The English Lake District holds many happy childhood memories for me. Each summer we visited my grandparents who lived at Arnside on Morecambe Bay, in what was then called Westmorland (a county name that is sadly no longer used, being part of Cumbria since 1974). We had many day trips to the lakes and fells for picnics and walking. A few weeks ago I happened upon a daytime programme on Channel 4 called Lakes on a Plate, which promised good scenery with food and recipes. I am currently working my way through what turned out to be a series of about 20 half hour programmes.
One early Lakes on a Plate programme included a sausage roll recipe, but with a twist: Peter Sidwell, a chef who is also the presenter, added home made Fennel & Apple Chutney. I was intrigued as this was a chutney I had not heard of before. Fennel has, of course, a mild aniseed flavour. The flavour can be found in flavoured alcoholic drinks such as the French Pastis, Greek Ouzo and other similar drinks, although these are usually made from distilled Star Anise, which is an asian spice unrelated to fennel. In the UK you can buy boiled hard sweets such as aniseed balls and aniseed cough candy or twist where the flavouring comes from oil of Aniseed, a border herb with an umbrella shaped flowerhead but also sometimes from Fennel seeds. Both seeds can also be used as part of a spice mixture or in cooked dishes and breads. This recipe uses Fennel, sometimes called Florence Fennel, a white bulb often topped with green feathery fronds, which can be sliced or finely chopped into savoury dishes, or baked and is often used in fish dishes, although not exclusively. (Find more recipes and mentions of Fennel on this site.) As I have mixed feelings about aniseed flavour (disliking the drink, but loving aniseed sweets and fennel in food) I decided to make just a half quantity of the recipe, but I wish now I had made more! The flavour is delicate and sweet rather than overpowering and it is delicious and unusual spread on toast: a sort of Fennel & Apple Marmalade. I am still deciding how I might incorporate this chutney in recipes and other than the sausage rolls of the original recipe, what else it could be used in. I am not a great sausage roll fan, probably because when they appear on buffets they tend to be greasy apologies with fatty pastry and poor quality sausage. I think, however, that these sausage rolls containing fennel and apple chutney would be in a different league altogether. I fully intend to use this to make a Sausagemeat Plait in the very near future, just as soon as I have found and bought the good quality sausagement it deserves. The quantities of apple and onion are a little unclear in the original recipe: I used aproximately the same weight of each as the fennel bulb and I chose to finely chop rather than follow the original instruction to roughly chop them. I also used my usual method of adding the sugar later, once the vinegar has mostly gone, to lessen the risk of burning the chutney. This recipe does not make a large quantity, so watch out for when fennel is being sold off on your market at the end of the summer or early autumn and stock up. I find uncooked fennel bulbs, quartered, freeze reasonably well.
Warning: Do not try to make a double batch in one pan. Reducing the extra liquid will be difficult and leaving it to cook down for a long time could lead to the sugars burning. I speak from experience! I apply this rule to all home made jams and chutneys: nothing worse than a bitter burnt flavour lurking in the background. I find using the widest saucepan I have gives the biggest surface area for the quick evaporation of liquid.
Fennel & Apple Chutney
(Makes aprox 2 x 1lb jars)
2 fennel bulbs
1 onion (weighing the same as the fennel)
1 apple (weighing the same as the fennel)
100ml white wine vinegar
350g white sugar
1tsp fennel seeds
Salt & pepper
2. Meanwhile peel, core and finely chop the apple. Add to the pan and continue to cook the mixture for a few more minutes.
3. Add the white wine vinegarand fennel seeds. Continue to cook for a further 20 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half and is thick.
4. Add the sugar and reduce until thick once more. Season with salt and pepper and leave to cool.
5. Wash the jars well and sterilise. I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water. I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on. Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10minutes. Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack. Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water. Shake as much water from the lids as possible before filling.
6. Pot into the prepared jars. Cool and label. I find that chutneys are best stored for about four weeks to mature before eating.