Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Chutney Emergency.

I have never suffered from a chutney emergency, but in case I ever do, I will go immediately to The Truth and Mirror Cookery Book (Australia, 1943). Dr. Cilento gives a great solution in her chapter on Emergency Recipes. My only problem might be, that I am highly unlikely at any point in time to have in my pantry six pounds of leftover jam.

Chutney, from left-over jam.
Six lb. jam, 1 quart vinegar, ¼ oz cayenne pepper, 3 oz. salt, 2 oz. ground ginger, ¾ lb. onions, cut small. Put all in a preserving pan and boil for 1 hour. Mixed jams may be used with the same success.

Chutney is one of my favourite food words. It is a legacy, like kedgeree, tiffin, (and indeed ‘curry’), of the British colonial era in India. The word is derived from the Hindi chatni, and refers (according to the OED) to “A strong hot relish or condiment compounded of ripe fruits, acids, or sour herbs, and flavoured with chillies, spices, etc.” The OED gives the first use in English as 1813, but there are numerous uses well before this, as one would expect given that British India was a well established institution long before that date. A quick and very superficial search found “… chutnee, a curious mixture much used in curries and Indian made dishes…” (Sketches of India, Henry Moses, 1750)

The OED does not hazard an opinion as to what the Hindi chatni means, but of course this is important if we are to come to a full understanding of chutney. I do hope that someone out there with an understanding of Indian languages will enlighten us via the comments. I have had to resort to earlier dictionaries for ideas.

From A grammar of the Hindoostanee language (1796), we have chaĆ„na – to lick. Is this the underlying concept? Something so good it makes you want to lick your lips? Or am I barking up the wrong tree altogether?

There is an interesting definition of chutnee in A Compendious Grammar of the Current Corrupt Dialect of the Jargon of Hindostan (Commonly Called Moors) with a Vocabulary English and Moors, Moors and English published in 1801. Now there is a book with an impressive title! What do George Hadley and Mohommed Fitrut give as a definition of chutnee? Sallad, that is what they suggest. My puzzlement increases.

Quotation for the Day.

I feed him interesting food, like chutneys and sardines and jalapenos, because I'm training him to be an adventuresome eater.
Michael Gross.


Marisa Raniolo Wilkins said...

sweet chutney (which tasted like jam) was one of the tastes that I could not adjust to when I come to Australia. Maybe I should have been able to adapt because I was used to mostarda (mustard fruits) as an accompaniment with boiled meats.
I remember one of my Anglo Australian friends coming to stay (we were teenagers) and as a snack we made ourselves mortadella sandwiches. She found some apricot jam in our fridge and smothered the slices of meat with the jam. I never told my mother- she would have been more horrified than I was.

Shay said...

All things chickeny or muttony
Are better far when served with chutney.
This is the mystery eternal:
Why didn't Major Grey make colonel?

(wish I knew who wrote that).

The Old Foodie said...

Marisa - isnt it interesting how our food preferences (and prejudices) are set? Much as I love chutney, the thought of jam on mortadella is just Wrong, Wrong, Wrong - it only works when the sweet is balanced with salty, vinegary, spicy etc.
Shay - lovely quotation, I will see if I can find who wrote it! You may see it in the future as a quotation for the day.

Shay said...

I can't even remember where I first saw this; it may have been one of Elizabeth David's books.

(It may also have been Gourmet magazine, so I'm probably not much help).