How to make Chutney


Chutney can mean a lot of different things in different places. The chutney I make is in the style of English chutneys, adapted from the sauces called "chatni" or similar that they found in Indian cuisines. So when I say "chutney" herein, that's what I mean. Basically fruit and onions cooked down in vinegar and blended with sugar and spices to create a thick, lumpy, sweet/sour relish that can go well with cheese, meat and vegetables.

General principle

The secret to good chutney is SLOW COOKING. Cook fruit and onions very slowly in vinegar till soft, then add sugar and spices and continue cooking very slowly for hours till you have a good consistency. Then bottle in clean jars which you have heated for a few minutes in the oven, filling right to the top then screwing on clean lids (make sure not to use lids with bare metal on the inside, or lids where the plastic coating on the inside has been scratched or damaged, as the vinegar in the chutney might react with the exposed metal). Label and store in a cool, dark, dry place. Should keep for meny years. At minimum try to keep for at least 3 months to allow the flavours to meld, although you may have a partially-filled jar and that can still be nice to use fresh.


Apples are easy to start with. Cut up a load of apples, cutting out core, pips and bad bits but no need to peel them. I use a big stainless steel pan about 8" deep and 9" diameter. You can fill it 3/4 full of apples as they'll cook down a lot.

Add some vinegar (malt or cider vinegar) - maybe about 400-500ml - you can add more later if necessary, but if you add too much it’ll take ages to boil away. Add 2-4 large onions, chopped. You could also add chopped garlic and/or raisins/sultanas at this point if you like.

Cook VERY slowly till soft (an hour or more, maybe two...). Stir from time to time, adding more vinegar if it looks like burning, but a lot of water will come out of the apples after some time, so don't go overboard with the vinegar, otherwise it will take aeons to evaporate all the excess liquid.

When the apples and onions are soft, add a bunch of sugar (I use muscovado or soft brown). Maybe about 500g to start with, then taste it later on and add more if not sweet enough. Also add spices. Any combination of Ground coriander, crushed coriander seeds, cummin seeds, asafoetida, turmeric, chilli, cayenne, red peppercorns, green peppercorns, black peppercorns, pink peppercorns, allspice, mustard seeds (black or yellow), kalonji (nigella or so-called black onion seeds), celery seeds, cardamom pods, ground fenugreek, and anything else you have, can think of or like the smell of. I like to keep some seeds whole and use some ground, or toasted and ground. I like to find whole peppercorns and allspice berries in my chutney! A cereal bowl about half to 3/4 full of spices is a good guide to the amount, depending on how spicy you like it. two-thirds of a standard cereal bowl's worth of spices. Don't be mean with the spices, otherwise you'll produce a bland, insipid chutney. Be liberal rather than conservative. You might want to add a teaspoon of salt too...

Now stir in the sugar and spices well and continue to cook the lot really really slowly for a long time. You want to slowly concentrate the flavours. If it's quite liquidy, keep the lid off, else keep it on. It might take three or four hours even, till you get the right consistency. Remember that when hot it will be more runny than when cold, so bottle when slightly runnier than you want the finished product to be.

Heat the jars in the oven; take them out with the handle of a wooden spoon and you can quickly up-end them onto a table. I use a large mug and a wide-mouthed funnel to fill the jars. Fill them as full as possible without the chutney squelching out, so as to leave as little air space as possible. If you see air bubbles, poke a clean teaspoon of knife down to break them so all the air is at the top. Wear an oven-glove to tighten the lids well.

When they're coolish, wipe the jars down with a cloth moistened in hot water if any chutney has run down the side.The lids will contract in as they cool making a good seal, meaning the chutney should keep for years. Ideally keep it minimum 3 months before opening, but it may go on improving for years like fine wine! I have eaten a number of three-, four- and five-year-old chutneys and they have all been very good. The important thing is clean jars, sterilized by heat and filled and sealed hot with minimum air.

Make some nice labels for the jars, recording the type and date. The whole process will take some hours but most of the work is at the beginning and end, especially cleaning and chopping the fruit. Don't let the pan dry out. Add more vinegar if necessary.