Celebrating Food Preservation Yesterday and Today
featuring a vintage recipe for Wild Berry Chutney
CHC CANADA 150 FOOD BLOG CHALLENGE SERIES
I am a proud Canadian. When the Culinary Historians of Canada invited food bloggers to participate in the “CHC Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge”, I knew that I wanted in! What a great way to celebrate and honour Canada’s 150th birthday by featuring a different Canadian dish or discussing a topic which reflects on what it means to be Canadian. For the month of August, CHC invited food bloggers to share stories and recipes related to food preserving; for example: canning of jams or pickles, drying, freezing, fermenting, smoking or other methods of food preservation. While I have worked with all of these methods of food preservation, the method that I most enjoy utilizing is the making of confitures (jams), compotes and chutneys. I live in the beautiful Okanagan Valley where fresh produce is readily available. As seasonal produce becomes available, I have the opportunity to make something special. I am Celebrating Food Preservation Yesterday and Today and for the purpose of this post, I share with you a vintage recipe for Wild Berry Chutney, which makes use of any type of berry mixture, wild or cultivated. Chutneys are easy to make and are lovely served with cheese plates and of course, the world renowned Okanagan wines.
My initial experiences in food preservation methods originated with my mother and grandmother. I grew up in a French Canadian household where canning and preserving food was viewed as a necessary life skill. We had special rooms in the basement called the Cold room and the Preserve room. The Cold room was a dark, dry room at the back of our basement. It had a tiny window for ventilation under the large front porch. We stored carrots and other root vegetables in sand-filled bins. My parents had large burlap bags of potatoes leaning against the sturdy handmade wooden shelves that held woven bushel baskets filled with apples, pears and quince. Braided garlic and bundles of herbs hung in bunches from the ceiling to dry. Baskets of yellow and sweet onions air-dried on an open shelf. Tomatoes were lined up on narrow glass shelves and ripened slowly near the window.
Having just returned from a trip to Newfoundland and Labrador, I was fascinated by the heritage root cellars that I spotted along our route (and attempted to photograph them from the bus). Root cellars became common before the days of electricity. They are cavern like structures typically built into the sides of a hill, rock cliff or cave and covered with stones and sod with a door for access. They are an efficient way to store food (mainly root vegetables, but also preserves and dried meat and dried fish) at a low temperature to protect the food from winter temperatures and keep the food cool in the summer months. They are still in use today in many parts of Canada. I captured as many as I could ranging from heritage sites to modern root cellar versions.
Today, we are more likely to store preserves in a pantry or a walk-in Cool Room. In my childhood, the repurposed Preserve Room (formerly the Coal Room where coal was dustily deposited into the small room through a small cast iron door) was another important room in our century old home. I still remember shelf upon shelf of confitures, colourful preserves and mason jars full of pinkish-yellow peaches. The red hues of the chunky chilli sauce (better than any salsa I have ever tasted) and the crimson bottles of homemade ketchup were a feast for a kid’s eyes. Images of rows of jars of my Dad’s prized plums, which my Mom stewed for our winter breakfasts, still create those nostalgic memories.
One of my most treasured food memories is making jams, fruit butters and chutneys. The unforgettable fragrances of apple butter simmering on the stove, or a big batch of chunky strawberry confiture reducing to a jammy thickness still make my mouth water.
CHEF TALK: The old fashioned method of making jams (confitures) involved reducing the jam to a point where the jam was tested for a viscose consistency by placing small teaspoons of jam on a frozen saucer. This was the process used in the absence of commercial pectin. My job as a kid was pushing my finger across the jam on the frozen saucer to see if the mixture would ‘wrinkle’ appropriately to determine doneness.
Chutneys were one of the easiest methods of preserving because they were simple reductions of ingredients (typically a mix of vegetables, fruit and spices). The recipe below for “Wild Berry Chutney” is an excellent example of how easy it is to make a chutney that you will be proud to serve your family or guests.
WILD BERRY CHUTNEY
Yield: 1 2/3 cups to 2 cups of chutney (recipe can be doubled or tripled easily)
CHEF TALK: One of my favourite berries to use for this chutney is blackberries, however you can use any mixture of berries, including frozen berries, which is what I used since I had wild blackberries in my freezer. You will notice in the instructions that I caramelize the sugar to start the chutney. You can skip this step if desired and just add the sugar to the berry and apple mixture, although the caramelization of the sugar adds a depth of flavour that is hard to duplicate. The Wild Berry Chutney is lovely with Brie or Camembert Cheeses and crostini. I like to pair a Pinot Noir with this chutney, although a dry Riesling is also divine.
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch dice
- 1 small onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- The juice of 1 small lemon (2 Tbsp) and zest (reserve zest)
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup Merlot wine or berry liqueur such as Marie Brizzard or cassis
- 2 Tablespoons white or dark balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ginger, grated finely
- 2 cups wild berries (blackberries, elderberries, raspberries, etc.)
- 1 teaspoon fresh or dried lavender flowers (optional)
- Caramelize the sugar by placing it in a heavy bottomed saucepan with a little water. Heat over medium high heat. The mixture will go through a few stages: first, bubbles will appear small and watery gradually becoming larger and more viscous turning until it starts to turn amber in colour. This should take about 5 minutes, depending on the pot you are using. CHEF TIP: In order to prevent crystallization of the sugar mixture, brush any droplets of sugar off of the inside of the saucepan with a brush dipped in clean water. Continue to do this while the sugar is caramelizing. If desired, you can skip this caramelization step and just add the sugar to the berries and diced apples and continue with the recipe.
- Add the diced apples and onions, garlic and spices. Expect that the mixture will bubble furiously. As the bubbling subsides, stir the mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Allow the mixture to simmer over medium heat to release its juices.
- Add the lemon juice, wine and vinegars. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the mixed berries, ginger and lemon zest (and lavender if using) and let simmer for another 10 minutes or so, stirring now and then, until the mixture has slightly thickened. (It will thicken further upon cooling).
- Remove the chutney from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.
TO STORE: Store the chutney in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. For longer storage, you can freeze the chutney or process the hot mixture by placing in sterilized jars. Follow manufacturers instructions using a hot water canning method, processing for 10 minutes. Remove from the hot water bath and allow the mixture to cool thoroughly. Check to make sure that the jar has sealed by pressing the center of the lid (it should not pop up). If the jar has not sealed, place it in the refrigerator and use it within one month. Label, date and store the jars in a cool area away from direct light (like a pantry or preserve room) for up to one year.
I value the time that I spent with my mother and grandmother as they patiently taught me so many things as we stood side by side in our small galley kitchen peeling, pickling and preserving foods.
As they say, experience is the best teacher. Today, canning and preserving food is something that I spend a great deal of time doing in the UrbnSpice kitchen. I use my experience and my training as a classically trained chef and pastry chef to create confitures, compotes and chutneys which take advantage of the bounty found in the Okanagan Valley. I love pairing flavours together to feature the ingredients and make products like Apricot Riesling Confiture or Roasted Peach Confiture with Rosemary & Brandy. They enhance cheese and charcuterie platters so well.
Learning food preservation from my family is one of the best life skills I have ever received. Making confitures, compotes and chutneys is a culinary art that we can all appreciate in the environment of ever increasing food costs. I have enjoyed having this opportunity to share with you past and present methods of food preservation, in addition to this simple recipe for Wild Berry Chutney. My hope is that the art of Food Preservation can be continually passed onto future generations – one jar at a time.
Here is a photographic step-by-step for Wild Berry Chutney:
Please CLICK the link above to access my UrbnSpice LEARNING TIPS, which are listed alphabetically on the Learning Tips blog post under the following subheadings:
- Basic Tools – The Simple Spatula
You Might Also Enjoy these Canada 150 Culinary Historian articles:
A Canadian Family Picnic – circa 1867 featuring a vintage recipe for Raspberry Cordial
Farmer’s Market Inspiration – featuring a recipe for Vegetable Tian
Canadian’s First Spring Greens featuring Savoury Rhubarb Apple Compote
Historical Origins of Food Preservation
“There are times when you realize, the English language can be woefully inadequate.”
How true that statement is when you apply it to Newfoundland and Labrador. Many of the photographs that I took on our recent trip were taken from inside a touring bus as we travelled. If I captured the wonderful scenery, home or root cellar close to you, please write to me or leave a comment so that I can thank you for allowing this ‘girl from away’ to have the trip of a lifetime in your beautiful province. I cannot wait to return one day.
If you enjoyed this article or try my recipe for Wild Berry Chutney, please leave me a comment below with your feedback.
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