We can learn from England and the Far East. Chutney is much more than a fruit jam. It’s a cooking lifestyle.

Chutney is one of those many culinary terms we misuse. We see it in the store and think “OK, fruit jam.”

The stuff is a condiment, far more useful than jam. Its uses include as a glaze, a dipper, a vegetable dressing, a side sauce for meats and seafood and more. You must go to England to sample its exotic uses and will find even more in East India.

The Brits adapted chutney from their former colony. In the Far East, chutney can be torrid hot. Its first use was to disguise food that was better off thrown away.

All chutneys contain chopped or pureed fruits or veggies. These are simmered slowly to meld their flavors with the spices, often ground cloves, coriander (fresh cilantro), mustard, cinnamon and cumin.

Thrift is important, and that bodes well for chutney. It can be made from nearly vegetative edibles, from chopped vegetables and tomatoes to the classic citrus and super-sweet mango. Add to it a wide range of textures, from chunky (rocky) to smooth, and you can spend a lot of time deciding on a recipe.

The cooking method is almost always the same, boiling and preservation in canning jars. Fruits and vegetables spoil quickly, but chutney traps their freshness for six months or more.

Sweet, fruit chutneys are perfect jam substitutes. My favorite is chutney smeared on a brick of cream cheese.  (Add horseradish and you have a Jezebel chutney.)

A tomato chutney is used as a salsa in salads and as a cracker dipper. Mint chutney is a must on English roast lamb.

Chutney always offers flavors battling for your attention, often sweet vs. sour. Julia Child was a big fan. She said the competing flavors of a complex chutney add excitement to common beef roasts and as  barbecue sauce on poultry. An example of that is the melded flavors of pickles, grapefruit, lime and hot chile peppers in one chutney serving.

Chutneys will clear out your pantry. Some will clean out your sinus. What do with all those green tomatoes and that pile of apples or pears? The answer in a word: chutney.

MUM'S GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY

(England)

3 pounds green tomatoes 1 1/4 pounds red apples 3 medium sweet red peppers 4 medium onions 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher or sea salt 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground 1 teaspoon cloves, ground 2 1/2 cups sugar 2 cups apple cider vinegar

Quarter tomatoes and onions, peel and core apples. Grind to medium chunks in batches in a food processor. Pour into a pan and stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Pour into six sterilized pint jars and seal.

Notes: Stir often to prevent scorching. Tap jar lids after cool. They are sealed if they sound metallic. If not, use immediately or refrigerate up to two weeks. Store in a cool, dry place. Once jars are opened, refrigerate.


SOUTHWEST ONION CHUTNEY

(United States)

6 cups sweet onions, diced 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed 2 teaspoons cumin seed 1 teaspoon mustard seed 1/2 teaspoon pepper sauce such as Tabasco 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1 teaspoon chili powder 1/4 cup brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon balsamic sauce Salt to taste                  

Mix all ingredients over medium heat, stirring often, for 30 minutes, uncovered. Raise heat to a boil, then off heat and fill hot, sterilized jars. Cap and cool. Makes 4 half-pint jars.

CHUTNEY APPLICATIONS

• Mix 1 tablespoon with your favorite vinaigrette dressing.

• Substitute cherry chutney for cranberry sauce.

• Add 1/4 cup to a pot of cooked rice for a pilaf.

• Mix half chutney and half mayonnaise to serve on hamburgers.

• Toss with steamed vegetables, especially broccoli and green beans.

• Mix with sour cream for a party dip.

• Add curry powder to any chutney for an Indian taste.