Last year, our Chutneys Division found itself focusing on more or less traditional varieties, chutneys that hailed from the Indies, both East and West, and were tropical in character, with Devil Chutney being a particularly popular manifestation of that particular campaign. This year we've been concentrating on varieties that are very much products of Indo-British contact and the diaspora that resulted, ones based largely on non-tropical fruit. Contrary to the beliefs of many, chutney—or chutni, or chatni [compare with chat or chaat]—is a class of relishes that predates Indo-British contact by a long shot. There's no question that the British developed are particular liking for chutney, and appear to have encouraged the development of chutneys that were sweeter, rather than sour or sweet and sour as they had been, perhaps in an attempt to counter the fieriness of the cuisine they encountered there in the Indian subcontinent, especially in certain southern regions and on the island then known as Ceylon. But chutneys made with spices, herbs, and a base of tamarind, lime, garlic, or coconut, among others, had long been used to add counterpoint to Indian cuisine. In fact, in some parts of India, notably Kashmir, there were already chutneys that anticipated those that one might think were the most Western, including varieties involving walnuts, squashes, and stone fruits.
With all of this in mind, this year's experiments have been decidedly Western. As our sign for this year's batch of plum chutney read at Puces Pop, "So what if there ain't no plums in India? Ain't no law again't it." We’d already been very happy with the chutneys that had resulted from this year’s campaign, but last week we went and hit the mother lode. I’d gotten it in my head that I wanted to try making a pear chutney. We researched some recipes, ran some tests, made some adjustments, and lo and behold somehow we managed to make the very best chutney either of us had ever tasted, our very own Golden Pear Chutney. Sounds like an awfully bold claim, I know, but that combination of pear, confited onion and lemon, candied ginger, and spices was absolutely irresistible, and we instantly started creating any excuse we could to eat it. We just couldn’t get enough of it. After a couple of days, I’d already maxed out on Indian dishes, and we’d had chutney with cheese and crackers (in that order) on several occasions. It was then that I came up with yet another bright idea, one which would take full advantage of a number of this year’s stock of preserves, including that truly awesome Golden Pear Chutney: I decided it was time we created “…an endless banquet’s” take on that most contested of British (modern) classics, the Ploughman’s Lunch.
First, you’re going to need to make your very own batch of…
Golden Pear Chutney
1 pound peeled (make sure to reserve the pear peels), cored, unwaxed, just-ripe pears (preferably Flemish beauties), cut into 1/2 inch pieces + 1 pear
1 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 small lemon, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 scant tsp cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground ginger
1/4 generous tsp ground white pepper
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup light raisins
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 shot pear eau-de-vie
In a three-quart non-reactive saucepan, simmer the extra pear and the pear peels in about 2 cups water for 10-15 minutes. Strain over a bowl, return the cooking liquid to the saucepan, add the onions, the spices, the brown sugar, and the lemon, and boil until you have a thickened syrup and the onions and lemon have been confited, 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the vinegar, the raisins, and the candied ginger with the pears and let them macerate.
When the syrup is ready, add the pear mixture and the eau-de-vie to it and simmer until the mixture has thickened up a bit, like a proper chutney, the raisins and pears have softened, and the vinegar has mellowed, about 15-30 minutes.
[Adapted from a recipe in John Martin Taylor’s Lowcountry Cooking]
Once you’ve got a batch of Golden Pear Chutney, you’re well on your way to making your own “…an endless banquet”-style Ploughman’s Lunches.
This was our spread:
• 1 premium, extra-sharp cheddar (we used Perron 4-year aged cheddar because it’s just about the best cheddar we can get locally—of course, if we’d been able to get something like the Montgomery cheddar we’d had the week before down in the States, we would have)
• 1 good, crusty loaf of bread (we used Première Moisson’s Pain de campagne, but, in retrospect, a loaf from Fromentier would probably have been an even better fit)
• 1 head of Boston lettuce
• 1 jar Golden Pear Chutney (you can see it there on the right in the picture up at the very top)
• 1 jar oignons confits
• 1 jar mustard pickles
• 1 jar dill pickles
• 1 pot properly steeped tea
• 1 serving pound cake, for dessert
If you don’t have any oignons confits, you might want to seek out something like Branston pickle instead. If you don’t have any homemade mustard pickles or commercial picalilli, you might want to get yourself some pickled onions. And there are plenty of other ways in which you could improvise. Frankly, if you start off with a chutney as ridiculously good as this Golden Pear Chutney, it’s hard to go wrong. We could have used a couple of pints of hand-pulled ale and maybe even some quality crisps to accompany our Ploughman’s Lunches, but otherwise, with bright sunshine pouring through the window into our living room, it made for the perfect weekend luncheon.