Tomato plants are eternal optimists. As the nights draw in and the temperature starts to drop in autumn, the plants continue to set fruit, presumably in the hope that there will still be just a little bit more of summer to come. So come October and the end of the growing season for another year, there are almost always some tomatoes on the plants that have not ripened fully or at all. Sometimes green tomatoes will ripen indoors on a sunny windowsill, but it takes a long time and is rather a hit-and-miss process.
One way to make use of the last few unripe tomatoes is to turn them into chutney. Chutney is easier to make than jam or jelly, because it does not have to set. I make several batches most years. This quantity makes two large jars.
1.5 lb (approx 700 g) tomatoes, green, red, or partly ripe (or a mixture)
1 lb (approx 450 g) cooking apples, after peeling and coring
8 oz (approx 250 g) onions
2 oz (approx 50 g) sultanas
8 oz (approx 220 g) demerara sugar
0.5 pint (approx 300 ml) malt vinegar
1 teaspoon (1 x 0.5 ml spoon) whole pickling spice*
A piece of clean undyed muslin, about 3 inches (approx 7 cm) square
Scald the muslin in boiling water and leave to cool. When cool, put the pickling spice in the centre and tie the opposite corners together in pairs to make a Dick Whittington-style bundle. It doesn’t have to be muslin: the key requirements are that it should be undyed (you don’t want dye leaching out into the chutney); cotton (synthetic fibres might not take kindly to the heat); clean (for obvious reasons).
Chop the tomatoes into pieces of the size you would like to find in the finished chutney. I aim for pieces roughly 0.5 – 1 cm (0.25 – 0.5 inch) cubed.
Peel and core the cooking apples. If using windfalls, chop out any bruised pieces. Chop into pieces the same size as the tomatoes.
Peel the onion, and chop into pieces the same size as the tomato and apple.
Put the tomatoes, onion, apple, sultanas, spice bag and vinegar into a large saucepan. (Note: I am told that copper or brass pans should not be used for chutney. I use aluminium or stainless steel pans). Bring to the boil.
Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
Reduce the heat and simmer until the fruit and vegetables are soft and the chutney is thickened. I test by pulling a wooden spoon through the chutney. If the bottom of the pan is visible behind the spoon, before the chutney flows back into the gap, I reckon the chutney is done. This stage usually takes about 45 minutes for me; it may be longer or shorter depending on your pan and cooker.
Remove the pan from the heat. Fish out the spice bag and discard it.
Pour the chutney into clean glass jars. I find the easiest way to do this is to pour it into a heatproof jug first, then pour from the jug into the jars.
Seal the jars immediately. I use cling film and then a screw-top lid. I prefer to use jars with plastic lids for chutney, as the vinegar will corrode metal lids eventually.
Store in a cupboard for three months or so before eating to allow the flavour to develop. It will keep for several years, as I know from having once found a forgotten jar at the back of a cupboard five years later (it was fine).
*Pickling spice is sold in UK grocers. It’s a mixture of various whole spices, including dried chillies, black peppercorns, mustard seed, whole coriander seed, dried bay leaves, cloves, ginger and mace. You could make your own mix of whole spices if you prefer.