There was an Old Person of Putney; Whose food was roast spiders and chutney; Which he took with his tea, within sight of the sea; That romantic Old Person of Putney.

It’s that time of the year when thoughts turn to sterilising jars, cutting out circles of fabric with pinking shears, and the sickly sweet smell of cooking sugar and vinegar starts to permeate the flat. Well, if you’re me anyway. Yes, it’s time to dig out the kilner jars, and start making chutney.

I’m not in the country for Christmas this year, and I’m very busy with house things, and practising the ukulele for a cabaret I’m in (sorry to my new neighbours, it’s not the best sound to hear coming through your walls on an evening), so I thought I wouldn’t try anything different this year, and instead make my life a bit easier by revisiting an old favourite – Mary Berry’s Christmas Chutney. This also has the benefit of needing to be made in advance, then left in a cool dark place to mature for a month or so before eating. As I most likely won’t be handing out presents until as while after Christmas day, this suited me fine.

“What could go wrong?” I thought to myself. “I know this recipe like the back of my hand.”

In a genius time saving flash of inspiration, I decided to chop all the vegetables the night before, ready for me to chuck them in a pan as soon as I got home from work the next day (there is a lot of chopping involved in this recipe. I recommend using a) a food processor or b) a gas mask, in order to save your eyes when finely chopping 7 onions. I used neither, as I thought it would be a lovely relaxing thing to do in front of the TV. Relaxing, if running away from the chopping board every five minutes screaming “My eyes! My eyes!” is how you like to chill out of an evening.)

Look! at all the lovely chopping I did… Glance! at the recipe below… Gasp! as you slowly realised you forgot to read the section where it instructs you to peel the tomatoes before chopping… Weep! at the acceptance that you will be having tomato soup for dinner every day for the rest of the week… 

Tomatoes. So many tomatoes. And none of them any use.

Tomatoes. So many tomatoes. And none of them any use.

If ever there was a lesson to be learned about reading the recipe in full before embarking on a project, this would be it.

The recipe makes about 2.5kg worth of chutney. This is a lot of chutney. A lot of chutney. It will fill a lot of those fancy schmancy “presentation jars” you fell in love with at Lakeland. So you need to get sterilising those jars.

Jars. Lots of jars.

Jars. Lots of jars.

I don’t have a dishwasher (although I’m hoping this will change soon – hello, January sales), so my preferred method is to wash the jars in hot soapy water, before placing them upside down on a couple of sheets of newspaper on the oven shelves and putting them in a pre-heated oven (275°F/130°C/Gas 1) for about 15-20 mins.

To stop the glass jars shattering, remember that hot food goes in hot jars, cold food goes in cold jars.

The recipe is below, from the BBC Good Food website.

Ingredients

900g tomatoes

3 red peppers, 1 large aubergine and 1 green pepper (total weight of about 900g/2lb)

6/7 small/medium sized onions (about 700g), peeled and fairly finely chopped, by hand or in a food processor

4 fat cloves garlic, crushed

350g granulated sugar

300ml/½ pint white wine vinegar or distilled malt vinegar

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed

1 tbsp paprika

2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Peel the tomatoes. I repeat. PEEL THE TOMATOES. To do this, prick them with a sharp knife, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few seconds then drain and cover with cold water. The skins will now come away easily. “Easily”, but not quickly. Do this bit in front of the telly.

2. Chop the tomatoes and aubergine and seed and chop the peppers. Put in a large heavy-based pan with the chopped onions and crushed garlic and bring to the boil.

3. Cover with a lid, lower the heat and gently simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally, until tender.

4. Tip the sugar, vinegar, salt, coriander, paprika and cayenne into the pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil for 30 minutes or so, until the mixture achieves a chunky chutney consistency and the surplus watery liquid has evaporated. Take care towards the end of the cooking time to continue stirring so that the chutney doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. I’ve often found this bit has previously taken me almost an hour to do, so make sure you’ve left enough time in your evening. I was sterilising jars and spooning chutney at way past 10pm. Not ideal.

5. Ladle the chutney into sterilised or dishwasher-clean jars, sealing them whilst still hot. Leave to mature for at least a month in a cool dark place.

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The finished product! Not sure how to decorate these yet – need to raid the fabric scraps.

 Today’s quote is from Edward Lear.

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A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.

They are from a company called Pulp! The Classics. The artwork is by an artist called David Mann, and the book design by Elsa Mathern. I just love what they’ve created together – it’s so silly and fun, and makes such a change to what we normally think of when we think of “The Classics”. If judging a book by its cover was your thing, I think these would definitely make you want to pick them up and look inside.

On the Waterstone’s website here you can read David Mann’s comments on each of his covers. Apparently, the body of Marilyn on the cover of Tess of the D’Urbervilles was based on his wife, and he’d originally wanted to use a poodle on the his cover of Hound of the Baskervilles, but they instead settled on a Chihuahua. Oh, and Ryan Gosling was a specific request from the publishers. An eye on the market, or just a big fan in the publishing house, who knows.

Keep an eye out for these in your local bookshop – they’d make a great Christmas gift for any avid readers – or Gosling fans! – in your life.

Today’s quote is from Italo Calvino in The Uses of Literature.

Comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love

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Straight out of the oven.

Well this quote is a bit overly dramatic, but kind of fitting for this comforting toffee apple pudding recipe from the Domestic Sluttery website, completely weather appropriate.

I’ve recreated the recipe here – it’s super easy and works like magic. And the sauce gets tastier as the days go on (we’re on day three now)

Ingredients

4-5 small or 2-3 large eating apples

125g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

90g caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

75g butter, melted and left to cool

1 egg, beaten

175ml milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:

100g brown sugar

30ml maple syrup

225ml boiling water

A couple of handfuls of chopped pecans (I think walnuts would work really well too)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

2. Peel and slice the apples to about 1cm thick, then use them to line the bottom of a roasting dish (it has to be fairly deep, as the pudding does rise – mine’s a couple of inches deep)

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, caster sugar and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the butter, egg, milk and vanilla extract, then mix together to form a batter.

4. Now the recipe says to leave it to thicken slightly for 20 minutes, but I ran out of time and didn’t do this. Not sure it makes a huge difference, so let’s call this an optional time-dependent step.

5. Pour the batter evenly over the apples, smoothing down the top.

6. Put the brown sugar and maple syrup into a bowl and top with the boiling water. Stir quickly so the sugar dissolves, then tip the whole lot over the apple batter before sprinkling over the pecans. At this point it looks like you’ve created a hot sticky sweet mess, but trust me – it’s meant to look like that.

7. Honest, don’t worry it’s fine.

8. Bake for 40 minutes until it’s golden-brown and well-risen.

9. Eat it hot with custard or ice-cream (Or cold a couple of days later straight out of the dish. No judging here.)

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Check out that sauce. Hot, sticky and sweet. And very moreish.

Today’s quote is from the Song of Solomon

Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile

Don’t you just love Autumn? The kind of Autumn with crisp blue skies, crunchy leaves and conkers. The kind of Autumn where it’s acceptable to have soup for every meal, where you walk through the park arm-in-arm with your friends and lovers, wrapped in scarves. The kind of Autumn that is actually called Fall and only exists in Central Park in films.

We’ve been waiting a while for Autumn to start, here in London, as the sun made a belated appearance. But now the clocks have turned back, and I barely see daylight, it’s hard to deny that the season has begun. But that’s fine by me, as it is the perfect time of year to break out the hearty carb-loaded meals, and rummage through my cupboards in search of the chestnuts I knew I had bought one time, and then forgotten about on Christmas Day. And Time Out magazine luckily gave me the perfect recipe, combining the two ingredients.

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Can’t work out if this is a blurry photo, or just the steam rising off the pan…

It’s a really easy recipe, and perfect for a cosy evening in.

Ingredients:

300g basmati and wild rice

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into largeish chunks

4 garlic cloves, crushed

200g pre-cooked chestnuts, halved

250g spinach

25g unsalted butter

100g cream cheese

1. Cook the rice until tender, drain fully, and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the butternut squash and fry until tender (about 5/6 mins)

3. Add the garlic and chestnuts and cook for a minute.

4. Add the spinach, cook for another 5 mins.

5. Add the butter and rice to the pan, stir well and leave to cook for about 10 mins. Don’t stir (this way you get a nice crust at the bottom of the pan)

6. Finally, break up the mixture with a fork, stir through the cream cheese, season, and serve in front of a roaring fire (or the tv…)

Today’s quote is from William Cullen Bryant

When I die Dublin will be written in my heart.

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 This weekend I went to Dublin for my lovely friend Laura’s hen weekend. I’ve known Laura every since we met moving into our University accommodation way back when, when we were young innocent first years. Too many years ago to count now. (Or at least, it would be impolite to try and count – you’d … Continue reading