Apple and Stem Ginger Chutney

I have been making chutneys and jams for my friends and family for Christmas presents as long as I can remember. It’s perhaps my annual ritual that I treasure the most. It signifies making the most of the autumnal farmers’ market or foraging treasures and is one of the first steps I take each year when starting to plan for the festive season.

There was a time when I rotated the chutneys I made, perhaps an apple, pear and hazelnut chutney, often a piccalilli or even a traditional dowerhouse chutney. However since I developed this particular Apple and Stem Ginger Chutney a couple of years ago there has been absolutely no looking back. It has been one of my favourite kitchen creations and now I make it every single year to pass onto my loved ones, and of course to scoff myself with a mountain of cheese.

I rather like it as it’s not one of those chunky chutneys that makes your sandwich all lumpy, or a chutney that is stuffed with little pops of sultanas making the whole affair too fruity. No, this chutney has the perfect balance of texture from the soft apples, of sweetness from the stem ginger and a warmth of spice from the root ginger, chipotle chilli powder, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Apple & Stem Ginger Chutney

In fact I love this chutney so much that it became one of the first recipes to be cemented in my new preserves venture ‘From The Larder’. I have made jars upon jars this year, so that I can spread the joy a little further than my friends and family and I will be selling it on all my market stalls leading up to Christmas. My inaugural preserves stall is at the Stroud Green Winter Fair this Saturday 22nd November at the Stapleton Tavern in Stroud Green and I can’t wait to showcase all the lovely produce I have been foraging for, jarring and canning since the summer. If you are around then do drop by and pick up a jar of this Apple and Stem Ginger Chutney. However, if you are far away then don’t fret as I’ve included the recipe below so you can make a batch of your own.

Apple & Stem Ginger Chutney

This chutney is perfect on your festive cheeseboard as it goes with pretty much any cheese. It’s also incredibly addictive so don’t be surprised if you find you are balancing more chutney on your cracker instead of cheese. This recipe makes a good few jars but it’s perfect to give away as presents or to hoard yourself so you can keep your supplies well on the go until next year’s batch.

Apple & Stem Ginger Chutney

Apple and Stem Ginger Chutney

Makes 12 x 200ml jars

For the spice bag:
50g root ginger
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1.5kg Bramley apples, peeled, cored and diced
1.5kg Cox Pippin apples, peeled, cored and diced
1kg white onions, diced
4 balls stem ginger (about 80g), finely chopped
500g soft light brown sugar
600ml cider vinegar
¾ teaspoon chipotle chilli powder
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of sea salt

  1. Place the spice bag ingredients into a muslin bag and then put into a large preserving pan with the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer for 2.5 hours.
  3. Remove the spice bag then decant the chutney into sterilised jars.
  4. Keep in a cool dark place for 2-3 months before eating.

Chinese Damson Sauce

Chinese Damson Sauce
If you are looking for me lately then it’s more than likely you will find me stuck up a damson tree, waist deep in blackberry bushes or halfway down the ravine on Parkland Walk checking on the inconveniently placed crab apple tree. At the moment I’m sitting patiently waiting for the rosehips to come into their own as my empty jam jars are crying out for a bit of rosehip jelly. I might have mentioned once or twice that I’m really getting into this foraging business and it has been so surprising to me how much wonderful fruit is available to us on our urban doorstep. 

Damson Tree

When a friend told me about the damson tree on Lancaster road, which is just your regular residential North London street, I was there in a flash. By the time I arrived I was already a bit too late for some of the fruit which had fallen heedlessly from the branches to be squashed underfoot by busy pedestrians. Gah, that was at least two gallons of jam right there on the pavement.

Whilst we were shimmying up the tree trunk we were informed by a passer-by that everyday there is usually someone picking the damsons, so we are certainly not the only ones benefiting from the tree’s generosity. We’ve visited it a few times now and it could probably provide fruit for the whole of Stroud Green, there are just so many damsons. Although picking the fruit from the branches is no easy task. We had two methods, shaking the tree so all the fruit dropped below into waiting golf umbrellas and on our heads, but that wasn’t shifting the fruit at the top so my husband gallantly flew up into the tree, nifty as you like, whilst I waited below with the basket and a grumpy puppy.

Damsons

The pleasure in picking your own food is immense, despite what the puppy thinks, and I could just imagine how much fun it would be to have an allotment. That is, if I could stand the 15 year waiting list, and then if I could also rope someone else in to plant the seeds, water the soil, nurture the seedlings and tell me when it’s all ready. At that point I would be more than happy though to swoop in and claim all the glory for harvesting the produce. Anyone up for that, I might give you a pot of chutney or a few radishes for your trouble?

Chinese Damson Sauce | Stroud Green Larder

The funny thing is that until this year I’m not sure I had even had damsons before, except in vodka which kinda counts, no? The best way to look for damson recipes is to search under plums. Anything you can do with a plum you can do with a damson, although it would be wise to add a touch more sugar as damsons are rather tart; they are not the sort of fruit you would eat plucked straight from the tree. The other issue with damsons is their stones. They are practically impossible, as far as I can tell, to de-stone them before cooking and I’ve worked out the best way is to cook down the damsons, sieve the juice out of the way, then sift through the pulp by hand to remove each stone. It’s a bit of a labour but worthwhile if you like your damsons which I am now happy to say I certainly do.

This chinese damson sauce is an absolute winner and is of course a natural fit for duck and pancakes, but it’s more versatile than that. I am not a fan of the bottled stir-fry sauces you can get from the chinese supermarkets as the ingredients list doesn’t fill me with joy but you can happily drop a spoonful of this into any stir-fry instead of oyster sauce or black bean. It also works as a dipping sauce for wantons, sesame toasts or for grilled chicken.

I was quite reserved on the sugar in this recipe, adding only as much as I needed to remove the upfront damson tang. For someone who practically lives on cakes I don’t like anything to be overly sweet, but if you wish to add more sugar to the below recipe after tasting then go for it.

Chinese Damson Sauce | Stroud Green Larder

Chinese Damson Sauce
Inspired by Liana Krissoff’s Chinese Plum Sauce from Canning For A New Generation

1kg damsons
150g pitted prunes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and diced
225g soft light brown sugar
120ml rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tsp cinnamon
1 piece star anise
¼ tsp whole black peppercorns
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
¼ tsp schezuan pepper
1 tsp salt

  1. Place the damsons in a large preserving pan and cook them for about 10mins with 100ml water, until they are soft and the stones popping out.
  2. The easiest way to remove the stones is to strain the damsons, spread the pulp out on a large plate then pick through all the pulp carefully with food grade gloves to remove each stone. Place the de-stoned pulp and the damson juice back into the preserving pan.
  3. Add all the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Pour everything into a blender and blitz until smooth.
  5. Pour the sauce back into the preserving pan, taste for seasoning and bring back to a gentle boil.
  6. Remove from the heat and decant into sterilised jars.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

This recipe is not yet gluten-free

The reason I have been absent from posting for a few days is a very good one.  I have been baking this lovely Chocolate Gingerbread Cake extravaganza with stem ginger frosting and decorated with gingerbread houses, each representing one of beloved buildings in Stroud Green where I live.

IMG_3127I was asked by our WI President to make the cake for our Christmas outing to the panto.  A big group of giggling women trooping off to the new Park Theatre in Finsbury Park to see Sleeping Beauty is an occasion in and of itself and we definitely made our presence known.  However, the cake was also in celebration of the two year anniversary of the founding of Stroud Green WI.  It’s a fantastic group of women of all ages and backgrounds and we meet once a month for a catch up about local events and charities that we are involved with and also for some brilliant activities.
Stroud Green WI Cake

This year has been an amazing year for our WI, we have has some fascinating talks about design and forensic science, a visit from Wildes Cheese, dress-making lessons from Clare-Louise Hardie from the Great British Sewing Bee, quilting, sugarcrafting, a local history walk, a summer picnic.  And a hell of a lot of cake, which is the most important thing obv.  So I was only too happy to bake this cake and I wanted to make sure it was really special.

Chocolate and Gingerbread cake7

The templates for the houses were made the WI way, using card and a craft knife.  The sizes I went with were 10cm x 4cm for the tall thin houses, 10cm x 6cm for the stations and big buildings like Rowans bowling alley, 9cm x 5cm for the average sized buildings and 8cm x 4cm for the diddy ones.  To calculate how many you will need, wrap a piece of string around the circumference of the cake tins then measuring it against a ruler.  I then divided the circumference into the various widths I had chosen, deciding which houses would fit best where.

Chocolate and Gingerbread cake3

The Stroud Green WI banner was made with sugarpaste, hung on string and tied to cake pop sticks.

To assemble I placed one half of the 23cm cake on a 25cm cake drum, spreading a good layer of frosting on before putting the second layer of cake on top.  I then lightly frosted all over for a crumb coat.  I did the same with the 20cm cake but built it on top of a 20cm cake board.  I put both cakes in the fridge to set overnight.  The next morning I gave them both a second layer of frosting, inserted four dowels around the centre and into the 23cm cake to act as support then placed the 20cm cake carefully on top.  I added a white sugarpaste border to the cake drum and also a ribbon to the side.  Next I stuck the gingerbread houses onto the cakes which clung to the sticky frosting.  Finally I erected the Stroud Green WI banner onto the top of the cake, pushing the cake pops down as far as they would go so the banner would stay upright.  Then I took along to the panto where it was swiftly demolished – just like our local landmark Rowans bowling is soon going to be (an absolute travesty – what can we do!!??!!)

Chocolate and Gingerbread cake6

Oh, and in case you are wondering – the panto was excellent too!

Chocolate and Gingerbread cake5

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

For the cakes:

495g plain flour
180g cocoa
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
360g unsalted butter
300g light brown sugar
335g caster sugar or golden syrup sugar
9 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract
180g dark chocolate with ginger, melted then cooled
360ml whole milk
360ml boiling water
70g dark chocolate with ginger, chopped into chips

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Line and grease 1 x 23cm round cake tin and 1 x 20cm round cake tin.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, ground ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together the butter and the sugars for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
  4. Add in the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla extract. At this point the mixture usually looks curdled but don’t worry it will come back together.
  5. Pour in the melted chocolate and whisk together until completely combined.
  6. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, adding the flour in three additions and the milk in two (begin and end with the flour), scrape down the sides of the bowls as needed.
  7. Pour in the boiling water and mix until just combined.
  8. Pour into your prepared cake tins, then scatter the chocolate chips on top, pushing them down slightly into the batter. Bake for 45-50 mins but do check after 30 mins and if your cakes are browning too much then place some foil over the top for the rest of the baking. Check they are ready by inserting a metal skewer into the cakes – it should come out clean.
  9. Leave the cakes for 10 mins in their tins before removing then cool on a wire rack completely before cutting in half width ways then frosting.

For the stem ginger frosting:

300g egg whites
500g caster sugar
680g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 balls of stem ginger, chopped very finely or whizzed up in the food processor
1 tbsp of the stem ginger syrup
Good pinch of salt

  1. Heat the egg whites and caster sugar in a bain marie, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the temperature has reached 71°C.
  2. Remove the egg whites and sugar from the heat and pour into a stand mixer with whisk attachment. Whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  3. Change the attachment to a paddle attachment. On a low speed add the butter slowly cube by cube. When you have almost added all the butter the mixture will look curdled. Do not fret – this is supposed to happen and just means you are nearly done. Just continue to add all the butter. Once the butter is totally incorporated the frosting will miraculously become a smooth velvety consistency.
  4. Add the vanilla extract, the stem ginger plus the syrup and the salt. Mix until thoroughly combined.

For the gingerbread houses
Makes about 28 houses

680g plain flour
3 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp cloves
¼ tsp nutmeg
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g dark brown sugar
75g caster sugar
2 eggs
180g treacle
1½ tsp vanilla extract

  1. Sift the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, salt and bicarbonate of soda together.
  2. Rub in the unsalted butter with the tips of your fingers so it resembles breadcrumbs. Set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer beat the sugars with the eggs, treacle and vanilla extract until fully combined.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and bring together with your hands to form a dough until everything is combined and you can pat it into a smooth ball.
  5. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  6. Whilst it is chilling you can make your templates.
  7. Remove the dough from the fridge and start your rolling and cutting. I rolled just a small amount of dough at a time due to space.
  8. Form each piece of dough into a round ball then roll out using a silicone roller to avoid sticking. The dough will be a little tough at first but will soon start rolling out beautifully.
  9. Use 5mm spacers on either side of your dough so you can ensure it is all evenly rolled to exactly the same depth.
  10. Place your card templates on the dough then cut out with a knife.
  11. Place each house on a baking sheet with about 2½ cm gap in between. They shouldn’t spread out but it’s good to be careful.
  12. Put the baking sheets in the fridge and chill for 30 mins.
  13. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 180°C.
  14. Bake the gingerbread houses for about 6-8 mins each. They are ready when you can barely see the corners just start to crisp but the middle of the biscuits should still be a pale golden brown.
  15. Leave to cool on the trays.
  16. Decorate with royal icing any way you wish.
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