Ingredients for chutney lay on a table
This chutney recipe uses rhubarb and ginger, but any fruit can be swapped in to make it your own. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

To make chutney, all you need is a mass of fruit to which you add onion, garlic, raisins and pungent spices such as ginger, allspice, mustard seed, cinnamon and cloves — plus sugar and vinegar — then boil it all together until it thickens up. Classic Indian chutneys are often predicated on mangos, though this year extraordinary heat there ruined the crop.

Here in Maine, as the growing season progresses, chutney’s base fruit changes. In this household it starts with rhubarb, progresses to peach, then apple, and once in a while green tomatoes. A friend produces a delicious blueberry chutney, avidly sought at the annual library bake sale. Because there are so many other ways I like to use blueberries, I never make blueberry chutney for myself.

I based this rhubarb chutney on one I found in an old favorite cookbook called “Fancy Pantry” written by a mentor of mine, Helen Witty. Because chutney-making can be pretty elastic, I tinkered as usual with the recipe to make it work for my ingredients and our taste. For one thing, I beefed up the ginger by using fresh ginger root plus chopped crystalized ginger. I added chipotle powder for a little heat though chili powder or a few red pepper flakes would work as well. If you prefer a milder version of chutney, leave out the capsicums.

Most of the chutney I made will accompany various curry dishes, from a cold curried chicken salad to vegetable curry or added to dal, a curried porridge of mung beans. If you need an appetizer in a hurry, chutney on cream cheese to spread on crackers works really well. You can also add chutney to cheese or cold meat sandwiches. It’s awfully useful stuff.

Make it now while rhubarb is in season, use some, then store some for cold weather dishes. Process some in little jars as holiday presents or hostess gifts.

Use a large shallow preserving pan that will hasten evaporation; deep pots make the process go much more slowly. And I suppose by now you know that all preserve-making benefits from clear, sunny weather.

If you can, let the chutney mellow out for a couple weeks before using it. The flavors smooth out and blend nicely.

Ginger Rhubarb Chutney

Makes about 3 pints

2 pounds of rhubarb, diced into small pieces

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cups golden raisins

1½ cups white sugar

3 large garlic cloves, finely minced

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons candied ginger, finely chopped, optional

1 tablespoon pickling salt

2 teaspoons mustard seed

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

2 cups cider vinegar

¼ cup corn syrup or heavy sugar syrup

Mix together all the ingredients, except the vinegar and corn syrup, in your preserving pan.

Bring to a boil over a medium heat, then lower the temperature and cook it for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cider and corn syrup and cook for another 20-30 minutes, stirring every so often to prevent the chutney from sticking.

When the chutney is thick and won’t drip if put on a tilted plate, spoon it into preserve jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Then cool and make sure the jars take a seal.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...