A well-made mango chutney is a thing of beauty. It must have chunks of mango to qualify and not be a sickly orange slurry (I could rant on about this for ages). It’s easy enough to make your own, but mangoes are expensive, unless you are lucky enough to stumble across a corner shop selling boxes of them dirt cheap. This never happens to me.
What we do have, though, are large numbers of pears. Why not, said my husband, make a pear version of mango chutney? Though the flavours are very different, they do share a similar texture and juiciness when cooked.
I didn’t want to make a classic English pear and ginger chutney, but instead, something spicier we could eat with a curry. This is what we came up with. I think it’s a winner.
About 2.7 kilos of ripe but firm pears
700g light brown soft sugar
Zest and juice of one lemon, juice of a second
1 tspn cumin seeds
2 tspn coriander seeds
1 tspn chilli powder
12 green cardamom pods
1 tspn ground ginger
1 tspn ground cloves
1 tspn ground turmeric
3 tspn nigella (black onion) seeds
120g fresh root ginger
5 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tspn sea salt
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
800 ml cider vinegar
Optional but recommended: 1-2 red chillies, thinly sliced
Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the juice of 1 lemon. Peel, quarter and core the pears, then cut them in half again lengthways so you have long slim slices. Drop them into the bowl of acidulated water as you go, so they don’t turn brown.
Drain the pears and return them to the empty bowl with the sugar and the zest and juice of the second lemon. Mix well, cover with cling film and leave for 6-8 hours or overnight for the juices to run.
Crack the cardamom pods and extract the seeds. Place them in a small frying pan with the coriander seeds and cumin seeds and toast gently for a few minutes, stirring, until you can smell the waft of spices. Be careful not to burn them.
Pour them into a mortar with the ground ginger, ground cloves, turmeric and chilli powder. Grind until they are powdered. Peel the fresh ginger – the least wasteful way is to scrape it with a teaspoon – and grate finely. Crush the peeled garlic with the salt until it forms a paste.
Put the pears and their syrup into a large preserving pan and add the chopped onions, ground spices, the ginger and garlic and the whole nigella seeds. Pour in the vinegar, give it a stir and bring to a strong simmer.
Continue to simmer for about an hour and a half or until the pears are translucent and the mixture is thick enough that you get a furrow when you drag a wooden spoon along the bottom of the pan. Most of the liquid should have evaporated.
You’ll need to stir it often towards the end so it doesn’t stick and burn, but try not to break up the pears too much. If you want to crank up the heat a bit, add the fresh chillies 10 minutes before the end.
When it’s done, pour into warmed, sterilised jars and seal immediately with vinegar-proof plasticised lids. Store for at least two months before eating.