Checkpoint chutney

January 31, 2011

What’s the difference between a chutney, a relish and a pickle?

That’s not a joke – I actually want to know. Some people say the difference lies in the texture, and others in the sweetness, and still others in the level and type of spice. But then when you turn to Asian and sub-continental cultures everything changes again, as Anglo definitions appear to be irrelevant here.

While I am genuinely interested in the difference if anyone has strong views, I also am quite happy to embrace the who-cares-as-long-as-it’s-good school of thought. We haven’t really discussed chutneys and pickles much here at How to Shuck An Oyster, have we? Apart from this pickled pear relish (see how confusing the lingo is?), and a very brief link to the unquestionably good Manfield eggplant pickle here, and this rather sour half-invented cumquat chutney, that is.

I am beginning to think that the upshot with chutney seems to be: if you have a glut of anything and don’t know what to do with it,  simply shove it in a pot together with chopped onion, sugar, vinegar, some dried fruit and a little spice, and out come some jars of jewellish goodness to keep and distribute.  I suppose I should note that the glut should probably be vegetable in nature (fish pickle, anyone?) although I would very much welcome news of more outlandish recipes.

We have had a good few tomatoes from the garden this year, and scoffed the lot in salads – the next crop is slowly forming, but sadly we haven’t been able to complain of tomato glut. But I was moved to ponder chutneys the other day when Ms Lily – she of last summer’s amazing fig salad – asked me for a tomato chutney recipe, as her glut was getting out of control. Clueless, I spent a few seconds Googling before coming upon this Nigel Slater red and green tomato chutney. Ms Lily reported the results as spectacular, and thus – being the bitter type of person I am – my subsequent days and nights were filled with chutney envy. I had to have it.

I may not have had a tomato glut, but the grocer certainly has a few, so I decided to fiddle with the recipe a teeny bit and go with fully ripe tomatoes. Being lazy and greedy, I messed about with the quantities a little, using a tad less sugar and adding a good few glugs of olive oil near the end. I love the result  (it could be slightly too acidic for some, so do taste along the way and adjust accordingly) and I also love the fact that there is almost no effort involved beyond chucking everything in a pot and waiting. So, here tis

Tomato Chutney, with apologies to Nigel Slater – this quantity made two largeish jars. The second time I made it I almost tripled the quantity and got seven medium-sized jars.

1kg ripe tomatoes (I used Romas), halved

350g onions, roughly chopped

90g raisins

180g light brown sugar

1 birdseye  chilli, with seeds, halved

1 tsp salt

2 tsp yellow mustard seeds

250ml white wine vinegar

150ml olive oil


  1. Chuck everything except the oil in a pot, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for around an hour, stirring occasionally. If it looks too runny, turn up the heat and reduce until it begins to turn jammier. Add the oil, stir thoroughly and turn off the heat.
  2. Meanwhile, sterilise your jars – I pour boiling water into the jars & over lids and let sit for a few minutes, then drain and bung them into a warm oven to dry (unless the lids are plastic, obviously) for another few minutes. Bung the hot chutney into hot jars, screw the lids on tightly and invert. When you return after ten or twenty minutes, the lids should have gone slightly concave, making a good vacuum seal.

Now I’ve realised how really basic and relatively quick and simple chutney can be, I am quite keen to try some more unusual stuff. I would love to hear your ideas, recipes and hints.

For a start, where do you get good jars? I ended up buying a few of those expensive beautiful Italian jobs as I ran out of recycled jars, but once you give those away they’re gone, unless you know the recipient well enough to ask for it back, which you can encourage by suggesting they might get another filled with something good on its return.

When buying food in jars I try to go for those with plastic lids as they seem easier to clean than the metal ones, with those scungy bits of paper lining, and also often to give a better seal. Am I right on this?

Also, do you have any foolproof label-removal methods? I can’t bear standing at the sink with the jar in soapy water, scratching off tiny shreds with my fingernails, but that seems to be what I always end up doing. Any better ideas?

*A quick plug here for the dreary initiative known as Febfast – in this house called FeebleFeb – which Senor and I are doing in an effort to shed some ballast and give the broken-down old livers a rest. Not known for our restraint, we will endure this month as best we can. If you feel like encouraging our team Chopped Livers and sending some bucks to deserving folks (not us!) feel free to sling a dollar our way here. If you are appalled by such tedium, I can only agree and say please have a big glass of something cold for me.


  1. Many years ago I bought my beautiful large glass storage jars with white plastic lids (for pasta, rice, flour etc etc) at a lab supply shop. It wasn’t retail and it was far far away, but it had the best range of simple, well-made containers I’ve come across.

  2. In the past I have bought my jars from http://www.chefandthecook.com.au/

    and we have also bought them from


    I also re-use my jars and on occasion ask for them back

  3. Way to hit my food nerd heart! A “chutney” originates from the Indian chutni/chatni which is a side dish freshly prepared for each meal and is usually sour or sour/sweet. The British adopted them, but leant on the sweet. A pickle is generally less homogenous than a chutney, but may be a “borderline” chutney according to Alan Davidson because sugar is a big part of the preserving in some. And a relish, Davidson again, is a condiment that stands on its own as an element of a meal, as counterposed to something like a mustard.

    I reuse jars and often get them back from friends. They find they get more if they return the jars 🙂 Op shops and freecycle are also excellent jar sources. I have a near-pathological obsession with black lidded jars, and friends have started to keep them for me without saying I’m odd, which is why they’re my friends.

    As for the label scum, hot soak and wash and then rub the last goo off while it’s still hot using eucalyptus oil on a chux. You need to wash it again after, but it will be satisfyingly smooth 🙂

  4. Having just blogged about my vinegar glut (remember the pantry cleaning exercise – disaster), I might have to give this a whirl. My tomatoes are on their last legs thanks to the birds and the general wet/hot weather combo, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, has a glut I can tap into…

  5. May you be annointed with your own relish, Ms Charlotte- off the hooch for another month. Phew- ee.
    Is it also a saving or do you compensate?

    I will shortly have to change my address as several friends are keeping theirs for me,( not at my request) in the hope of having them filled with jam or marmalade. Find it very hard to throw out a nice jar with lid but it’s either them or me.

    If you buy jars, Crows Nest and no doubt other $2 shops have smallish nicely shaped metal clipped rubber ringed storage jars very reasonably.

    I have tried getting labels off by spraying with cooking oil. Not bad but fingernail and scotch brite and a good old wash still required. I hear eucalyptus oil works a treat, no doubt better than a koala, though they have those sharp little claws- have not yet tried it- or the marsupial method come to think o fit. “Plenty of hot soapy water” well yes, but peel and scrape still required.

  6. That chutney looks delicious, Charlotte, and that’s coming from someone with a bit of chutney-meh-attitude. My savoury palate means I only like the spicier versions, and your acidic with a touch of chili version looks good to me. 🙂 Having said that, I rather like making chutney & other preserves, even though I have no intention of eating them!

    On the question of pickled fish, btw, I enjoyed rather a lot of pickled herring in Finland last year. Most commonly pickled with juniper, which is amazing. 🙂

    On jars, I’m with Zoe – friends are happy to save them for you when they regularly receive them full! We often have more than we know what to do with. I’m a fan of the now-discontinued 1L Hakea Yoghurt jars (in fact I’m making my first attempt at yoghurt in one as I type!), of which we have many, and we have about a dozen of the big 2L Italian jobs, as well as a few of the 1L ones, which we’ve been using for about 13 years now. Meredith Dairy goats cheese also comes in a lovely little jar excellent for jam.

  7. Excellent responses, thank you – I was hoping that chutney call would draw your nerdy talents from the woodwork, Zoe. Now, with the benefit of your expertise, I am safe in the knowledge that this chutney is not necessarily a chutney but possibly a borderline pickle though not quite a relish. Glad we cleared that up! I think best to return to my who-cares-what-it’s-called-if-it-tastes-good approach. But always love to know the origins of these things, so thank you.

    Tammi, I am with you on the savoury palate, always been a salt freak rather than sugar lover myself – although, in the past few years, I have fallen in love with the savoury/fruit combination so beloved of Middle-Eastern dishes – must write that post on meat plus fruit soon.

    Love all your work on jars too. Fiona – lab supplies! How clever of you, am going to sniff some out. But like Jules & the rest of you I am much keener on re-using than buying new, unless perhaps for special presents. Reemski thanks a heap for the links.

    Lifeinapinkfibro, let me know how it turns out if you make it. Good use for wonky-looking tomatoes too, I reckon, as old Nigel uses green and red.

  8. Second hand joints – Salvos etc, often have boxes of jars.

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