Forward to next post: Oakland
I do not do well on my own.
I don’t mean that I can’t stand my own company, though I do tend to disappear into myself when left really alone for a few days. But even before that, I find that I get these…ideas. It’s a classic crafter’s problem: unoccupied days and evenings stretch before me in empty perfection, and that little voice starts up. You could go back to naalbinding, it says into the echoing silence of the dining room. At night, as the house sits all too still with only me breathing inside, it murmurs, You could figure out cuir ciselé book covers. The leather is right there under your workbench, getting no closer to returning to the cows and goats. And there’s no one around to walk into the room where I’m puttering and say, “What, exactly, are you doing with those eggshells and sandpaper?”
The thing is, Martin and the kids have formed the habit of going to Scotland for the school’s autumn break, leaving me behind to work and get some space in my head. And I do, until the voice starts, and then I find myself making stuff, usually in the kitchen. Last year, it was spiced vodka, infused with cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and crushed bits of nutmeg.1
This year, the little voice was whispering about the pears in Martin’s study. Wicked little voice.
You see, we have a pear tree in the back garden. Our first year here, it produced a solitary pear, which fell to the ground during an autumn windstorm and rotted in place. In our second year, it grew a good dozen, raining them down on the plants in its bed like meteors on hapless dinosaurs. In the third, it used a score or so to bombard my poor dripping, mildewing green tomatoes. This year, though, it’s finally hit its stride and has produced basketfuls. But these are not soft, sweet pears, rosy-skinned and slightly grainy on the tongue. Oh, no: these are green rocks, each as big as a softball, hard and astringent as a long-term cynic in a casino.
So we decided to try ripening them indoors. But after nearly a month, they had simply changed from being hard and astringent to soft and astringent. Leaving them longer was going to invite rot. So, because Martin has been making Indian food lately, the word the little voice murmured in my ear was chutney.
But what kind of chutney? I replied. The little voice, probably startled that its own personal abyss was staring back at it, fell silent, leaving me to Google up recipes. Because chutney is like soup: it can be anything, from a sweet jam-like substance with mangoes all the way to limes in the kind of super-spicy oil that I can’t even touch a finger to. In this case, I wanted something more like the former than the latter.
So I experimented, butchering one pear a night for a week. I tried onion (fail) and mango (win), powdered spices (boring) and fresh ones (yum), and started making my own candied ginger2. And by the end of the week, I had the following recipe.10 pears
Peel the pears and mangoes, then chop them into cubes of a size you’re willing to eat in a chutney. Toss everything into a pot and stir until it’s mixed up (don’t let the turmeric clump). Cook over a high heat until it boils, stirring constantly. Turn the stove down and simmer gently for a couple of hours, until the pear is soft and flavorful. If the liquid starts to taste chalky or grainy, add a bit more apple juice or water and call yourself done; it’s getting too concentrated. If the liquid all boils away, add a bit more apple juice or water and again call yourself done; burned chutney is not in anyone’s tradition.
Use a pierced spoon to put the chutney into sterilized canning jars. You may have delicious liquid left over, which invites more cleverness than I had left by this point. (Tell me what you do with it!) Put lids on3 and immerse in a boiling water bath. I left them in for about 20 minutes, which was certainly more than they needed to seal. Remove jars from water and allow to cool, testing seals afterward. Since badly preserved food is a lovely source of botulism, whatever you’re not sure is well-sealed should be treated like any other open jar of food, and eaten in a reasonable span of time. Sealed jars should last a good year.
This recipe yields about 10 cups of chutney. I made two batches,4 and am consequently drowning in the stuff.
The little voice doesn’t talk to me any more. It could be that Martin and the kids got back yesterday to marvel at the jars on the counter. It could be that it’s run out of things to say. Or it could just be that its little mouth is full of pear and mango chutney.
Wicked little voice. What will it murmur next?