Some things are my fault; others aren’t. I think rain comes into the latter category but it’s hard to be sure. I hope that the Queen can forgive me if my Lemon Almond Sundrops have inadvertently jinxed the weather for her Diamond Jubilee celebrations …
Today’s rain has come as a reflection of my own unseasonal cravings for deeply rich plum chutney and dark treacle toffee brownies this week. But perhaps it has also come as more than this. It would be easier for me to pretend that my kitchen has remained resolutely cheerful and sunny in the face of such an unsporting downpour however, that my children and I have whipped up storms of cream cheese frosting and hung the festive bunting from every muffin top and trifle – for telling you about the chutney and the brownies is also to tell a little of my own raincloud. Perhaps today’s rain has inched me towards this.
You see, my jar of plum chutney is a necessity. I know it’s not autumn and that we’ve barely made headway into the summer season of fresh plum tarts and salads. I know I should be embarrassed about posting a recipe for chutney in June. It’s just that … well … my jar of plum chutney has become a talisman of sorts in my painful daily battle against my ongoing anorexic voice – the internal voice that accompanies me everywhere, seeking to lock me in an eating disordered world. I developed my own recipe for this chutney, I chopped and stirred and boiled it, I tasted it, I potted it, and now it sits there in my fridge with ‘Eat Me!’ written all over it. And I do – eat it, I mean. It’s good.
But if I tell you this about my plum chutney, I also dare to show you a little bit more of my reality. The real person, the true ‘me’ that hides behind whatever face a blog is able to provide. If I share my plum chutney recipe with you now, in June, then I’m admitting my vulnerability. Being open is to be vulnerable – if I let you know me, I risk letting you reject me. And hurt me – the real me, that is. The one that feels the plugs in the heart. I have lashing rains of doubt and self-loathing already. I don’t want to encounter yet more.
And if I talk about these sinfully dark, sticky treacle toffee brownies I created, then the face will disappear. It’s just me there instead. I’ll tell you how treacle toffee reaches right back into my childhood, how it’s a taste that is at once both bitter and restorative. These brownies have tears folded inside them. But … “Jeez, Kate – it’s summer!” you’ll say. “Save them for the cold evenings of bonfires and frosts. Give us some meringues, some tipsy trifles, some cucumber sandwiches. There’s a party on, you know!”
You’ll be right though. There is a party on after all – and I didn’t set out to be a damp squib. Rain might have stopped play for a while but it’s brightening up now and there’ll still be time for a few overs before tea.
Just don’t mind me if I sit here on the sidelines with my pot of plum chutney and plate of treacle toffee brownies for a bit longer. Perhaps someone might like to join me – there’s plenty to share.
Ploughmans Plum Chutney
5 oz caster sugar
75 ml white wine vinegar
25 ml malt vinegar
3 large plums, stoned and diced
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 1/2 oz sultanas
1/4 tsp salt
For the spice bag
1 star anise
1/4 oz fresh, peeled ginger
1 large clove garlic
1/2 oz peeled red onion
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
Put the sugar and vinegars in a medium saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
Tie the ingredients for the spice bag in a square of muslin and crush them all up a bit with your fist. Add the spice bag together with the other remaining ingredients to the saucepan.
Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour. Stir regularly so that the syrupy mixture doesn’t stick and burn.
Test for readiness by drawing a wooden spoon through the mixture – it’s thick enough when the chutney parts briefly to reveal the bottom of the pan.
Pot while still warm in a sterilised jar. The chutney will probably improve if left to mature a while, but I haven’t managed to test that theory so far – my jar is empty within a week or so …
Treacle Toffee Brownies
4 oz butter
8 oz dark muscovado sugar
5 oz light muscovado sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz wholegrain spelt flour
2 oz cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and baseline a 9″ x 12″ pan.
Melt the butter, then stir in all the remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined.
Scrape into the pan and smooth. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until risen but still a little gooey.
Cool completely in the pan before removing and cutting into squares.