Autumn Chutney

It’s absolutely and emphatically autumn and all trace of summer has fled. The lockdowns taught us the value of living in the moment and really sucking the marrow from the bones of whichever season you happen to be in. We’re keen not to forget that lesson, though devoutly hoping we are not going to be taught it again. And the current economic mayhem, with the most random things suddenly in short supply, then just as suddenly not, surely emphasises the desirability of enjoying what you have in the moment that you have it. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow your favourite food may be Temporarily Unavailable. In that spirit of maximal appreciation, we’re making chutney and playing around with our new autumnal printing blocks.

This is the time when one is pondering the seasonal glut of unripe plums and slightly wormy apples and the occasional courgette that escaped detection until it was a marrow. The traditional way to deal with them is to make chutney. It’s a fun thing to do and it does make you feel like an alchemist, transforming dross into gold. Only, most unfortunately, my appetite for workaday pickle has been eroded ever since I discovered a superior version which is the most beautiful rich jewel-like orange colour. It doesn’t usefully use up windfalls and you could make it at any time of year, since the main ingredients are imported.  But for me it is a quintessential autumn activity: making it fills the house with the most wonderful sharp rich vinegary smell, so different from the lightness of summer cooking. And if you do it in the next couple of weeks, the chutney will have matured to just the right degree by Christmas, when it goes with cold meat but even more with cheese. If you were terribly generous, you could make enough to give away as Christmas presents. My reluctance to ever do this is a sure indicator of quality – the stomach does not lie. Whereas other chutney, I notice, is willingly given away, and sometimes even serially re-gifted.

The recipe for this Spiced Apricot Chutney is from Delia Smith’s Christmas Cookbook from 1990, which is in my opinion one of the great cookbooks of all time. There isn’t a dud recipe in it. You may recall that this book was the originator of a famous episode of ‘Temporarily Unavailable’ when it listed liquid glucose as an ingredient of Chocolate Torte, whereupon that substance was unobtainable for the next six months. I still have to suppress the reflex action to buy some when I spot it in a shop, because, you know — I might never get another chance. As for the book itself, there always seems to be a copy in any second hand bookshop or car boot sale you visit, which is baffling. I wouldn’t consider giving mine away even though now I come to look at it closely I see that it is radically stained, wrinkled and sticky – evidence of much use. If you don’t have a copy you couldn’t spend £2 more wisely.

The main ingredient of the chutney is 400 grams of dried apricots. You need the old-fashioned kind that are bright orange and fairly squashy, not the depressing modern brown tough ones that have been preserved in a more healthy but less appealing way: the colour and texture are important. In addition you’ll need:

1 medium onion chopped small,
1 large clove of garlic chopped very small,
2 tablespoons of root ginger chopped very, very small,
50 g sultanas,
225 g of light brown sugar,
425 ml cider or white wine vinegar,
the grated zest and juice of a lemon,
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper,
1 level tablespoon of salt
and 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds.

Chop the apricots into small chunks:

Toast the coriander seeds in a frying pan for a couple of minutes and then crush them:

Mix the chopped apricots, the crushed coriander seeds and all the other ingredients together in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over a low heat and stir gently until the sugar is completely dissolved. Now turn the heat up until the mixture reaches simmering point, put a lid on it and cook covered for 45 minutes to an hour. Check regularly to make sure it’s really just simmering, not boiling, and take it off the heat when the components are cooked to the point of tenderness but still intact, and the mixture is still fairly liquid: it will thicken further as it cools. The pictures below are before and after shots.

As soon as it’s ready, spoon it into warm sterilised jars. It will be a beautiful rich warm glossy pumpkin orange. Once the jars are cool, label them – the most fun part. In the picture of the jar below you see one of our small labels which now come in a whole lot of new colours. Apart from being, we think, both useful and beautiful, they have the virtue of coming easily off the empty jar when you wash it, leaving no sticky residue behind. Once labelled, savour the feeling of having a cache of deliciousness saved for the coming months, rather as squirrels must feel at this time of year. The feeling is similar to having just secured a 12-pack of toilet paper (the memory of that shortage will take a while to fade) or half a tank of diesel. Very odd times we’re living in, but they have their own satisfactions.

The pictures at the top of this post and below are of our new Autumn Hedgerow Printing Blocks, which went into the shop a few days ago and instantly sold out. We now have some more. The set of eleven blocks comes in a very sweet conker-brown box — Fierce Owl, Kind Badger, Inquisitive Goose, Mrs Hedgehog and her baby, Jenny Wren, plus five different leaves and berries to decorate and punctuate your design. There is also a big Running Fox block which can be bought separately. Only when the sets were finished did we realise there is no squirrel – a ridiculous omission which we will aim to fix next year.

A new batch of sets went onto the shop today. We don’t have a vast number though, I’m afraid. There is no large scale method of making printing blocks with this level of detail: they have to be individually etched.  This will be the last batch of these particular blocks for this year. The good news is that this is because we are now turning our attention to a set of Christmas blocks which we aim to have ready by December 1st. Designing these blocks and playing with them once they’re made is one of the great satisfactions of our life at the moment. We hope you have as much fun with them as we do. If you miss out this time, we are very sorry, but rest assured that we’ll be making something new soon.


Finally, a date for your diaries for anyone living nearby.  We have booked our usual church hall in central Cambridge for December 14th, and we are intending to hold our Christmas Studio Sale this year. Of course it was not possible last year. The Unitarian Church Hall on Victoria Street is a nice old building with a very high ceiling and a row of tall windows that open along each side. It was built in the days when we retained the collective wisdom that buildings meant to contain many people should have lots of ceiling height and good ventilation. We’ll probably try to come up with a plan to spread entry times over the whole day to prevent the usual opening rush, and we’ll be in touch about that closer to the time. We hope these factors will make you feel able to venture out, to help us sort through the enormous two-years-pile of accumulated seconds, experiments, damaged stock and ends-of-lines, to eat a mince pie and carry away some bargains. Please save the date, and we look forward very much to seeing you again In Real Life. Nothing beats it.