Chutney: Around the World in a Jar
When I lived in the UK, one of the most frequent questions I’d hear when visiting America was “What do you eat over there?” It seems that even after the Fat Duck, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, people are still under the impression that all British food is terrible. While there are some dishes that live up to the reputation (tripe and rice pudding instantly come to mind), overall, the food is wonderful. In addition to their traditional pub food, the Brits spent hundreds of years traveling the globe and sending home their findings. One dish that successfully made it across the ocean and into every refrigerator in the UK is chutney.
Part condiment, part pickle, chutney is a traditional Indian dish that is made from a variety of ingredients that include fruit or nuts. It’s often served as an addition to meals and is like a savory jam. When it made its way to the UK after the colonization of India, it became a way to preserve an abundance of summer fruits and vegetables and turn the most boring, cold meat into something exciting.
Chutney quickly became commonly used in kitchens across the country where the landed gentry could have it during their shooting lunches and the
laborers with their cheese sandwiches, a sort of equalizing condiment. In fact the “Ploughman’s’” lunch is wedges of cheese with a currant chutney served in pubs today but probably a far cry from what you’d find in India.
The first time I had this tomato chutney, I was living in Scotland and a good friend from Wales came over for dinner. He said this recipe had been passed down from relative to relative starting with his great-uncle who had lived in India during the British Raj. Every year, his mother preserves summer tomatoes by making large batches of this chutney.
My friend brought a jar over as a gift, and I had to stop myself from eating it all in one sitting that night. For me, there is something about the combination of sweet ripened tomatoes and tangy green apples that pairs perfectly with hot or cold meats and hard, sharp cheeses. I was hooked after my first bite.
Make this version when tomatoes are ripe and abundant. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can whip up a small batch that will last a couple of weeks,
or spend the day making enough to last the winter. I always think I’ve put up enough for myself and to share with friends, but I find the last jar comes
When I make it, I think about how far this recipe has traveled. How it started in a place I dream about visiting, was revised in a dozen British kitchens and then found its way to me, a displaced American. It is a recipe that spans three continents, preserving the flavors of a season but also our collected histories for the generations of chefs to come.