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Autumn’s bounty is upon us! A productive season in our garden has us busy storing fruit in boxes, freezing and canning produce, and exploring new ways to preserve our food for the long winter months. Knowing our pantry and freezer are stocked with homegrown produce gives us a wonderful feeling of security, and it’s satisfying to feel that our valued garden produce is being used to best advantage.

There is often more produce than we can deal with so we give away the excess, with neighbors reciprocating with their extra, which we may not have. The less-than-perfect fruit which will not store well is turned into applesauce and other preserves. Extra tomatoes are cooked down for sauce and salsa. Our pressure canner enables us to safely preserve low-acid vegetables like beets, green beans, and corn. We also use our canner for ‘boiling water bath’ canning so we don’t have to store another big kettle for that process. The pressure valve is not used in this instance.

At the same time we are thinking ahead to the Holidays, and are collecting food based gifts which are always useful and appreciated. Some examples are dried fruit, dried herbs, packets of seed from our best producing squash, home-canned veggies and fruit, and small jars of homemade jams and jellies, relish, chutney, and salsa.

Besides being fun to make and economical for the giver, homemade gifts are easier on the Planet than store-bought items. There is no packaging, as a bright ribbon around the jar suffices for decoration. The jars are reusable indefinitely so no waste there. This year, besides my usual green tomato chutney, I am using my neighbor Jan’s recipe for apple-plum chutney, because this chutney is deliciously exotic tasting. And I have a surplus of prune plums this year, which ripen quickly and have a short shelf life. This recipe also makes use of the many windfall apples which have bruises and pecks that keep them from storing well, and yet are at the height of tastiness. The recipe came from her mother who worked in the kitchen of a large estate manor in the north of England, during the turn-of-the century period of the PBS Downton Abbey series. Although it appears to have a lot of ingredients it is very simple to make. This recipe yields about 6 pints of apple-plum chutney, and it is easily expanded or reduced to produce the number of pints that suits your needs.

Jan’s Apple-Plum Chutney

  • 6 c. pitted plums, cut in 8ths
  • 8 c. tart apples, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 c. onions, chopped
  • 1 ½ c. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ c. raisins
  • 2 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 t. ground cloves
  • 4 tsp. salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 drops Tabasco, or to taste

Place all ingredients into a big pot, bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered until mixture thickens, about one hour. Stir regularly. Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan. If no running liquid is left, it is ready. The surface will be shiny.

Using a ladle, pour the cooked mixture through a wide funnel into hot sterilized canning jars. It is helpful to set the jars on thick newspapers or tea towels before pouring. Allow the jars to cool, which might take 3 – 4 hours. Once cooled, the jars can be stored in the fridge where they will keep a very long time. If you want to store at room temperature in the pantry, process the jars in a hot water bath according to your canning manual, usually for 10 minutes.

It is rewarding to share time-tested family recipes with our friends and relatives, as their culinary heritage becomes part of our own. Opening a colorful jar of preserves in the dark of winter not only reminds us of the bounty of summer, but of loved ones who helped contribute to it.