Birthdays have a nasty habit of coming around quicker the older you get. However, the speed with which they arrive is offset by an increasing feeling of peace and contentment when I glance around at my life. It wasn’t always like this.
I often found it difficult to enjoy my birthday, not least because I would put so much damn pressure on myself to do so. The “special” days of the year can confound us by ramping up the level of expectation to such a degree that they cannot fail to be a disappointment.
In years gone by I have found myself literally clock watching to see how many of the precious minutes have passed, and done some sort of internal calculation as to how well I am doing in terms of enjoying my day.
We create disappointment from birthdays when we focus on what extra there is to enjoy rather than taking the opportunity to realise how much joy we already have.
To that end, in more recent times I have taken the opportunity on my birthday to consider all that I have in my life rather than allowing my focus to drift away to any perceived deficits. It works wonders. I no longer need to do anything special because, rather wonderfully, every day is enjoyable.
When it comes to finding gratitude for plentiful bounty there is no time in the year like later summer drifting away into autumn. There is a glut of most things be they marrows, cucumbers, tomatoes, plums or apples. Ahh, apples. Since we pricked the one tree bare early in August I have been thinking of ways to use up the apples. We’ve had crumbles, cakes and pies but I wanted something that would last. I was searching for a way to enjoy an echo of the summer in the darkest coldest days of autumn, and what better way to do that than with a chutney.
What follows is a recipe that can be adjusted according to whatever glut you happen to have. As long as the different proportions of fruit, vegetable, vinegar, sugar and spice are observed, you’ll emerge with something unique, wonderful and sufficient to put a bit of something special into any day.
I made this on my birthday, listening to the radio while the rain lashed down outside on a particularly unseasonable August day. Bliss.
1kg Tomatoes (if you have plenty of green ones due to the lacklustre summer, use those)
500g Red or white onions
250g Dried cranberries
500g Brown sugar
750ml Cider vinegar
4 teaspoons chilli flakes (use less if you don’t like it too spicy)
Spice bag – You can add any combination of spices you like. I used this selection
Half a teaspoon of cloves
Half a teaspoon of pink peppercorns
2 star anise
2 bay leaves
Put them into a square of muslin and tie the corners tightly into a little bag.
Peel and core the apples. Dice them up into 1cm pieces
Do the same with the courgettes/marrows but don’t bother peeling them.
Roughly chop the tomatoes. If they are red and large you should skin them by putting them into a bowl of boiling water having cut a cross into the bottom of them. After a minute or two the skins will slide off. If they are small tomatoes or green ones I wouldn’t bother..in fact I didn’t.
Chop up the onion into small pieces. You don’t want big bits of onion in your chutney.
Add all the ingredients into a large heavy bottomed pan (assuming you aren’t fortunate enough to have your mother’s old preserving pan).
Heat the mixture slowly stirring to dissolve the sugar.
When it comes to the boil simmer it for 2.5 to 3 hours stirring sometimes so that it doesn’t burn.
The chutney is ready when it has darkened and thickened. When you drag your wooden spoon through it there should be a discernible “parting” of the chutney so that you can see the bottom of the pan.
While the chutney is still warm put it into sterilised jam jars with lids.
Leave it for a few weeks to mature, and then enjoy the fruits of summer with a nice piece of cheese sitting around the fire when its cold and grey outside.
PS. That’s Bertie the Butternut Squash in the background of the picture..in case you were wondering.