For many people, the warm spices - cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, nutmeg, mace - are the smell of Christmas. They're also the typical contents of a jar of mixed spice. I've got two lots of mixed spice on the go at the moment: Bart's contains coriander, cinnamon, cassia, ginger, caraway, nutmeg and cloves; whereas the Spice Shop Christmas Pudding Mix contains cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves, anise and cardamon. Either way, they can be substituted for individual spices when you're following a recipe - or you can make your own mixture with the flavours you like best.
This Christmas chutney is brilliant for people who've never made one, because it's made with dried fruit, which means you don't have to boil it for hours and hours while the moisture from fresh ingredients is driven off. It's also brilliant for people without much time, because you don't have to chop - you just pulse the cooked chutney in a food processor. And it's delicious.
Christmas chutney is good for presents, for eating with cold Christmas leftovers, and to perk up sauces and gravies. It takes half an hour of fuss-free cooking. If you make it now, it will be at it's best at Christmas, although it will keep for years.
enough to fill three 0.5l Le Parfait jars
250g dried apricots
250g pitted dried dates
250g dried pears**
250g dried cranberries
125g light muscovado sugar
300ml cider or wine vinegar
1/4 tsp ground cloves*
1/2 tsp ground allspice*
1 tsp ground cinnamon*
1 tsp ground ginger*
Put everything into a large stainless steel saucepan. Slowly bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes, loosely covered. Stir occasionally, to ensure everything is properly cooked through. Leave to cool for a while, then tip into your food processor to pulse. Three or four quick pulses is enough, as you want texture, not babyfood. Spoon into sterilised jars (ie, straight from the dishwasher cycle, or from 20 minutes in a low oven).
*Do not worry if you don't have all those spices - don't go out to buy allspice specially, just make up the amount with a mixture of the others. And if you don't use much spice, then mixed spice will do fine - look at the ingredients, and you'll see they are not much different.
** I had a little trouble finding dried pears (Cooks' Ingredients section of Waitrose). But dried apple slices would do just as well, and are more widely available.
This is adapted from Nigella's Christmas, a book I am much enjoying
Other things to make as Christmas presents
Caramel-salt nuts - you can make these just before you go out
Spiced apricot and orange chutney
Chilli and pepper chutney
Red onion marmalade
Plum jam - there are still a few plums in the shops
Home-made vanilla extract - superfast: put vanilla into a jar, then pour on vodka!
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