
1lb (450 g) cooking apples
8 oz (225 g) onions
1 oz (25 g) salt
4 oz (110 g) sultanas
1 pint (600 ml) malt vinegar
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp pickling spice (e.g. cloves, cinnamon, allspice berries)
8 oz (225 g) light brown sugar
(optional) 1 tbsp black treacle

Coarsely chop the tomatoes then peel, core and chop the apples (weigh after preparation).  Peel and chop the onions and tie the spices in a piece of muslin.  Mix all the ingredients except the sugar in the preserving pan and bring to the boil. Drop in the spices. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the pulp is tender (20 to 30 minutes). Add the sugar and stir well until it has completely dissolved.  Bring back to the boil and continue to boil until thick. Pour into warm jars and seal immediately. 

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