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Preserving - A Way Of Life

By late October memories of summer have truly faded, as salads in the sunshine make way for hearty stews by the hearth. Yet some of the essence of those hazy days can be captured, and even consumed, over the winter months by making final use of the gluts of tomatoes, apples, courgettes and the many other bounties of the fruit and veg harvest, by transforming them into preserves; the general term used to encompass jams, relishes and chutney. 

The latter should strictly apply to the variety of spicy relishes and condiments found within Indian cuisine. The word itself is an anglicised form of the Hindi word chatni (meaning ‘to lick), and within the sub-continent there is an implied understanding that these preparations are made from fresh ingredients when in season. 

The first Indian chutneys to reach the West appeared as luxury imports in England and France during the late 1600s. They were mostly mango chutneys, syrupy in consistency and shipped in ceramic pots. These luxury goods soon became the template for a host of western variations, often described in recipe books as "mangoed" fruit or vegetables. 

The most popular substitutes were unripe peaches or melons. However, by the nineteenth century, many chutneys were manufactured in India specifically for export to Europe among them Lucknow Chutney (a purée of salted limes), and various brand-name chutneys like Major Grey's, a particularly sweet mango chutney. 

Relish the difference 

The distinctions between chutney and relish are subtle ones, so much so that debate surrounding what is which can get as heated as a bird’s eye chill jam. 

However, without risking too much contention, it’s fair to say that aside from chutney being Indian in origin it is also comprised of chunkier pieces of fruit and vegetables softened by slow cooking. Relish by contrast normally has a finer consistency and a sharper more ‘vinegary’ flavour. Relishes also usually contain vegetables or fruit, and these are often cooked quickly or even left raw to retain their crunch. 

You’ll find various tasty iterations around the world, from hotdog- friendly US varieties such as cucumber and corn, or the more complex ‘chow chow’ made from tomatoes, onions, carrots, beans, asparagus, cauliflower and peas. 

Elsewhere, Southeast European versions of aubergine, red pepper, onion and tomato relish include Pindur (from the Balkan states), Bulgarian Lutenica and Romanian Zacusca. Hot and spicy chilli-based relishes seem to be most popular across the globe however, from Kuchela in the Caribbean to muhamarra in North Africa, while back home, Piccalilli remains a contender for UK’s favourite piquant relish. 

Fruitful endeavours

In terms of other British preserves, it’s fair to say that jam making has become an institution within these isles over the centuries, and no surprise that the first recorded recipe for making jam on these shoes comes from a Roman cookbook written in the 1st century AD. Europe is still the world’s largest market for jams, jellies (made using only the juice of the fruit) and marmalades, and despite more recent competition from peanut butter and chocolate and nut spreads, the UK is one of the major consumers – and while the appetite for artisan flavours such as passionfruit and lavender, and bramble and liquorice may have increased, it’s good old-fashioned strawberry that remains the nations (and the queen’s) favourite. Spread a little happiness At Maws we took our time to find a local supplier that delivered the very finest quality preserves using locally sourced ingredients, so we were delighted when we finally discovered Deerview Fine Foods. In the pastoral setting of Deerview farm in Sussex where the food-loving Colombotti family continue to create their ever-expanding range of savoury and sweet preserves from couldn’t be more essentially English. All are handmade and the while family may expertly blend combinations of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices too numerous to mention, their ethos is always the same – to get big flavour by making small batches, sometimes as few as twenty jars at a time. It may be intensive, but this is the only way to authentically produce those essential farmhouse kitchen flavours, and whether it's a jar of spiced aubergine chutney, blackberry and apple jam or whisky marmalade, anyone whose opened the lid of a Deerview preserve knows that what you’re tasting are the fruits of a labour of love.