Biodiversity offers benefits on a micro as well as macro level. The first part of this series focused on three dynamic individuals working to create a more resilient agricultural landscape in Central Asia. In this second part, we look to delicious specifics: A recipe for a simple apricot chutney links us back to ancient fruit-preserving traditions.
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Pull out different-sized jars, buy small batches of your favorite seasonal fruits and capture a bit of glorious sunshine and seasonal spice to savor in the autumn and winter right now. Apricots are in season this time of year. Why not make a small batch of spicy apricot and ginger chutney? Eat it along with your grilled poultry, red meats, fish or vegetables. It is an easy way to add bursts of flavor to your summer meals.
What is chutney?
According to K.T. Achaya, the South Asian food historian, chutney is the “Anglicization of the Hindi word chatni, meaning a freshly ground relish consisting of ingredients such as coconut, sesame, groundnuts, puffed Bengal gram, several dhals [lentils], raw mangoes, tomato, mint leaves and the like.”
Under the definition for relishes, Achaya states that chutney is usually a freshly ground and uncooked item, but in later colonial times it came to stand for sweet preserves that included murraba (Arabic for preserve). A murabba is similar to jams and jellies where a fruit is boiled in sugar syrup, though South Asian murabbas are often spiced. Traditional South Asian Unani healers also prescribed murabbas to treat an array of illnesses.
Why make your own chutneys?
Why introduce chutneys, cooked or raw, into your culinary repertoire? First, chutneys are the perfect method to introduce spices to your palate. Homemade condiments are a great way to keep meals simple and full of flavor. When you make it yourself, you control the origin, quality and amounts of the ingredients. Last, you can create mixtures to suit your own or your family’s tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, tart, salty or any combination.
The science of sugar in jams and chutney
Why so much sugar in chutney and jams? First, sugar acts as a preservative. It binds free water molecules so it decreases the possibility of mold growth. When there was no refrigeration, reducing spoilage was paramount. That means a longer shelf or fridge life. Second, with free water molecules bound to sugar, pectin released from the fruit binds more easily to each other to produce a loose network of the coveted gel consistency. A firm gel texture distinguishes quality jams, jellies and chutneys from watery ones. Finally, why cook chutneys and jams at a low simmer? The lowest possible heat facilitates the binding of pectin; a higher heat destroys cells irreversibly. Just make sure to use quality sugar. And relish these sweet condiments in reasonable amounts to enhance any meal.
If you have never made chutneys, jams or jellies, first read some basic information on safety and guidelines to home canning. A good place to start is The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning.
Spicy Apricot and Ginger Chutney
Produces about 24 ounces of chutney or three 8-ounce jars.
2 pounds fresh apricots
6 cups sugar
½ cup of water
3 teaspoons salt
3 chopped garlic cloves
4 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
½ cup golden raisins
3 thinly sliced bird’s eye chilies (more if you want it hotter)
1. Wash and dry apricots, then cut in half and remove pits. Set three pits aside.
2. Crush three pits and remove the almond-looking seeds. Place 1 seed in the bottom of each canning jar. (You will need three standard canning jars). This will impart an almond flavor to the chutney.
3. Place all the ingredients in a copper or cast-iron pan with a wide bottom, bring to a boil and then simmer at the lowest temperature to reduce the water content for 45 to 75 minutes.
4. To test whether it’s done, remove the jam mixture from the heat. Pour a small amount of boiling jam on a cold plate and put it in the freezer for a few minutes. If the mixture gels, it is ready.
5. Ladle hot chutney into sterilized and cleaned jam jars and leave uncovered until cooled. Once cooled to room temperature, cover and then store in refrigerator for up to a year.
Top photo: The ingredients for spicy ginger and apricot chutney. Credit: Sarah Khan
This article was partially underwritten by the The Christensen Fund, a nonprofit organization, dedicated to biocultural and agricultural diversity of marginalized people and landscapes globally.