Cumquat Date and Ginger Chutney

Cumquat Date and Ginger Chutney width=Making Tomato Chutney was on the agenda this weekend. We were onto the last jar and running out is considered grounds for divorce in our house. A trip to the fruit and vegetable market in the last hour before closing provided some lovely ripe tomatoes at a bargain price. Matthew always helps with the chopping, so it didn’t take long to get all the ingredients in the pan.

We have a cumquat bush in the garden which is well over 2 metres high. I picked several kilos of fruit a few months back and made them into marmalade as I do every year. The few ripe cumquats that I had missed were starting to fall to the ground as the new season fruit appeared. So while I was in the preserving mood I decided to pick them and see if there were enough to make something. With just one kilo and a few ingredients from the pantry I came up with this tangy spicy chutney which tastes quite different to the tomato one.

The dates add consistency and a delicious caramel flavour. Serve with ham, cold pork, duck or chicken.

1 kg ripe cumquats
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbs lemon juice
2-3 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2 cups sugar
2 medium to large onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup chopped dates
1 tsp salt
Spices:
12 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
3 star anise
1-2 dried birds-eye chillies, broken in two

Cut cumquats into halves or quarters, depending on size and remove seeds. Place in a large heavy-bottomed pan or preserving pan with remaining ingredients. Place spices in a piece of muslin and tie firmly into a small bundle with string, then add to the pot. An old cotton handkerchief or a piece of any thin cotton fabric will do.

Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour, stirring often, until thick. Remove spice bag, cool it a bit, then remove any bits of chutney stuck to it and return them to the pot. Discard spices, wash out the cloth and keep for next time.

Place 4-5 empty jam jars without their lids in the microwave and zap on High for 2 mins. Fill with the hot chutney using a jug and seal firmly with the lids. Label then store in a dark cupboard where it will keep for several months. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes 4-5 jars

Caramelised Onion Jam

Where would we be without the humble onion? White, brown, red, cooked or raw, pickled or fried, roasted or stewed. They’re an integral part of cooking around the world.

Onion jam is a delicious way to add some sweet onion flavour to all sorts of things. Use it in toasted sandwiches, on bruschettas, spread over the base of a savoury tart or pizza or served with a grilled steak.

Caramelised Onion Jam 2 kg onions
½ cup olive oil
375ml balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
½ to ¾ tsp salt, to taste
2 tsp  dried thyme leaves or 4 tsp chopped fresh ones

Peel and slice onions thinly. This takes no time at all with a slicing attachment on a food processor, but you can do it by hand. Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan or preserving pan. Add onions and cook, stirring, for 5 mins or until they start to soften. Cover and cook for about 45 mins over medium heat, stirring from time to time.

Remove lid and continue to cook for another 30 mins, stirring from time to time. Add sugar and balsamic vinegar, stir to dissolve sugar, then bring to the boil and simmer for a further 30 mins. Add thyme and salt and cook for about 10 mins, stirring often, until you have a thick, slightly sticky jam-like consistency.

Place 3-4 standard jam jars or 6-8 small ones in the microwave, without their lids and zap for 2 mins on High. Fill jars with the onion jam then push a knife blade in, right to the bottom, all the way round, to remove any air. Seal with lids while hot. Will keep for several months in a dark cupboard. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes 4-8 jars depending on size

Candied Pears made in a Slow Cooker

Candied or glacée fruit has been made for centuries as a means of preserving fruit through the winter months. During a recent wander around the Adelaide Central Market I came across some Candied Vanilla Pears, which inspired me to have a go at making my own. They were a rich dark brown colour and delicious. They almost looked as if they were made of chocolate.

After reading through half a dozen recipes online, I found one which uses a slow cooker. This appealed to me as you can go away and leave the fruit to cook for hours without looking at it. It’s a time-consuming activity and you only end up with a few pieces, but having successfully done one batch I think I’ll do some more. The criss-cross pattern you can see in the photo is from the wire rack!

For those who have never been, the Adelaide Central Market is fabulous. Around 80 under cover stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fish, meat, bread, cheeses and other gourmet delicacies. It’s open every day except Sundays and public holidays. I wish we had something similar in Canberra.

Candied Pears made in a Slow Cooker6-8 large pears, only just barely ripe
water
sugar
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped out
2 very heaped Tbs glucose syrup (about half a 500g jar)

Halve pears lengthwise. No need to peel and you can leave the stem on one  half. Use a metal skewer to pierce fruit all over. Place in slow cooker and add enough water to barely cover. Remove pears and measure the water – mine was a litre or four 250ml cups. In a medium saucepan, heat the water with one and a half times the amount of sugar – so for me that was six cups – stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Put pears back in slow cooker with enough syrup to cover, keeping the rest as spare in case you need to top up. Add vanilla pod and seeds, cover, turn the heat setting to high and cook for 6 hours. The recipe said to turn the pot down to low setting, but it also said the liquid should be gently bubbling. In my slow cooker that meant using the high setting. Keep an eye on it and if they seem to be cooking at more than a bare simmer, turn the  heat down to low. If you cook the pears too quickly they will break up.

After six hours turn off the heat and leave to cool overnight. Next day turn to high and repeat the process, letting it gently simmer with the lid on for six hours. Next day do the same again, so that’s three times in total. I found I didn’t need to add more liquid but if you do, use the reserved syrup to top up.

Next day add the glucose syrup, turn the slow cooker to high and when it starts to bubble cook for about 3 hours, adding more syrup if pears are not covered.

Remove fruit from syrup while it’s still warm and place on a wire rack to drain. Keep the rich dark brown syrup to serve drizzled over pancakes or waffles. It will keep for months in a sealed bottle.

When fruit has stopped dripping preheat oven to 100ºC. Place the rack over a baking tray and place in the oven for an hour or two. When the surface of the fruit no longer feels very moist to the touch they are ready. Don’t overdo it or the pears will be a bit chewy. Leave the pears as they are for a shiny look, or roll each piece in granulated sugar for a frosted look.

Fruit will keep for several months in a tightly sealed container. Serve with cheese – they go especially well with brie and cheddar and look great on a cheese board.

Makes 12-16 pieces

Note: if preferred, cut pears into quarters instead of halves.

The Tomato Chutney Dowry

Running out of tomato chutney is grounds for divorce in our house.

Matthew and I met in Geneva when he was working for the Australian Mission to the UN and I was working for the Brits. He had recently broken up with a long time girlfriend and I was also footloose and fancy free when a mutual friend invited us to a tramps and tarts party. When I look at the photos from that night I wonder how the chutney ever came into it. My skirt was only just long enough to be decent.

My father left the RAF after the War, to help his father run the family nursery, which he eventually took over. To earn pocket money I worked on Saturday mornings in the shop where we sold tomatoes, cucumbers and salad ingredients in summer and cut chrysanthemums and potted cyclamen in winter. Grandpa sat in the corner of the shop. He appeared to be dozing, but in fact he was watching me like a hawk. The tomatoes were weighed to order and the adding up was done in your head. Quite a challenge for an 11 year old. “You put one too many in that last pound of tomatoes. If you do that every time, you’ll put us out of business” Grandpa would say.

Dad’s mother Jessie was from Falkirk, just outside Edinburgh, and she was an excellent cook. Grandpa met her when he was in charge of the gardens at Battle Abbey in Sussex and she was running the dairy. I often wonder how a young Scottish lass ended up working nearly 500 miles away from home, but by the time I wanted to ask she had been dead for many years.

My mother grew up in Malta where her father was stationed during the War. Strict rationing meant she was never allowed to cook, in case she ruined precious ingredients. When they decided to get married, my Dad asked his future bride if she could cook. When she said no he thought she was being modest – but she wasn’t.

His mother had learned many skills from working in the dairy of a stately home, including how to make butter into swans for afternoon tea. In the early years of my parents’ marriage, my mother grew sick of hearing my father waxing lyrical about the swans. “If you want swans made of butter you’d better go back,” she used to say, teasingly. Fortunately, Nana took Mum under her wing and taught her to make a few basic recipes, so we wouldn’t starve.

Once a year Dad would bring in a couple of boxes of slightly over-ripe tomatoes and it became a ritual for the whole family to make several batches of tomato chutney using his mother’s recipe. When I got to Geneva I continued to make tomato chutney, despite living in a tiny bed-sit with only two hotplates.

Soon after we met, Matthew and I rented a ski chalet in La Clusaz for a week with a group of friends. It was self-catering so everyone brought food. As he was unpacking my box of contributions Matthew found a jar of tomato chutney. “What’s this?” he asked, so I told him. Before you could say Jack Robinson he had unscrewed the lid, eaten a spoonful and hidden the jar in one of the top cupboards. “Too good for that lot” he said “”they’ll polish it off in one sitting.”

The tomato chutney goes well with cheese, ham and other cold meats. Over the years I’ve only made two slight adjustments, using cider vinegar instead of dark malt vinegar and cutting down a bit on the sugar and salt. It’s crucial to use vine-ripened, very red, tasty tomatoes. The hard, orange, tasteless ones you buy in supermarkets in winter will produce a very mediocre chutney.

Matthew and I met in October and married the following May – quick work, especially since he left Geneva in early January, having come to the end of his posting. He returned in May to get married, having discovered he couldn’t live without me – or was it the chutney?

Tomato chutney with cheddar cheese on crusty sourdough bread

Tomato Chutney

3 kg ripe tomatoes
1 kg peeled green apples (see note below)
500g peeled onions
500g seedless raisins
750g dark brown sugar
4 tsp salt
600 ml cider vinegar
2 rounded Tbs pickling spices (see recipe below)
4 Tbs whole yellow mustard seeds

You will need a large preserving pan with a heavy base for this recipe. Mine is stainless steel and has a diameter of 33cm and a height of 15cm. It holds about 7 litres. Alternatively make half the recipe in a large heavy-based saucepan.

Pour boiling water over tomatoes and leave for a couple of minutes, then remove skins and chop. Core and chop the apples and chop the onions. Place pickling spices in a muslin bag or tie them in an old cotton handkerchief. Place all ingredients except mustard seeds in preserving pan.

Cook for about an hour at a steady boil, until thick. Stir regularly to prevent sticking, especially towards the end. Meanwhile place sufficient clean jars (without their lids) in the oven set to 120°C. Or you can zap them in the microwave on High for 2 minutes. How many jars you use will depend on the size of the jars.

When chutney is cooked remove pickling spices, squeezing the bag so any juices go back into the chutney, then discard the spices. Stir in mustard seeds and pour into the hot sterilized jars using a small jug. Poke a knife down right to the bottom of each jar, all the way around the edge, to remove any air bubbles. Seal jars with the lids and store in a dark cupboard. Keeps for at least 12 months.

Note: Apples which go mushy when cooked, such as English Bramleys, are best, but they are hard to find in Australia. We’ve planted a tree and should get our first crop in a year or two. Alternatively use Granny Smiths, although the apples will stay in pieces when cooked. Sultanas can be used instead of raisins, but they are not quite as nice.

Makes 6-8 standard jam jars

Pickling Spices

1 tsp whole cloves (1 Tbs)
2 Tbs broken up cinnamon sticks (8 Tbs)
2 Tbs dried bay leaves, broken up (8 Tbs)
1 Tbs whole black peppercorns (4 Tbs)
2 tsp crushed dried birds-eye chillies (2 Tbs)
2 Tbs whole pimento (allspice) (8 Tbs)
2 tsp fennel seeds (2 Tbs)

Mix and keep in a jar. If the cinnamon sticks are very hard you may need to hit them with a meat mallet to break them up. I usually make 4 times the recipe at a time for which quantities are in brackets. Pimento (also known as Allspice) look like very large black peppercorns.

Tomato Baharat Jam

I’ve always made my own jams and chutneys from fruit we’ve grown or with donations from friends who have a glut. They are so much nicer than bought ones. Sometimes I freeze the fruit and make the preserve later – for example peeled tomatoes for tomato chutney or sliced cumquats for marmalade. Matthew says he married me for my tomato chutney and that running out is considered grounds for divorce. That recipe, which came from my paternal grandmother, clearly formed a crucial part of my dowry!

A recipe for a lovely bright red preserve called Tomato Baharat Jam appeared in a recent edition of Delicious magazine, as an accompaniment to chicken liver pâté. We found that it also goes superbly with cheese – especially brie and cheddar – and ham. I’ve doubled the recipe and cut down a bit on the sugar and I don’t think it’s necessary to discard the pulp and seeds, but you can if you prefer.

This is the first time I’ve made it so I’m not sure how long it will keep without refrigeration. The ratio of sugar to fruit is not high, so I think it will keep for a month or two in a dark cupboard and should be refrigerated after opening.

Tomato Baharat Jam1.2kg tomatoes, peeled
300g sugar
6 star anise
5 cloves
4 cinnamon quills, broken in half
2 Tbs tomato paste
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chop tomatoes and place in a sieve to drain off any liquid. Discard liquid and place tomatoes in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with the sugar and spices. Simmer over medium heat, stirring from time to time, for 25 minutes. Add tomato paste and lemon juice, reduce heat and continue to cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until reduced and thickened to the consistency of jam or chutney. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove the spices. The cloves might be difficult to find, so just leave them in.

Place about 8 small clean jars in the microwave without their lids. Mustard jars and small jam jars are ideal. Heat on high for 2 minutes to sterilize. Fill jars with the hot tomato jam, seal with lids.

Makes about a litre

Note: if you don’t have whole spices use ¼ tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp ground star anise and 2 tsp ground cinnamon.

Lemon Curd

Lemon CurdWhen I moved from the UK to Australia I was amazed to see lemon trees growing in most Canberra gardens. While night time temperatures in winter can be several degrees below freezing, the days warm up sufficiently to allow citrus trees to flourish in a sunny, sheltered spot. So the soil isn’t frozen solid for several months, as it can be in northern Europe.

We have a large lemon tree in the courtyard just outside our kitchen and it’s always laden with fruit. At about this time of year it’s important to pick the remaining lemons, otherwise we won’t get a new crop next season. They will keep for a while in the fridge, but it’s always a good time to make some Lemon Curd or Lemon Butter, as it’s sometimes called.

In the UK where I grew up it was much too cold in winter to grow lemons, so my mother bought them. We could hardly wait for her to finish making this deliciously tangy spread which we devoured on fresh buttered bread or in small pastry tartlets. Try a dollop on some thick Greek yoghurt for a delicious snack.  Or swirl it decoratively through the yoghurt in a tumbler then top with a few fresh raspberries when you need to come up with a last minute dessert. Or make this delicious and quick Blueberry Parfait.

Adding a little salt really makes a difference and brings out the flavours. A Queenslander once told me you should eat fresh pineapple with a light sprinkling of salt, for the same reason.

4 large juicy lemons
4 eggs, beaten
450g (2½ cups) sugar
125g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt

Finely grate the rind of the lemons and remove the juice. Place all ingredients in the top half of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until butter melts, sugar dissolves and mixture thickens to the point where it coats the back of the spoon.

Heat clean jars (remove lids first) in microwave on High for 2 minutes. Pour the hot lemon curd into the hot sterilized jars and seal with lids. When cold store in the fridge.

Makes about 2 jars

Prunus Plum Jam

If you live in Australia and have access to a prunus tree, now is the time to make jam. In Canberra you find them in many public areas. The fruit which is not eaten by the birds just falls to the ground and rots. I have a friend whose dog thinks they’re delicious and eats any she can find at the park where we meet with our four legged friends. Her owner has to stop her so she doesn’t get an upset tummy. While the plums are too acid to appeal to most people uncooked, they make a delicious, tangy jam with a lovely bright red colour.

Prunus plums seem to ripen at different times on different trees, so you need to keep an eye on your target and pick them before it’s too late. As soon as the birds start to take an interest you need to be quick! One week they’re ready, the next they’re all gone.

The plums are quite small so removing the stones by hand after the fruit is cooked is the easiest way to do it, but it does involve getting your hands into the pot! If you miss some it only gives authenticity to the finished product. Well that’s what Matthew who was doing the de-stoning said.

The more pectin fruit has, the more acid it tastes and the more quickly it will set. Some jams, such as strawberry and apricot, can take forever to reach setting point, which is why recipes often suggest adding some lemon juice. One way to check if the jam has reached setting point is to put a small plate in the freezer and let it get very cold, then put a teaspoon of jam on the plate (taking the jam off the heat while you do it) to see if it sets. With experience you can tell just by looking. With Prunus Plum Jam it’s not really necessary to test because the fruit has lots of pectin and the jam sets very quickly. Many jam recipes call for the same weight of sugar as fruit, but we prefer ours to be more tangy so I always cut down. This jam is delicious on toast, with scones or swirled through thick Greek yoghurt as a dessert.

Prunus Plum Jam

2 kg ripe prunus plums
500 ml water
1 kg sugar
1 knob of butter about the size of a walnut

Wash plums and place in a large heavy-based saucepan or preserving pan. Add water, bring to the boil and simmer, stirring often, until fruit is soft. Cool then remove as many stones as possible, by squeezing the fruit by hand. Add sugar and bring slowly to the boil, stirring. When sugar has dissolved boil steadily, stirring often, for 3-5 minutes until setting point has reached, then add the butter. Meanwhile heat 6-8 clean jam jars in the microwave on high for 2 minutes (without their lids). Pour hot jam into jars and seal immediately. Keeps for up to a year in a dark cupboard. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes 6-8 jars depending on size

Kumquats preserved in Salt

With all the rain we’ve had lately, we have a bumper crop of kumquats.  I usually make kumquat marmalade, sometimes with the addition of fresh ginger.  Last year I also made a compote which was delicious served at room temperature with labneh.  Cut them up, skin and all, removing as many seeds as possible and place in a saucepan.  Add a little water and sugar to taste – as if you were stewing apples or rhubarb. Then simmer gently until tender.  I also made some preserved/candied kumquats rolled in sugar. Delicious but a lot of work.
This year I thought I would have a go at preserving some in salt, to use the way you use preserved lemons – in couscous, tajines, rice salads and so on.  I did some research on Google, found a large jar and here is the result.   In the photo you can also see two jars of lemon quarters which were preserved with salt in the same way about two months ago. Adding a little sugar is an optional extra I found in some recipes for preserved kumquats online.  I have never used any sugar when preserving lemons, but thought I would give it a try.

Kumquats preserved in Salt

Enough kumquats to fill a large jar
salt
sugar (optional)
lime or lemon juice

Wash and dry the fruit, then cut them in half.  No need to remove the seeds.  Pack fruit into a large jar with a tightly fitting lid, sprinkling each layer generously with salt and, if liked, a little sugar.  As a rough guide I used about a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar for every 8-12 kumquats.  Fruit varies in size – ours are huge this year.  Press down on the kumquat halves, so you can squeeze in as many as possible.  Add enough lime or lemon juice to come about a third of the way up the jar, then seal with the lid.  If you have a metal lid it’s best to put a piece of baking paper over the top of the jar before the lid.  This will stop it from being corroded by the salt.  Keep the jar in a sunny kitchen window for about two months, or until the fruit is soft and “preserved”.    Every day turn the jar upside down to distribute the juice and salt evenly.  If the jar doesn’t leak you can stand it upside down every other day.  When ready the fruit will have softened and be less bright in colour – check on progress by removing the lid and having a look.  Store the preserved kumquats in a dark pantry or cupboard where they will keep for at least a year

Uses for preserved lemons and kumquats: Most recipes say to throw the flesh away and just use the diced skin, but you can use the flesh if you like to add a nice citrus flavour to curries and casseroles.  In Vietnam kumquats preserved in this way are used to get rid of a sore throat or cough.  Just eat the whole thing!

Rachel’s Lime Marmalade

The Kangaroo Valley is a little oasis in New South Wales, a couple of hours drive from where we live in Canberra.  Very picturesque, it has a micro-climate which favours all kinds of produce.  A friend has a house there and every year at about this time she takes orders for some fabulous organic limes grown by a friend of hers.

As he eats most of the marmalade in our house (I’m a confirmed muesli muncher) my husband Matthew always volunteers to do the cutting up, which is rather a tedious job, especially cutting the peel into thin shred.  And to be honest I don’t have a good track record when it comes to fingers and very sharp knives.  Using a food processor to speed things up just doesn’t work with this recipe – believe me, I’ve tried!

This recipe came from my sister in law Rachel and it’s fabulous.  I use only two thirds of the sugar because we like our lime marmalade to be very tangy.  I can’t tell you exactly how much the recipe makes, but it’s a lot.  I filled 12 jars of varying sizes, as you can see from the photo.  It will keep in a cupboard for at least a year.  In fact we have just one jar left from the batch I made a year ago.

Rachel’s Lime Marmalade

1.5kg limes
2-3kg sugar*
3.6 litres water

Choose very ripe limes which are just starting to turn yellow as they have more juice.

Wash fruit, remove peel with a vegetable peeler and cut into fine strips. Remove pith from the fruit using a small serrated knife and place in a large saucepan with the pips (if there are any) and about half the water. Chop up the fruit and place in another large pan with the peel and the rest of the water. Simmer both pans gently for an hour or until the peel and pith have softened. Strain the pith and pips. Keep the liquid and throw the pith and pips away.

Place clean jam jars without their lids in the oven and turn to 100°C. In a large wide topped saucepan or a preserving pan place the liquid from the pith, the sugar and fruit. Heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, boil for 2 minutes then pour into the hot jars using a small jug and seal with the lids while hot. As limes contain so much pectin the marmalade starts to gel even before it comes to a boil, so there’s none of that boiling and testing you have to do with other jams, to see if setting point has been reached.

Makes 10-12 jars depending on size.

* Adjust sugar according to your taste.The original recipe uses 3kg of sugar.  The first time I made it I used 2.5kg and it worked perfectly. I now make it with only 2kg of sugar and that’s how we like it.