It’s like this, see.
Here in the Jardin Des Girrafes we have a large and hoary old apple tree, which, despite being as old as the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, and prone to all the infestations, moulds, cankers and general tzores to which ancient apple trees are prone, delivers, year on year, cooking apples as big as babies’ heads, which rain down with earth-shaking authority and in quantities probably sufficient to intimidate a medium-sized city into submission. We are convinced, for example, that Beelzebun, Demon Bunny of DOOM, a creature so tough that she has seen off all conceivable enemies, will only be brought low should she stand beneath the tree when one of these massive bolides falls, and she is not fast enough to avoid it.
You can only have so many apple pies, and so much apple crumble, so last year I tried making jams and preserves, and found I very much enjoyed it: the kitchen lit only by the baleful glow of the cauldron, the flop and pop of bubbles eructating to the surface of the hellbrew, Motorhead on the iPod. What could be nicer? Crox Minor and I started with apple and blackberry jam, cut with elderberries, because we couldn’t find enough blackberries.
Success, it is fair to say, was mixed.
Then I hit the jackpot with a couple of jars of marrow-and-apple chutney. Mrs Crox had bought a marrow at Slasher’s Mini-Mart in a fit of gastronomy, but hadn’t got round to doing anything with it. A few apples, onions, pickling vinegar and whatnot later, and I’d produced test-quantities of a preserve that went very well with practically everything except cornflakes. Trouble was, there wasn’t enough of it.
This year I resolved to do something about this. I grew a marrow plant in a large zinc bath out front. It yielded three marrows: one was stuffed by Mrs Crox, leaving me the other two. However, once I’d peeled and cored them, and cut out the mouldy bits (they’d been sitting around for a while, you see) I had barely a kilo of marrow, when the recipe demands twice as much.
That’s when necessity, being the mother of whatever it is, stepped in, in the form of the penis fruit butternut squash you see above. I’ve now peeled, cored and chopped that too, added it to the marrow in a bowl of salt, to steep overnight, in preparation for the main event. Who knows what I’ll find in the morning? We Are Now Entering Uncharted Culinary Territory.
I’ll keep you posted.
I’ve always had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the penis fruit. In the U. S. and A., for example, it is the King of Vegetables. You can roast it, mash it, and make it into a delicate yet flavoursome soup. I was served some at a rather good dinner party in Los Angeles once, and it was, indeed, delicious. Trouble is, we in the good ol’ U. of K. tend to dismiss the magnificent penis fruit as something to mash up into baby food. I remember (indeed, I still have the scars) of late nights pureeing the fruits into pulp and freezing in ice-cube trays, the better to nourish the mewling infant Crox Minor (who is now 5′ 6″ and beats me at ScrabbleTM, which should tell you something about the fugit of tempus). The upshot is that, even now, I can’t really take penis fruit seriously – and if I try, I tend to associate it with late nights, unbroken sleeps, potties, teething, nipple protectors (not mine) and disposable nappies (ditto). What this behooves for my Marrow, Apple and Penis Fruit Chutney, only time will tell.
As I said, I’ll keep you posted.
Update, 22nd September
The marrow/penis-fruit combo was steeped in salt overnight. After the kids went to school (but before work, in case anyone asks) I rinsed it, drained it and plonked it in the preserving pan. At this point, the recipe calls for a couple of pounds of apples, a pound of onions or shallots, some ground ginger, soft brown sugar, pickling spice and two pints of pickling vinegar.
Now that the recipe is off-piste, in a manner of speaking, I had no compunction in substituting ordinary granulated sugar for brown sugar (it’s what I have lying around) and, instead of ground ginger, chopping up some fresh ginger root (ditto). It’s all now in the preserving pan bubbling away. Here it is before the heat was on.
A collection of old jars, washed and dried overnight, is baking in the oven so that they are all sterile and bone dry. I am now, at this moment, in front of the computer, and the house smells of spice and vinegar.
Update, 22nd September (later)
A couple of hours on, and the chutney had the consistency, heat and bubbling malevolence of molten lava. Taking this shot was quite hazardous, as every now and then it would spit gobbets of boiling-hot glop at me. I sustained minor burns. I did get close enough to taste the contents, and it tasted of – well, vinegar. I went back to work and left it to get on with it.
When lunchtime arrived, the glop was ready for bottling, and here are the proud and erumpent results.
I’m hoping that after all that effort this stuff tastes of more than just vinegar with lumps in it.