Spiced, bittersweet apple, pear and damson chutney

We are, as a nation, extraordinarily fortunate to be the guardians of a wealth of apple orchards. The British Isles has one of the best climates in the world for growing this versatile fruit, and we produce not only massive yields, but an extraordinary number of varieties too. Even so, many of us still insist on buying imported, expensive, (and all too often, flavourless) unseasonal fruits.

Apples aren’t dull and boring; they can be sweet, acidic, perfumed and aromatic all in one hit, not to mention crisp and juicy too….what more is there to want in a piece of fruit? As autumn approaches I find myself relishing the thought of making warm and spicy crumbles and pies, packed to the brim with lovely orchard fruits. Some of my favourite dessert apples are the old fashioned, reliably tasty varieties, such as a Cox’s Orange Pippin, which has a good sharp flavour, nicely balanced with a burst of sweetness, and the Worcester Pearmain (sadly, not so easy to find these days), with its creamy textured flesh and slightly strawberry flavoured juice. Of course, the good old Bramley, grown only in Britain, is top of my list as a cooker, and is recognized by gourmets nationwide for its flavour and versatility, performing equally well in both sweet and savoury apple recipes. It’s hard to choose an apple recipe that reflects my passion for these wonderful English fruits, as my list of favourites goes on and on. However, I have managed to narrow it down to a chutney, which, for those who already grow their own, makes the most of the inevitable mid-season gluts of fruit.

Spiced, bittersweet apple, pear and damson chutney

Damsons have a lovely bittersweet flavour, so are well worth foraging for. However, if they are unavailable, use tasty ripe plums instead. Makes about 1.8kg

  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 675g onions, thinly sliced
  • 500g damsons, halved and stoned
  • 500g Cox’s Orange Pippins, or similar dessert apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 500g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 500g Conference, or other English pear, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 600ml cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 5cm piece root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of cloves
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 500g soft light brown sugar
  1. Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and add the onions. Cover and cook over a low heat until soft but not coloured.
  2. Add the damsons, apples and pears to the pan. Stir in the vinegar, salt, ginger and cinnamon stick.
  3. Tie the whole spices in a piece of muslin and add the spice bag to the pan.
  4. Bring to the boil, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 – 2 ½ hours or until the chutney is fairly thick.
  5. Remove the cinnamon stick and spice bag. Pour or ladle the chutney into warm, sterilized jars and cover with non-metallic lids. Store in a cool dark place and use within 3 months.

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