Thursday, 25 September 2014

Does anything rhyme with chutney?

Apart from Putney.

And unless you live there or wish to visit the place and write poems about expensive London suburbs and rivers and bridges, it is probably artificial and contrived to insert Putney into a poem simply to make it rhyme. Why rhyme anyway? Why, indeed. Some modern poetry hasn't encountered a single rhyming word, hasn't flirted with structure, verse or form, and wouldn't know the difference between a couplet and a romantic dinner for two.I exaggerate but I admit to being a traditionalist. "All along the backwater, Through the rushes tall, Ducks are a-dabbling, Up tails all!" - Kenneth Grahame made me smile as a child and he still does today. His poem trips off the tongue and its rhythm is instantly memorable. I write poems that rhyme when the auditory leaps and jumps compliment the subject - but rhyme can equally sound laboured, can force the poem in the wrong direction and for the poet desperately in search of an elusive rhyme can become agonising, time consuming and exhausting. And exhaustion and overworking kill a poem.

Exhaustion and overworking kill inspiration too. Bertie Baggins has nowt to do with the latter but a lot to do with the former - it is apple stealing season and a doggy belly stuffed to its brim with apples needs to be emptied. Three times last night! He may find himself banished to the run outside this evening - Four-legged-friend and I need sleep.

Perhaps it is a lack of sleep that is to blame for this silly confectionery of a poem - simple, rhyming and child-like - or perhaps it is answering the need for a sleepily smile.

Apples into basket tumble,
Rolling, roiling cascades rumble.
Knives in peeling frenzy fumble -
Autumn harvest: apple crumble.

Head in hands in distraught grumble,
Poet plays with words in whispered mumble.
After easy rhymes for apple crumble
"Does anything rhyme with apple


I have made chutney for many years - some recipes have worked. Some haven't. Some I burnt. Some were too wet. Some too pippy (don't put bramble in your autumn chutney - it may seem a logical idea but fishing the pips out from between your teeth does not enhance the biscuits and cheese experience!). In some, the spices were ... well? Too spicey! But this is now my trusted recipe. It works. And disappears off the larder shelf pretty quickly - maybe I should make more ... maybe I need to beat Bertie Baggins to the remaining apples.

Ingredients for Bertie's Apples' Chutney

2 kg fruit - this year I used 1.5 kg garden apples and 0.5 kg tomatoes, but I have used an apple, tomato, plum mixture in the past and plan to use some rather late season rhubarb in the next batch (work, time and dog permitting). Stick to 2 kg and it will work.
500 g sultanas (big juicy ones work best)
500 g onions (I prefer red onions but ordinary ones are fine too)
1 kg demerara sugar (or a white granulated/ brown sugar mix is fine)
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt
750 ml vinegar (I like a mixture of red and white wine vinegars, but I have added cider vinegar and a splash of balsamic too - best to experiment with it and use what you have - these vinegars give it a darker, sweeter and more caramelly flavour than malt vinegars do, but go for malt vinegar if you prefer)

Also play around with the spices - if using plums a little kick of chilli is good.

As long as you stick to the overall fruit-to-onion-to-sugar-to-vinegar quantities this chutney works. Every time.


Chop the fruit and onions. Toss everything into a preserving pan and place on a low heat. Simmer to dissolve the sugar. Stir and keep stirring throughout - you are not making a jelly or jam so disrupting the pectin is irrelevant. When the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and stir intermittently while it bubbles gently. It will need to bubble, soften and reduce for several hours. What you are after is a uniform rich brown gloop. None of the fruit remaining should be the colour it was at the start. Any bits of apple can be gently squashed against the side of the pan. Keep bubbling (the whole house by now will smell of vinegar) until the stirring spoon drawn through the chutney leaves a shallow trough that does not rapidly fill with liquid. It is now ready to put into clean jars.

Eat with cheese, cold meats, pate, mackerel - anything really. But - according to Littlest - not custard! Or marmite. Or chocolate.

Monday, 22 September 2014

A bar of soap, apple jelly and an oily ooze

My phone didn't need a video screen, I could see her lips tighten and pucker as she sucked the air through her teeth, "Oooh! It can go from a small crack to a hole big enough to fit your fist in. In just a few hours!"

In other words don't delay. In other words - words like hurry and leaking and oil and no-longer-guaranteed and cost and weekend-rates and call-out-fees and estimates and emergency - this will be expensive.

I tried a few words of my own - "I'll get back to you" and "Phone around for other quotes" and "Goodbye."

The second quote secured the deal - "We'll come tomorrow." Goodbye the gloom and doom merchants and hello to Mr Calmly-assess-the-situation-before-reassuring-the-client-that-all-will-be-well.  Why turn an ooze into an emergency? Why panic? Why guarantee that the client will suffer insomnia worrying that the ooze will increase to a gush and flood the garden with £900 of domestic heating oil? Why indeed - when all it takes is a bar of soap? Yep! A ... bar...of ... soap!

Yes, I did think that I had somehow jumped from speaking to Mr Calmly-the-sensible-oil-man into another conversation with someone who sounded very like Mr Calmly but was clearly having some sort of mind storm. A ... bar ... of ... soap.

"Has anyone told you about soap?" he asked. "Do you have any soap in your house?"

"Um ..." Can we get back to my oil tank; my oozing oil tank; the one that might rupture at any moment, I thought. "Ye-e-es, we have soap," I replied, thinking what does he expect me to do with the soap? Wash my hands! Ok, so there might be a little oil ... on one finger ... but this is taking the calm-the-customer-down approach into an insane realm of overly excessive slightly creepy attentiveness. Next he'll tell me to sit down and have a cup of tea, brewed on the aga ... the heat source that I have just had to turn off owing to the LEAKING oil tank!

But he didn't. The soap was to rub "vigorously" into the split in the tank wall. Immediate emulsification plugged the gap and slowed the ooze. Clever Mr Calmly.

So when your oil is all oozy and the cost makes you woozy there's no need to be boozy just rub in some soap. And when they ask you for a bucket of hot soapy water the next day, nod sagely. And try not to look too surprised when they use it to wash their hands!

A bar of soap ... and an oily ooze. Why insert apple jelly into the title? Apple scented soap? No. This is the reason

This the 7.30am apple picking, tree hacking, don't-want-to-risk-the-tank-replacement-men-having-to-do-this-and-making-the-job-more-expensive slog that got me up bright and early on a Saturday morning

And this the result

And this - "Where have all my apples gone?"

And ultimately this