The master of all trades, I was recently house sitting for a friend while she enjoyed the famously tropical weather of the Outer Hebrides. The lovely big house also boasts a large garden, including a rather substantial fruit cage, a few healthy veg patches and green houses bursting with ripe tomatoes, as well as some cleverly neglected areas nurturing an abundance of blackberries.
Aside from watering these inconveniently large grounds every day for two weeks, my main job was to feed the adorable and very vocal twin cats. Imaginatively, they’re named ‘Big Cat’ and ‘Little Cat’, although I struggled to see any notable size difference in the siblings. In fact, after a week of only ever seeing one cat at a time, I was convinced that something must have happened to the other. But thankfully, the conniving pair were obviously playing a feline prank on me. On my last day of house sitting, just when I was figuring out the easiest way to break the devastating news of the 50% reduction in cats to my friend, the pair burst through the cat flap together, screaming their demanding meows to be fed and winding their furry bodies around my ankles. Pair of minxes!
One day I’m sure cats will rule the world and us humans will be their two-legged brainless slaves….Anyway, I digress. I think my point was that in between feeding the cats and watering the garden, the rest of my time was happily spent in the large kitchen, feverishly concocting different masterpieces like a mad scientist in a laboratory.
One of the fruits of my labour was a plum, blueberry and blackberry cake. Ok, so I will admit to slightly singeing the edges, but I blame that on getting used to an unknown oven! Yes, that must have been it. Nothing to do with a bad workwoman blaming her tools. Aside from the charred edges, the rest of the cake was perfectly edible. The combination of golden caster sugar and the natural sugars in the fruit made the sponge pleasantly sweet and deliciously moist. It was a fair old slab but it didn’t last long – I invited two friends round one evening who both devoured two pieces each, washed down with cups of tea. Who says burnt is bad?
It was August when I was lording it up in my friend’s house, and just the right timing to take advantage of the edible things in the garden. With an avalanche of ripe ruby tomatoes, there was nothing else for it but to make good old tomato chutney. I wanted to make it slightly different from the traditional and I found a recipe from the Eden Project which had a few extras in it, something along the lines of: 1 red onion, 1 courgette, a mountain of tomatoes (yes, that is an official measurement), skin removed, 1 Bramley apple and a handful of sultanas.
These were bubbled up in my cauldron along with the usual chutney necessities – dark brown sugar and red wine vinegar – plus a few spices I found hiding away in the larder: coriander seeds and a sprinkling of mace.
There are a few great things about making chutney. One is that you get the satisfaction of using up lots of ingredients which may have otherwise shrivelled before you got round to eating them. Another is that after some initial effort in peeling and chopping, you basically chuck it all in a pan and leave it to do its thing before decanting into jars. Then all you have to do is make something which resembles pureed shiny slop (or worse!) look pretty with a gingham top tied on with ribbon. The real magic happens with no effort required at all – the chutney matures over a couple of weeks, hopefully producing a tangy treat to accompany your cheese and crackers.
Happily, unlike a few people I could think of, this one matured nicely. Although it was only August, I’m always thinking ahead and now some lucky people are going to receive a jar of my finest tangy tommy chutney for Christmas. What else could a friend want?