Make the most of plentiful produce this autumn.
As our lives become more and more urban, it’s easy to lose touch, quite literally, with our food. Fruit comes plastic wrapped, breakfast is in boxes, and whole meals are nestled in a single container—or delivered, ready cooked, on the back of a motorbike. We’re shrouded from the natural aromas of ingredients and the heady sensory experience of picking and nibbling food fresh from the plant.
“But wait,” I hear you say. “I live in a city, I have not a garden and I don’t have time to go foraging for my dinner.” That may be true, but there’s a simple way to get more connected with the season’s delicious ingredients. In London alone, there are plenty of opportunities to pick your own bounty right on the edge of the city.
Part of the joy of picking comes from the simple pleasure of being outside, surrounded by lush bushes and trees tended to with love. If you live an office-constricted life, time surrounded by living things (especially things you can eat!) is a great antidote to stress and strain.
On a recent visit to my local PYO, I was directed from the little farm shop to the best plants and told that Opal and Jubilee plums were ready for picking. I wandered through the neat lines of trees in deep concentration trying to spot fruit. The first trees appeared bare, and I wondered if the shop ladies were playing a practical joke. But there, further down as promised, I spotted squished layers of luscious purple fruit coating the ground. And then, suddenly, trees laden with plums.
I had spicy plum chutney on my mind, slathered on sourdough topped with goat’s cheese, dolloped into curry or stirred through savoury morning porridge. Preserving the fruit means none goes to waste and I can enjoy its rich tones into the depths of winter. But I’ve kept a handful to savour, fresh and juicy, on their own.
1 kg plums
2 medium red onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced
Generous thumb-sized chunk of ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp black pepper, freshly crushed (ideally using a pestle and mortar)
2 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp sea salt (or fine Himalayan pink salt)
200g coconut sugar (or golden caster sugar)
200ml apple cider vinegar
100ml red wine vinegar
Cut open and destone the plums. Slice and roughly chop.
Drop the plums, onions, garlic, ginger, chilli, pepper, mustard seeds and salt into a medium heavy-based saucepan. Sprinkle over the sugar and stir everything so that the ingredients are coated with sugar. Pour over the vinegars and port, stirring again to jumble everything together.
Put the saucepan over a medium to high heat and bring the mix to a simmer, stirring occasionally so the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat down a little and leave to simmer for around one hour until the chutney has thickened (it should be a jammy consistency). Give it a stir every now and then to stop it sticking to the pan. If the mixture is still a little thin after this time, keep simmering for another 10-15 minutes.
Carefully divide the chutney among warm sterilised jars*, making sure you don’t overfill them, and seal tightly with an airtight lid. Let the chutney cool down and then store your jars in a cool, dark place. Ideally leave them for four weeks to let the flavours develop. Once opened, make sure you store the chutney in the fridge and consume it within a month.
Makes about 1 litre (2-3 medium jars)
* If you’re using jars with screw-on lids, check that the inside surface is plastic coated. Otherwise, it can react with the acid in the chutney.
Follow Meredith on Instagram at @meredith_foodatheart.