The greater than average rainfall over summer has at least led to a bumper crop of apples so either pick your own or make the most of kindly neighbours who are happy to hand out their surplus to fellow preservers. Apples are a great base for Christmas Chutneys which can then be flavoured with chillies or herbs; once made they will last for at least a year, mellowing with time, and are the perfect accompaniment to cold meats and cheeses.
Mrs Moffat’s Apple & Ginger Chutney
This was the first successful chutney recipe I ever made and was given to me by a lovely farmer’s wife, Mrs Moffat, when I worked in a fabric shop in Tetbury, Gloucestershire whilst pregnant with our first child. Mrs Moffat used to come in with her basket over her arm and her two adult sons in tow who would wait patiently for her to make her haberdashery purchases and then carry them home for her. It is rare to find a chutney recipe without onions.
Makes 2.5 kg (approx. 8 large jam jars)
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
900g Apples (peeled and cored weight)
900ml distilled malt vinegar
900g Demerara sugar
1 level tsp. sea salt
1 level tsp. cayenne pepper
125g stem ginger, chopped finely
a dessert spoon of ginger syrup -optional
In a preserving pan or very large, heavy-based saucepan, simmer the apples in the vinegar until soft. Make use of the time to sterilise glass jars and lids: wash jars in hot water, rinse and then fill with boiling water; empty and dry in a warm oven; pour boiling water over lids in a bowl then drain. Once the apple has softened, add all the other ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes until well combined and thick. Pour into sterilised jars and seal whilst hot; labelling when cold. As with all chutneys this is best left to mature for a month before opening.
I first tasted this at a deli in Cape Town and having quickly run out of the plentiful supplies I brought back home I had to find the recipe. It is delicious as a dip for bread dipped in olive oil or sprinkled onto a salad as a crunchy topping. Make double this recipe if you want to keep an extra jar for yourself.
75g blanched hazelnuts, chopped
25g sesame seeds
25g cumin seeds
½ tsp. dried marjoram
½ tsp. fresh thyme (or ¼ tsp. dried thyme)
Put the nuts and seeds in a dry frying pan and toast until aromatic. Take off the heat and add the other ingredients. Allow to cool and then store in sterilised jars or pretty tins.
Simplicity in itself: perfect as an ice cold shot and even lovelier stirred through sour cream, topping a plate of smoked salmon blinis.
Place 2-3 hot chillies (sliced) in a 1 litre, sterilised jar along with ¼ teaspoon of black peppercorns. Pour over a large bottle of vodka and seal; leaving to infuse in a cool dark place for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, select a pretty bottle and sterilise it. Strain the vodka into a jug through muslin or a sieve. Pop a fresh chilli in the bottle and then pour the vodka into the bottle.
Scented Spring Pots
Small pots or teacups of scented spring bulbs are the Christmas present that just keeps on giving. Crocuses will flower in February brightening up any dreary winter day; Iris reticulata are miniature exotic beauties; forced Hyacinths can scent the whole house all over Christmas whilst grape hyacinths, Muscari, are so cheap they can be planted en masse in any spare container you have going – tagine anyone?
The important thing about planting indoor bulbs in a container that has no drainage holes is to use Bulb Fibre; it has added charcoal in to keep ‘it sweet’. Choose you container and fill with bulb fibre; nestle your bulbs in the container, not quite touching but close enough that you’ll have a decent display. If you want the hyacinths to flower for Christmas then you’ll need to purchase ‘forced’ hyacinths i.e. they have had a period of pre-chilling that initiates the flower formation. Use gloves when planting hyacinths – they can make your skin itch and if you touch the bulbs and then your face you can end up with a lovely red Santa beard! Cover the bulbs with bulb fibre and then cover the compost with florist’s moss, using wire pins to keep it in place. Water the containers and then place in a cool, dark place – cupboard in the garage is perfect for between 6-10 weeks. You are looking for the bulbs to form roots before they form shoots; hence the necessary darkness. Only water again if the compost feels dry – it should be moist but not waterlogged. Once your bulbs are well-rooted (you can give them a gentle tug and they should remain in the pot) they can be moved somewhere lighter but still cool, e.g. a north-facing window or under the greenhouse bench, until shoots have formed. They can be wrapped up, a few days before Christmas, for presents.