Many of my friends will know that I am a really terrible present giver. I find it really stressful to choose something for someone, so I usually end up giving them something that I really want, and just hope that they love it too, or nothing at all. So lazy. One thing that is a complete pleasure to give people, stress-free, is something homemade. I’ve made some really crappy things for people over the years that they have graciously pretended to like, but I’m pretty sure I’ve now got it down to about four things that I know work REALLY well, most of which are (how did you guess) pickled or preserved. Man I love pickling.
Making jam or chutney is one of those things that always seems more daunting than it is because, like baking your own bread, it takes a really long time. Don’t let this put you off though because, like baking your own bread, it is really, really easy. If you’re feeling really fancy and generous, it’s nice to make a little hamper for extra-special people.
My dream hamper (so obviously this is what I would give to someone else) would contain: a jar of tomato chilli jam, a jar of preserved lemons, a jar of pickled chillies, a jar of really good chutney (spiced if it’s Christmas), a nice bit of cheese and some biscuits. I’m a vegan now, so I can’t eat cheese *cries forever* but these Ottolenghi parmesan biscuits are SO addictive – definitely make these. You can even buy (or forage in your kitchen drawers for) a nice tin to put these in. Then arrange everything in a little basket or a bag and you’re g2g.
Chutneys definitely need a bit of time to mature, as do preserved lemons – TCJ will get hotter the longer you leave it (science, idk), and pickled chillies are at their best between the age of about a week and two months. So you can easily spread out the making of these over a good few months.
TOMATO CHILLI JAM
The best time to make tomato chilli jam is in the summer, when the tomatoes are heady and ripe and bursting with flavour, but at a push you can make them at any time of year. Just make sure that rather than buying a bag or a pack of tomatoes, you choose them yourself from the loose ‘on the vine’ toms, so you can be sure to get the very ripest and juiciest of all the tomatoes.
- 2kg tomatoes
- 250 ml red wine vinegar
- 500g caster sugar
- 1 small head of garlic, peeled
- 1 star anise
- 4 red chillies, seeds left in
- A good hunk of ginger
- 1 tbsp salt
- Blitz in a food processor everything except the vinegar, sugar and star anise. If you haven’t got one you can laboriously chop everything by hand, for a more rustic texture. You can also do this if you prefer a more rustic texture, I guess, or you could blitz some and chop some. Up to you.
- Put everything in a saucepan and bring to a rigorous boil for about 5 minutes.
- Simmer gently until jammy in consistency – about two hours. You should be able to draw a wooden spoon across the top of the jam without it filling in with vinegar.
- You need to pour the hot jam into hot sterilised jars. You can sterilise jars by washing them thoroughly (or putting through the dishwasher is ideal) and then putting the jars and lids in an oven at 100C for about 10 minutes. Once you pour the hot jam into these, they will seal as the jam and jars cool together.
SPICED APPLE CHUTNEY
This is a deliciously spiced and piquant relish that goes brilliantly with your Christmas ham, with your cheese, in a sandwich, or with your boxing day bubble & squeak. It’s a pretty basic chutney, but no less delicious for it. I like a vinegary chutney but this is a personal taste – you can taste your chutney (CAREFULLY: hot sugar is a bastard) as it cooks and adjust the sugar/vinegar to your personal taste. This will make six or seven jars, but is a pretty imprecise science.*
- 2kg apples
- 4 or 5 large onions
- 200g raisins or sultanas
- 1 star anise
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pint of malt vinegar
- 400g caster sugar
- 50g dark brown soft sugar
- Peel and core the apples (I know. I know). Blitz in the food processor and add to a large pan (don’t put this on the heat yet). Do the same with the onions.
- Add everything else to the pan and bring to the boil, then simmer slowly for a couple of hours until it has darkened considerably and is very thick.
- Hot chutney needs to go into hot sterilised jars, as above.
- This needs a month or so to mature, but once the jars have sealed this will last for years. Not a bad idea to write the month & year on the jars if you like me are a chutney hoarder.
I love preserved lemons. I LOVE them. So everyone else should too, right? You need a bigish jar for these,I like a clip-top jar, and they legit take less than five minutes to make. You need to make these RIGHT now if you want them to be ready for Christmas FYI, but they probably won’t be actually ready by then anyway. Soz.*
- Rock salt
- Bay leaves
- Cinnamon sticks
- Maybe a chilli
- I know it’s annoying of me just to write ‘lemons’ but this largely depends on how many you want to make and how big your jar is.
- Cut your lemons longwise into quarters, but NOT ALL THE WAY THROUGH. The quarters should still be attached at the bottom.
- Pack the cut edges with as much rock salt as you can fit, and then pack the lemons into the jar as tightly as you can. Really squash them down, as hard as you can. You might need to separate the lemons into quarters or halves that you can squash down the edges of the jar. It is the brine made from the lemon juice and salt that preserves the lemons, so try and give them lemons a good squeeze and squash every now and again to keep them submerged.
- Push the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks down the edges of the jar to decorate. You can put a chilli in too if you like. I’m never sure how much this affects the overall taste but it sure looks pretty as a present.
These are important and necessary for all things, and barely need a recipe. Slice up a load of chillies, pack them as tightly as you can into a jar, top with a teaspoon or two of salt and top up with white wine vinegar. Ready in a couple of days.
Homemade Christmas presents – what would you make?
- If you’re giving your preserved lemons to someone who might not know what to do with them, it’s super cute to write down a couple of really simple ideas or recipes that you can put as a tag round the top of the jar. My mum does this when she gives away sloe gin, with a few cocktail recipes, and it’s a really nice touch, and might encourage someone try something new!
- If you don’t have enough jam jars (never throw away your jam jars. Just don’t) it works out a LOT cheaper to buy some really cheap jam (27p strawberry jam in Lidl, jus sayin’) and then chuck away the jam. You might think this is wasteful, but that shit is toxic, real talk, so you can call it a health move for the Nation.