I adore chutney and given it's so easy to make there is simply no excuse for buying it in a supermarket. None. It's also an exceptionally frugal way to use up all fruit - in fact, it's the perfect place for seconds or slightly damaged fruit. It's also a very simple thing to make, and right now there is an abundance of fruit, such as mango, plum, peach or nectarine, that will give you incredibly delicious chutney. Chutney can literally bring a dish together, or make something special out of the ordinary.
The preserving agents in chutney are sugar and vinegar. I like to use Apple Cider Vinegar with Rapadura sugar or Apple Juice Concentrate as the sweetener. As both of these sweeteners have little (or no) sucrose in them, I find I invariably need to process the finished chutney in a boiling water bath to ensure they hold. If I use a brown sugar (where the sucrose is higher), it is fine to just put them into a clean, sterile and warm jar. In a Boiling Water Bath, the water is below, around and above the jar. In a Hot Water Bath, the water comes two thirds up the sides of the jar, and takes a much longer time for preservation. For our purposes in this column, we are only talking about a Boiling Water Bath, and this article is only with reference to chutney, and is not to be taken as any advice whatsoever for bottling fruits/and or vegetables. Bottling is an entirely different subject with critical control points.
What You'll Need:
Fowlers Vacola is a commercial example of a hot and a boiling water bath, but not absolutely necessary. You can use any large pot as long as it is deep enough for the water to cover the tops of the jars and have space to boil freely above and below the jars. Allow approx 12cm above and below the jar tops for brisk boiling.
Basically, the Fowlers Vacola system is a large pot; for a hot water bath it has a well positioned thermometer, and for a boiling water bath, it has enough room.
With a stockpot, a few precautions must be taken to protect the jars from cracking. A wire rack must be placed on the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from direct contact with the heat, and to ensure the movement of boiling water around the bottom of the jar. Some people wrap the jars in paper or cloth to prevent rattling, but I have never done this.
The Jars and Lids:
Care must be taken at all times to use appropriate jars - these have been tempered to ensure they can withstand the temperatures required. Some jars manufactured for coffee, peanut paste, mayonnaise and the like are not tempered and the seals on the lid can be weakened.
There are two basic versions in Australia: The Vacola System, which consists of a gasket, a lid and clamps, or jars with clamp lids and rubber gaskets. In America, you can also find screw band lids, with separate flat metal lids. Jars can be reused again and again (as long as there are no chips along the edge), but care must be taken with the lids. Never use any with dents or rust, because these prevent airtight seals. Any variation in the shape of jar tops may prevent an adequate seal when lids are reused.
A more modern version comes with the lid coated with a sealing compound - these are the cheapest and most common. During the boiling process, the air contained in the jar will evaporate through the pores of the special sealing compound, thereby producing a vacuum. New lids must be used every time.
The gasket or rubber ring must be replaced each time you preserve - they are thrown away after opening. Gasket materials are designed to soften sufficiently to provide an airtight seal and maintain a vacuum in the jar when in contact with the jar rim.
It is not necessary to sterilise jars when using them in a boiling water bath as the jars will be sterilised during the processing time. All jars should be well cleaned and scrubbed in hot, soapy water, then rinsed and dried.
Packing the Jar and Preserving Time
Once your chutney is ready, place the warm or hot product into a hot jar, otherwise it will crack. The lid is then screwed on, and the jars are put into warm water rather than cold (they could crack).
Place the jar carefully into the warm water ((you can buy nifty jar tongs for this) and bring to the boil. Boil for 12 minutes - time is always calculated from when boiling begins. Leave the jars in the water until they are cool enough to be handled safely. When ready, remove the jars and place them on thick newspaper, wood or towels - hot jars onto stainless steel etc can crack. Yes, I've seen it happen. Leave the jars until absolutely cool, overnight is good.
During the cooling process, the air will be forced out of the jars and seals will form. A concave hollow should be apparent in the middle of the lid. If the seal is not true, eat the contents or store in the fridge.
If you can't be bothered with all that palava, then use brown sugar - I like the Billingtons light and dark muscovado. When bottling, make sure to put very hot chutney into warm (otherwise the jars could crack) sterile jars and then screw on the lids. Leave to sit as above.
You can use any home pot, just cook it nice and slow - 4 kg of fruit will take a couple of hours. It will just need constant stirring and tending, especially as it thickens (from reduction) towards the end. It's incredibly worthwhile, like that little string of pearls that redeems any outfit, saving the day. You'll be so pleased you did as you slather some chutney onto a sharp cheese, or pair it with a nice legume pate, or even add it to your favourite curry.