Friday 14 November 2014

Eugénie's Ginger Chutney

Yesterday, life in Toronto changed. This was clear as the snow fell, caressing the warm pavement before melting flake by flake into oblivion. The beautiful bluster signalled the opening movement of yet another seasonal adagio, one which we know and which epitomizes the passing of yet another year. This year, though the accompanying dance is the same, the stage is different. Subtle cues are a constant reminder - the leaves still grasp tenaciously at their branches and the constant thrum of the city, its sirens and horns are the undercurrent to a life which though sounding wild is now distinctly urban. As I walk through my new-old apartment I am struck by my sense of familiarity with this place. The rusty nail head which projects from the wooden floor of the dining room, seems to exist for the sole purpose of plucking at my sock. This is now a common occurrence in a life displaced. As I ruminate on this and look out on the spectacle distanced from me by a single pane of dirty glass my mind gently slides towards old habits.

My mind has lingered on chutney for the last week or so. The fruit has sat patiently in the fridge, waiting for a moment which could not have been more appropriate. While outside a fine layer of powder fought a downhill battle, I unpacked jar upon jar, enjoying as I always do the quaint designs which ornament them. These pastoral cornucopia evoke as ever a rustic flair, one burdened with the reality that each of these jars, although hinting at an artisanal past, are yet another testament to seamless and perfect mass production revealing neither chip nor fragile bubble in their empty walls. This juxtaposition between the past and present is made more evident when these jars are filled, allowing us a glimpse at imperfect chunks of fruit suspended and viewed through a lens of forced perfection.

There is something tantalizing here, in this jar of chutney, which goes beyond a simple blend of complimentary flavours. Physically, it is as stated, contradictory. Emotionally it seems a perfect agent for signifying transition, from space to space and time to time. From the standpoint of memory, while this batch of chutney is fresh, the recipe itself is old, speaking volumes beyond what can be contained in an otherwise unremarkable jar.

On a personal level, this is the recipe of Shannon’s grandmother Eugénie, extracted from a forgotten newspaper thirty of forty years ago and existing within a family far beyond its flash of municipal fame. How many people have squirreled this yellowing strip of paper away, taking it from a publication which is by nature implicitly ephemeral? How many people have squirreled this yellowing strip of paper away, taking it from a publication which is by nature implicitly ephemeral? How many traditions is it at the root of? To whom are Christmas tables incomplete without this ruby-red jar acting as a prism for a dinner’s celebratory delight?

In this way, this chutney is special; it has taken places in memory both collective and personal, existing for individuals and families. How many, upon seeing this recipe in print, in one fleeting moment re-appropriated it for themselves? Making changes, altering it, fabricating a food which was squarely theirs, one which is unique in its own time and space, cementing individually the identity of a food which emerged from a collective. Beyond this, where does this chutney’s story extend to? Canadian apples and pears are enmeshed with cayenne and ginger. The name, the sweet and sour which grace your palate. These tie themselves together, pulling at their imperial roots. These roots are as ever, intertwined with colonialism, juggling subjugation with cultural inquiry in the greater framework of culinary exchange.

This jar of chutney is complex, in flavour and in history. It is a step in an evolving process, a story that remains to an extent inaccessible, locked in the privacy of the families which have made it their own and in the multiple permutations which it stems from. The contradictions that this chutney embodies, between its ingredients, sweet and sour, between the roughly cut fruit and the smooth walls that contain it, each extend to this food’s identity, made unique by its private life but which would have remained obscure if not for a fleeting moment in the public eye. Nothing better reflects the dichotomy between cold snow and warm pavement than this otherwise humble chutney. Winter’s beautiful first failure to take the lead in a dance which it will inevitably dominate, before itself fading from center-stage. This food, this space, this season, surfaced to me as the channel through which to re-define home away from home.

Regardless of what meaning this chutney does or does not have to you, here is the recipe. Perhaps you too will find your own meaning for this not so humble preserve!

-5lbs. (2270g.) pears sliced & peeled

-2lbs. (908g.) apples peeled and coarsely chopped

-1lb. (454g) ginger

-1/2 lb pitted dates, coarsely chopped

-1 cup sultana raisins (I used Thompson)

-1 large onion finely chopped

-2 tbsps. pickling salt

-juice of 2 lemons

-1 tbsp. cayenne pepper

-1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

-3 bay leaves

-2 liters cider vinegar

While it is a general rule not to tinker with preserve recipes, I was short a few hundred grams of pears and apples, I replaced these with cranberries. Also, fair warning, the fruit must optimally sit in the vinegar for three hours before being cooked, this is the kind of recipe which requires a whole afternoon!

Chop and prep all ingredients, combine everything but the sugar in a large pot

Let soak for three hours

Bring to a boil and simmer until fruit is tender

Add sugar and keep stirring until syrupy, about twenty minutes

Pour into sterilized jars and seal, process in boiling water for ten minutes

This chutney is best served after sitting for a few months

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