Thursday, January 23, 2014

Spicy Plum Chutney

Image from Wikimedia Commons
When I first started developing an interest in canning, I was looking for a way to preserve some of the fruit off the trees in my yard, especially my rather prolific plum trees.

While eating plums fresh are okay, they are not my favorite fresh fruit, so I was looking for ways to use them in other recipes.

Hands down, my favorite thing to do with the plums in my yard is to make plum chutney. So so so SOOO good! And by canning it, I get to enjoy it all year round.

What is chutney, you ask?

Well, chutney means different things to different people, but basically it's a condiment of spices and fruits (and/or vegetables) that is usually both savory and sweet at the same time. It's a fruit or vegetable relish that is served with a main dish to complement its flavors.

Most chutneys you get in Western countries have Indian roots but have been Europeanized, so they're not truly "authentic." Still, these chutneys have plenty of charms. They usually involve cooking fruit, vinegar, onion, garlic, and spices together, then concentrating the flavors by cooking things down in a reduction.

Now, that may not sound that great if you are new to it (fruit, onions and vinegar cooked together?), but it really is quite good. A little sweet, a little sour, a little savory, a little spicy ─ all in one. Goes great with meats and cheeses.

The best-known fruit chutney is probably Major Grey's Chutney, which uses mangoes, onions, vinegar, raisins, lime juice, and spices. (If you've never tried it, you definitely should!)

Image from 
There are many other types of fruit chutneys out there, but my personal favorite is plum chutney.

The best way to eat plum chutney, in my opinion, is on pork tenderloin, which is a good lean cut of pork. There's a good recipe here.

Basically, roast the tenderloin, let it "rest" for a few minutes after taking it out of the oven, then slice it up and serve with the plum chutney on top.

You can put some chutneys on meat before roasting it, but my family agrees that this chutney is much tastier when it is added after the meat is cooked.

The recipe above has you make the chutney fresh, at the same time you are roasting the meat. However, it's also useful to make the chutney ahead of time and then can it. Then it is available whenever you want it, whether or not plums are in season. It shortens your prep work to have it already made and shelf-stable, and the flavors intensify if they are on the shelf for a while.

This is the recipe I use, which is taken from Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton. It's a little on the runny side and it's not as pretty-looking as I might like, but the flavor really can't be beat.

Plum Chutney

2 c. cider vinegar
2 c. sugar
4 pounds plums, pitted and diced
2 large sweet onions, diced
1/2 c. diced prunes
2 T. freshly grated ginger
2 T. mustard seed
2 t. salt
zest of one lemon, cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t. ground cloves

Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a large non-reactive pot. Add the plums, onions, prunes, ginger, mustard seed, salt, lemon zest, garlic and cloves and return to a boil. Simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Can with the boiling-water method for 20 minutes (adjusting for altitude if needed). (Canning directions for beginners can be found here.)


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Spicy Ginger Applesauce

I'm busy catching up on a few projects, so another fluffy post today.

Haven't posted much on gardening or canning this year, so thought I'd share one of my favorite canning recipes - Spicy Ginger Applesauce. Mmmmmm, this is GOOD stuff.

I make many quarts of this every fall when our apple trees bear fruit. Our neighbors also give us the apples from their trees, and we invest in apples from local orchards as well. As our apple trees become more mature, we won't need the local orchards as much, but we'll probably always get some so we have a wider variety of apples for the sauce.

We give homemade gifts to our friends and the kids' teachers. Some years it's plum chutney, this year it was Raspberry Jelly or Spicy Whiskey Pumpkin Butter, but every year is a Spicy Applesauce year. Yep, it's so good that people request it for gifts!

I both can and freeze the applesauce since I like to have both types of storage on hand. I often also dehydrate some apples and make apple chips as well. Sadly, these don't last long if my sons find them (note to self ─ make more next year)! I haven't made fruit leather from the applesauce yet but I hope to next year. Should be goooooood!

The recipe is extremely easy. You can make it on the stovetop in the traditional way, or in a crockpot if you are in and out all day or want to do it overnight. It's very flexible and adaptable. The hardest part is getting the apples ready, and that's not very hard. I do it while watching T.V. or doing laundry so I can multi-task.

You adjust the sweetness and spiciness of the sauce to your family's taste. Some people like their applesauce very plain and apple-y; our family prefers it with lots of cinnamon and spices. A recent experimental addition in our house has been ginger, which really gives the applesauce some zing. Our Spicy Ginger Applesauce has gotten rave reviews from all who have received it so far.

The key to not needing very much sugar is to cook the apples in apple cider (or apple juice, but cider gives a richer flavor) instead of water, and to add a bit of salt to the sauce while cooking it down. The salt really potentiates the natural sweetness so you don't need as much sugar. In addition, a touch of vanilla enhances the flavors and makes the sauce seem sweeter than it is.

Some people prefer their applesauce with no added sugar. I like the flavor better with at least a little bit of sugar, but you need less than you might think, especially if you add it at the end of the process instead of early on. Personally, I think white sugar gives the best results without distracting from the apple flavor, but many people make it with brown sugar, agave syrup, or honey instead. Whatever floats your boat.

Mixing several different apple varieties together in the sauce is another key to improving the flavor and sweetness. I like a mix of Braeburns, Galas, Fujis, Gravensteins, or Winesaps, but I usually limit myself to 2-3 apple varieties per batch. That way they enhance each other without the flavors fighting each other for dominance.

Different people have different techniques for prepping their apples. Some just cut them up, boil 'em down, then use a strainer to mash them and take out the cores and peels. Others cut out the cores etc. ahead of time so they don't have that extra step of straining later on. Some bake them in the oven for even less prep, and then sauce them.

Lots of people use an apple peeler, like the one on the left, especially for homegrown organic apples with imperfect skin. The bonus of the apple peeler and slicer is that you can prepare extra apples for the dehydrator at the same time you are getting ready to make sauce. Using a slicer/peeler is a little messy but if you have fairly uniform-sized apples it works pretty well.

If I'm going for a really pretty sauce for gifts or special baking projects, I take off the skins and am very thorough about coring them so we don't find bits in the finished product. But in most of my sauces, I leave the skins on for extra nutrition (they disintegrate with the stick blender) and I don't care if I find an occasional bit of apple core or skin in the sauce.

Here's how I make my Spicy Ginger Applesauce. Feel free to alter it as you'd like when you make yours. I don't give any amounts; this is truly a recipe you adapt as needed for your own preferences. Just wing it; you'll be fine as long as you don't let anything scorch. And in time, you'll find your own preferred way to make the sauce.

  1. Prepare your apples - Wash them well and cut out any bad spots. Peel them if you prefer. Cut up the apples and put them in a little bit of salt water or lemon water to keep them from browning before the cooking begins. Drain them before starting to cook them.
  2. Cook your apples - Cover the bottom of a large pan with apple cider or apple juice. Add some lemon juice for acidity if you are going to be canning the applesauce. Add the apples. Cook the apples on medium heat (with the lid on to capture the steam) until the apples start to fall apart, about 30-45 minutes or so. If you like a very "appley" taste, start saucing here. Otherwise, it's spicing time!
  3. Cook the apples down - To intensify the flavor and get a richer, thicker applesauce, add a little salt, then reduce the heat to low and keep cooking the apples down till the liquid has reduced considerably. I let my apples cook down for at least an hour on the stovetop, or for several hours in a crockpot. This is the key for a really flavorful applesauce.
  4. Sauce the apples - Use a potato masher to smush the apples if you like a chunky applesauce; use an immersion stick blender if you prefer a very smooth, creamy applesauce. Watch out; the apples will be hot! Wear long sleeves and an apron to protect yourself from any splatter.
  5. Add the spices - Add a bit more salt and some vanilla extract (the good stuff), and stir it all in. Then add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice to taste. If you like ginger, add either finely grated fresh ginger or a small amount of powdered ginger. (Ginger and cloves get more powerful with time, so go easy ─ a little goes a looooong way!) Stir the spices into the sauce and let it cook down even more. Keep a lid on to minimize any splatter.
  6. Sweeten the sauce - Add sugar or sweetener only at the very end of the process, and taste the sauce before adding to estimate how much you will need. Some recipes call for several cups of sugar, but I only add about 1/2 c. or so of white sugar to a pretty big pot of sauce. Some people add just a touch of honey, but I find the honey can overwhelm the apple taste. Brown sugar adds a bit of caramel taste, which can be tasty. Cook the sauce a bit longer, then taste and adjust as needed.
  7. Pour the sauce into heated jars - Using a measuring cup, ladle or funnel, pour the hot sauce into pre-heated, sterilized jars, leaving a bit of extra room on top. If canning, follow standard canning directions and immediately do a waterbath can for about 20 minutes (adjusting for altitude and jar size as needed). Let sit in the hot water for 5-10 minutes more to minimize air pockets and oxidation, then remove and cool on a towel. If freezing the sauce, let the jars cool on a towel for a few hours, then refrigerate overnight. Put into your freezer the next day. Label your jars with the date the applesauce was made.
image from 
Our Spicy Applesauce is the best I've ever had, bar none, and I really do love the ginger version too. It's so wonderful to have on hand all through the year. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

This is definitely a very rich, flavorful applesauce, so if you like your sauce watery and appley like store apple sauces, you might not care for it. But if you are open to an applesauce that it has a little deeper, smokier, and spicier flavor, this is your baby.

And the nice thing is, it doesn't use much sugar. That's not for dieting considerations, but just to minimize sugar intake to stay healthy. To get such a rich flavor experience with so little added sugar is definitely a win-win situation!

The key is using several different apple varieties, cooking the apples in cider, adding salt and vanilla, and cooking the apples down thoroughly. This potentiates the natural sweetness of the apples and brings out their richer, deeper flavors.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Personal Pet Peeves in Plus-Size Clothing

A fluffy filler post today about plus-sized clothing shopping. It began life as a comment on another website, but I decided it deserved some airspace here too.

I'm normally not one to spend a lot of time blogging about clothing. I have more important topics to discuss, and while I enjoy good clothing, I generally place my emphasis on comfort and function over fashion.

But I'm making an exception today to complain about some pet peeves when shopping for plus-sized clothing. These things REALLY make me frustrated when I'm simply trying to find decent clothes in my size.

My personal plus-size clothing complaints:
1. Stock more high-end sizes - While I commend some plus-size stores for stocking larger sizes (26/28 and sometimes larger), PLEASE STOCK MORE THAN A COUPLE OF THE HIGH-END SIZES. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a plus-sized store, found something cute, and then realized that they had a zillion of that item in a size 16/18, but NONE LEFT in the larger sizes because they only stocked a few high. Know your customer base! Many women who wear in-between sizes (like size 16) shop at regular stores. A plus-sized store clientele is going to have more women in the mid and upper range of sizes, not the lower range. I understand that statistically there are more people in the 16-20 range, but the clientele who is going to come to your store is going to be more in the 22 and above range. Stop ordering mostly the lower size range and just a few in the upper sizes. It alienates the upper-size customers when you cater mostly to the smaller plus-sizes.
2. Make the same range of sizes available in women's sizes as you do in men's sizes - Many online and big-box stores have a wide range of plus sizes available for men (often going to 4x or 5x), but only limited plus-sizes for women (often stopping at XL or 2x). This doesn't reflect demographics; there are plenty of higher-sized women out there. It just reflects the sexist attitude that it's more socially acceptable for men to be big. BOTH genders have folks who run large, and both need clothes that work for them. If you have 4x or 5x in men's clothes, have 4x or 5x in women's clothes too.
3. Design for actual plus-sized people - Don't just take a design made for a smaller-sized person and randomly add 5 inches to every measurement and think that will work for a plus-sized person. It makes the neckline way too wide (meaning that bra straps are constantly showing) and the arm holes are often too large (sometimes halfway to the waist). I can't tell you how many cute things I have wanted to purchase but didn't because my bra straps were going to show, or because the giant arm holes left nothing to the imagination underneath. Gah!
4. Make more non-underwire bra choices available, especially in larger cup sizes -While underwires should be available for those who want them, many large-busted women find underwires to be an exercise in pure torture. They aren't comfortable, and it doesn't take long for those stupid underwires to poke through and stab us. Yet even in specialty stores, non-underwire choices are quite limited. We need more varieties available, and dang it, we want the non-underwire bras to be pretty too.
5. Improve the quality of specialty goods available in plus sizes - I have posted before about the difficulty in finding GOOD plus-sized winter coats, cold-weather gear, and exercise clothing. I'm glad that you now can find specialty stuff in plus sizes (see, but honestly, the quality is not always there. When I look at the gear I buy for my kids or my in-laws from REI and similar companies, I'm amazed at the sheer quality of the goods and how well they work. When I buy a similar product from Junonia, I don't always find a similar quality. (Some of their stuff is good, but some stuff is mediocre.) The material is not as good, the cut is bulky, or the quality of finish is poor. And for cold-weather or sports gear, cheaper materials could harm our health or even result in injury. Retailers, I'm not going to continue to buy from your company if the product is of inferior quality. Use the same high-performance fabrics and standards that are used for smaller sizes!
The thing that probably bugs me the most is that I've been complaining about some of these things to clerks and managers for THIRTY YEARS and never have I seen any changes. I know I'm not the only one complaining, either.

To me, that shows just how incredibly unresponsive and uncaring the management of plus-sized clothing businesses are towards their clientele. Honestly, I think most of them actively disdain plus-sized women and that's why they have such short-sighted and discriminatory business practices towards their own clientele.

Why should I buy from companies who obviously don't value my business and who apparently don't think I deserve quality clothing because I come in a larger size? The answer is....I won't.

What are your top pet peeves when shopping for plus-sized clothing?