It's not that I don't have a sweet tooth; I most assuredly do. There were kids I knew in grade school who were able to nurse their Halloween stash through till Christmas (unnatural, I know). Mine was gone in a week (yes, I'm lying: it was gone in two days). I am not even that discriminating when it comes to sweets--I can enjoy an opera cake from a fancy Paris patisserie, or a sack of Jelly Bellies; fine Swiss chocolate, or Oreos dunked in a glass of milk . I was close to becoming addicted to the peanut brittle we got from Regina's Candies at Christmas. By no means am I anti-sugar.
But when one reaches a certain age one finds (so I'm told) that one can't consume just any old thing and not pay for it, sooner rather than later. You're called upon to make wise choices about these things, and I find that in choosing how I'd like to end a really nice dinner, I choose cheese.
One recent night, we chose cheddar cheese and chutney. The ten-year-old Wisconsin cheddar came from Bolen Vale Cheese . The chutney I put together out of root cellar holdings, more or less following a recipe from a really interesting book, Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning , from "the gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivante," an ecological research center in southwestern France.
A recipe for "Potimarron and Apple Chutney" had caught my eye. I didn't have a potimarron on hand--it's a smallish orange squash that's supposed to taste like chestnuts--but I had something that looked quite similar. I think that's actually a red kuri. It had a dense, dry flesh that held up well in the chutney. Those shriveled apples, those are golden russets that we picked up at Maiden Rock Apples last fall. And that is why they are shriveled. But once peeled and chopped they worked very well in the chutney, their mildly spicy, Asian-pear-like flavor intensified by being...shriveled (but we don't throw grapes or plums away when they start to get dried and wrinkly, do we?; no, we give them a new name and a whole new career in a different spot in the grocery store; nothing wrong with slightly shriveled apples, especially russets).
To make the chutney I chopped one medium onion, peeled and chopped the flesh of those two apples, and used about a third of the squash, seeded, peeled and chopped (that yielded about 10 ounces of flesh).
Those went into a saucepan with one large clove of garlic, chopped, a couple good pinches of salt, half a teaspoon of mustard seeds, three whole cloves, a good coarse grind of black pepper, one small hot dried red chili, just about an inch-long piece of cinnamon stick, and a little bit of chopped fresh ginger. I poured in a half-cup of water, brought it to the boil and down to a low simmer, cooked gently till the apples and squash were quite soft and most of the water was gone, about 20 minutes.
At this point I added cider vinegar, about 1/3 cup (a combination of some of our own home-brew, and because that wasn't quite tart enough, a fortifying splash of Leatherwood Vinegary product), and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. I found it needed a pinch more salt, as well. Now simmer another 15 to 20 minutes, until everything is getting nicely melded.
Eventually I decided I wanted a little more heat, so I added a quarter-teaspoon or so of piment d'espelette (a couple of pinches of cayenne would zip it up as well).
Chutneys improve with a few days' to a few weeks' age. We first had this one the same day I made it. There was plenty left over--it made about a pint--and I'm looking forward to chutney and cheese sandwiches. I think this particular version would be very good with roast lamb, pork, or goat.
Making chutneys or relishes from root cellar ingredients is a great way to add interest to the winter table, "locavore" style. The only non-local ingredients that went into that cheese course were the brown sugar and spices.
text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw