Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chootneh, loov?

That's my super-serious Scouse accent for chutney. Why, I don't know, except that whenever I think of the word, I hear it in my head that way. Maybe because when I first fell in love with the stuff (in earnest, I mean–when I discovered the real deal, not some bastardized American version), it would have been in a sandwich shop in Cambridge, circa 1989. I was there studying and, between tutorials, we'd walk the windy streets to a little shop for cheese sandwiches–the kind made with that good, hard English cheese, like maybe a Gloucester–and the question that always came when I ordered was, "chootney, loov?" To which my answer was always a resounding "yes, please!"

Now, most of what we ate that trip was not to my liking as we were shuttled about to stuffy scholar dinners, which, though often impressive, high-table, formal affairs, introduced us to the likes of halibut mousse and creamed sherry. And lets remember, I was 17. So as you might imagine, the daily cheese sandwich with chootneh was a high point. I even enjoyed it more than all the teacakes and sweeties that came later in the afternoon. And to this day, I could still be happy with a daily ploughman's lunch of good bread, sharp cheese and chootneh–those strong, satisfying flavors are always welcome with me.

Anyway, all this comes to mind since I've taken the notion to create a few chutneys that capture island flavor. These won't be the pub-style chootnehs, like the homestyle stuff I've just recounted above, they'll be more exotic and adventurous with tropical ingredients. But before I dove in, I wanted some advice from the chootneh champ herself, Alison McQuade of McQuade's Celtic Chutneys. Alison's chutneys have been taking the Bay by storm, and they've found their way into top markets and restaurants, like my beloved Cowgirl Creamery. Plus, Alison's been a faithful reader of this blog since the beginning, so I figured she'd be up for the project. And true enough, she was. We met at the Ferry Building for brunch, on what turned out to be a foggy summer morning, and sat outside anyway. The damp weather seemed to bode well for chootneh making, and Alison smiled, "it reminds me of home."

So, we explored all kinds of island ingredients. Papaya and passionfruit. Coconut and curry. Cinnamon and Allspice. And I settled on a few combinations from which I expect heavenly results. And of course I'll recount all my findings once I've completed the experiment. But really, when it comes to chootneh, sometimes the best ones are the simplest. The kind you find on a cold, foggy day–served on a rustic white roll with hard white cheese–and wash down with a Guinness. The kind you eat on a day like today. Good thing The Pelican Inn is so close by. Better yet, good thing I have that standby jar of Branston Pickle in the fridge.


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