Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 I: Canned Cranberry Quince Chutney

So the first Sunday in November this year was one of those watershed moments in my evolution in food appreciation.  Brian and I attended a barter fair out at Mountain View Farms in Purcelville, VA, and not only did we get to visit one of our favorite farms from our local farmers market, we got to meet other like minded farmers and non farmers alike who are just plain into locally grown food. What is a barter fair you might ask?  Well, quite simply it's like a farmers market where the producers trade amongst themselves rather than using cash to buy from each other.  Kind of quaint in that it hearkens back to a time when communities quite willingly helped each other out by trading goods and services rather than selling for cash.  Indeed, Shawna, one half of the Mountain View Farming couple, was taking names and email addresses for people who would be willing to "deposit" time into a barter services "bank" where you could get an hour of someone else's time if you have some skill that you are willing to give for the same amount of time.

For us, we got drive out to the Virginia countryside on a beautiful sunny afternoon as the sun was setting this first day of eastern standard time.  We arrived at dusk, set ourselves up in the farm shed next to all the other producers and I got a quick lesson in Marketing 101.  I found out first hand what it's like to make and produce food that will appeal to others and how important presentation is to the whole deal.  I learned immediately that people who grow their own food and raise their own chickens don't want to consume marshmallows at all, even homemade ones made with real vanilla beans!  Although, popular with the kids, Brian had smugly and correctly predicted the marshmallows would be a no go, but he still worked hard at moving them off our table!

What proved to be very popular were my home canned jams and chutneys, all made throughout the year from produce I'd get in season at the 14th & U Farmers Market.  I buy and can throughout the season so that I can make an occasional batch of my favorites to give away at Christmas or as hostess gifts when we're invited somewhere for dinner.  This year as I've been traveling so much to and from California, I completely missed my usual canning of peaches, blueberries, and green beans, but I still had the following to offer:
And what we traded for in exchange!  I feel like I received way more than I gave: canned items such as mushrooms in oil with lemon peel, pickles, Cambodian style kim chee, cherry jelly, hot sauce, and asparagus; produce such as garlic, rhubarb, and fresh herbs; a five pound chicken; homemade sourdough bread; cilantro pesto; and beef bones for making stock.  In fact, we hosted our good friends for dinner and featured many of the items we'd received as well as some of my own canned products we'd kept for ourselves.

With the home canning, it turned out that for once I was ahead of the curve on a food trend. We were listening to Marketplace Money on our drive home from North Carolina post-Thanksgiving last year and heard some sardonic commentary on how home canning is the new raising-your-own-chickens-for-the-fresh-eggs! I may have been late to the table on locavorism and making my own homemade ice cream, but I started canning in 2006 and haven't looked back since!*

My first canning experience came about under somewhat sad circumstances actually. After my father's funeral around Labor Day in 2006 I stayed with my mother for another week and a half after everyone else had gone back to their normal lives. I'll never forget that end of summer feeling that hits the air in New Jersey much sooner than it does down here in Washington, DC. Wanting to occupy my time besides going to the gym or watching TV (I couldn't concentrate enough to read), I cracked open a cookbook I'd happened to bring with me, Amanda Hesser's award winning The Cook and the Gardener. This is a cookbook for reading, organized as it is by month with recipes and stories of Ms. Hesser's stint as a cook at La Varenne, Anne Willan's cooking school in France. The gardener in the title was a crusty old Frenchman whom Amanda had to win over to get him to share both his wisdom and his garden's bounty.  In fact, if one wanted to learn to cook seasonally, this is about the best cookbook I could recommend because it's not organized by course, but rather by month, and basically what's in season in France is also in season in the northeastern U.S.

Now, I don't even find the thought of canning at all daunting anymore. And, as Nigella Lawson says, if the process of doing something gives one pleasure then its pursuit is worthwhile for its own sake.  Some things have turned out better than others, but many items get special mention every year from various friends who've enjoyed a jar of something that they've shared or recently finished.  And I'm not about putting up enough of anything to make it through the winter.  We still go to stores and buy at the farmers market through the winter, although I haven't bought a jar of jam in over five years.  So if I get seven jars of something (enough to fully utilize my home canning basket insert), that's plenty for this home cook.  And really, canning is not something you have to constantly attend to if you have good, heavy duty pots and pans that don't scorch, such as All-Clad, Le Creuset, or Staub.  I would recommend buying or borrowing a canning set, which I received from my mother after she watched me attempting to can using her stockpots and kitchen towels that summer, as recommended by Ms. Hesser on page 177 of her cookbook.

Below is the cranberry quince chutney recipe from Food & Wine last year.  This proved to be my most popular offering, so I'm glad I'd doubled the recipe.   The quince conserve is also delicious and makes use of a fruit most people are not so familiar with, but you may be able to find at your local grocery store in the fall.  In fact I just saw some rather small but healthy looking quince at Harris Teeter yesterday when I went for my Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza.  For detailed home canning instructions I'd go to Ball's website for more information.  I've provided some shorthand instruction based on my years of experience, but you definitely want to be overly cautious, well prepared, and sanitary when canning food that is not going to be refrigerated, especially when you're giving it away to other people!  Of course many things that can be canned can also be frozen or refrigerated.

Cranberry Quince Chutney

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 quince (8 ounces each)—peeled, cored and finely diced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple—peeled, cored and finely diced
  • One 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (or equivalent amount of dried cherries, cranberries or, apricots [chopped])

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, allspice and star anise and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, vinegar and 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Add the quince, apple, cranberries and raisins and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and jammy, about 25 minutes. Discard the star anise. Serve the chutney warm or chilled.

Makes about 3 pints.  The chutney can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or canned as follows:

Canning Instructions
  1. Wash your water bath container and lid with warm, soapy water.  Rinse thoroughly and then fill with enough hot tap water to cover the tops of the jars by an inch.  Cover and set over high heat to bring to a boil.  It will take a while. 
  2. Meanwhile, wash the bands, lids, and jars in warm soapy water and let air dry on a clean towel or clean dish rack.
  3. Fill a tea kettle with water and also bring it to a boil then keep on a simmer.
  4. Prepare the recipe according to the directions and let cook for the needed time.
  5. Meanwhile, place the empty jars in the rack and set above the water bath. (Always sterilize an extra smaller sized jar or two in case your recipe makes more or less than estimated.  You might not have enough to fill a pint but enough to fill a 12, 8 or 4 ounce jar.)  Fill the jars with the hot water from the tea kettle and slowly lower into the waterbath and cover.  Jars filled with liquid will easily immerse into the water bath.  Empty jars will float and move around annoyingly.  You can use tongs to control the immersion, just be careful of getting too close to the hot water.  Let the jars stay immersed as the water boils, which will sterilize the jars.
  6. Place the lids in a small saucepan and cover with an inch of the simmering water.  This will soften the rubber seal to complete the actual canning.  Home canning kits come with a magnet for easy removal of the lids from the hot water.
  7. As your recipe nears doneness, place a ladle and and a canning funnel (if using) in the boiling water bath for sterilization.
  8. When the recipe is ready, uncover the water bath, raise the rack of jars above the boiling water.  Uncovered, the water will likely stop boiling but that's OK, just keep the burner on high.  Lift a jar from the water bath and empty the water back into the water bath.  Place the jar next to the stove, insert the funnel, and using the sterilized ladle, fill the jar leaving a quarter inch of head space (i.e. a quarter inch of empty space between the top of the food and the top of the jar).
  9. Place the funnel into a clean coffee mug or something similarly sized.  Using a clean paper towel, wipe the top of the jar clean of any food residue.  This residue is what could spoil even if you canned properly so it's important that the top of the jar where the seal forms is CLEAN!  Remove a lid from the simmering water and place on the jar.  Screw on the band without overly tightening and set aside.
  10. Repeat filling the jars until you've used up all the chutney.  Any partially filled jar can be refrigerated rather than canned.
  11. As you remove the last jar from the water bath, replace the lid to bring the water back to a boil.  Place the canned chutney back into the rack and lower into the boiling water.  Let process in boiling water for 15 minutes.  That is, if the water isn't boiling when the jars are immersed, don't start the timer until the water is at a rolling boil.
  12. Remove the processed jars from the water and let stand on a cutting board or your counter.  Listen for the lids' popping sounds as the seals are formed when the jars start to cool.  This can take several hours but usually occurs within minutes of the jars coming out of the hot water.  If the lid does not seal, i.e. you can push it down but it pops right back up, then the jar will not seal and it should be refrigerated.  Otherwise, label your jars, store in a cool place, and impress your friends with your homesteading talents.

*Actually that sentence is not entirely true. As soon as I started hitting the Dupont Circle Freshfarm Market in the summer of 2005 following a pivotal trip to Switzerland, I became a locavore, perhaps a bit late to that party, but then locavore wasn't Oxford's word of the year (therefore making it passe) until December of 2007. And making the homemade ice cream certainly coincided with my then newfound farmers market dedication. I mean blueberry cheesecake ice cream is as good a way to preserve fresh bluebrries as jam, no?


  1. i've been on the lookout for a quince chutney, thank you! we still have a handful of quince left, though it will be hard to part with their delightful scent! i'm curiuos about adding ginger and red pepper flakes to heat it up... have you tried something along those lines? we've got a savory quince & onion recipe on our website,

  2. Hi Ruby--
    Red pepper flakes and ginger would be an excellent addition to this chutney! I also make this quince conserve recipe referenced in my blog posting that calls for both red pepper flakes and ginger. It's delicious with goat cheese and manchego. Martha's cranberry chutney, which has no quince, uses red pepper and crystallized ginger to a tasty effect. I look forward trying your savory quince and onion recipe but might have to wait until next season!


Please let me know what you're thinking!