Some time ago I was at a party when the host mentioned that her mother had shipped a bottle of homemade mango chutney via overnight delivery so it could be on the evening's menu.
Curious, I set off in search of this treat worthy of such shipping expense only to find a plate holding a block of cream cheese draped in a thick jam-like substance. So this is chutney? I eagerly spread the combo on a cracker and have loved mango chutney ever since.
According to my trusty "Food Lover's Companion" chutney is usually a spicy condiment that contains fruit, vinegar, sugar and spices. Its texture can be chunky to smooth; its spice flavor profile mild to hot. Chutney makes a delicious accompaniment to curried dishes and the sweeter varieties also make interesting spreads -- by themselves or with cheese -- for bread or crackers.
If you love steak sauce, you might be surprised to discover the list of ingredients resembles traditional chutney ingredients pretty closely. You may have been enjoying chutney's distant cousin for years and not even have known it.
A quick search of Epicurious.com, one of my "go-to" websites for great recipes, yields a wide spectrum of chutney recipes featuring tomato, plum, apricot, apple, rhubarb, and, my personal favorite, mango.
Hermione Gurtler, "Hermie" to her friends, is the person responsible for the overnight delivery that awoke the chutney fan in me. She lived in Florida, had a mango tree in her backyard, and hated to see the fruit go to waste. She would freeze sliced mangoes and periodically make large batches of chutney, preserving it in 8-ounce jars for later enjoyment. Family and friends would cross their fingers that they'd receive a jar at the holidays.
I don't have a mango tree in my yard, so I purchase my mangoes at the local fruit market, watching for sales, and buying them by the case. For chutney making out of mango season, frozen mangoes can be used instead.
I think of chutney making as a perfect excuse to get together with my foodie friends. Armed with our aprons, cutting boards and favorite knives, we make quick work of chopping mangoes, garlic, onions, hot peppers (gloves help with this task) and ginger root, often making a double recipe. After measuring sugar, vinegar, spices, nuts and raisins the ingredients come together in a large stock pot.
We patiently stir the simmering goodness for an hour and a half and then carefully ladle the mixture into waiting jars and process them in a hot water bath for long-term storage. Everyone leaves with a jar or two of chutney, spreading the love just as Hermie did.
Sadly, Hermie passed away shortly after I tasted her chutney. To honor her memory, her daughter and I, often accompanied by other friends, get together every year around her birthday and make her famous mango chutney. I am proud to share her recipe with all of you and I know Hermie is smiling at the thought of her chutney reaching more than her circle of friends.
Should you decide to share your chutney, I'm confident your friends will enjoy it too!
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Cook of the Week Challenge.