The tragic saga of the onion chutney

I have been in a doing mood recently. I noticed that if I’m not careful quite large chunks of time can pass by quietly without me even really noticing them. It’s almost November but the year still feels young. Somehow I have nearly been married for a whole year. So, when I noticed that time keeps moving even if I don’t, I decided I needed to do more stuff. It was this doing mood that caused me to enroll in some evening classes. It was the same doing mood that led me to be lying in the mud in a forest wearing full army fatigues while holding a decommissioned assault rifle. It is the same doing mood that inspired me to submit a piece of writing to the excellent McSweeneys website. And it was the same doing mood that got me to thinking that it would be far superior to make some onion chutney rather than just lazily buying some from the supermarket.

It wasn’t my first chutney. I had made some with the excess courgettes from the garden, and it was reasonably well received. But I had a particular chutney in mind. What I wanted was a dark, sticky onion chutney. I assumed it would require balsamic vinegar, and so went looking for recipes that featured that. With a suitable looking recipe in hand I went to the supermarket to buy the ingredients. Making chutney is, essentially, the process of taking lots of food and reducing it into a very small amount of food. I sliced up all the onions, the peppers, weighed out the sugar, measured out the vinegar (both red wine vinegar and balsamic) and all of it took up almost the entire work surface of my relatively small kitchen. I put the onions in the pan for a while and then poured all the vinegar and sugar in and, as instructed, left it on a low heat.

Slowly the house became permeated with the smell of hot vinegar. It’s not an especially nice smell. I stirred it intermittently, and played xbox while I waited for it to be done. Hours went by. I blame the recipes vague instruction of ‘leave on a low heat for an hour and a half’. My idea of a low heat was obviously lower than the recipes. After an hour and a half the chutney was still  much too thin. The vinegar was a long way off of being reduced far enough for the thick chutney I had in mind. It was slowly getting there, but was taking much longer than anticipated. Not deterred I simply left it on the low heat until it was done. Three to four hours later it had the consistency I was after. I spooned it into a jar and put it in the fridge.

The next day I decided to give it a little try. I opened the jar up and the chutney looked good. All sticky and shiny and sweet. Kerry took a spoon and went to try some, but the spoon just thudded against the chutney the way a spoon would thud against a brick wall. I should have realised something was up when my chutney recipe, which stated would be enough to serve 20, ended being able to fit into a single jar. I had reduced six onions, six shallots, one red pepper, three cups sugar, over half a litre of vinegar and a pinch of rosemary into a space of about five-hundred millilitres. It was like a small onion based singularity. You know how most of matter is made up of empty space? Not in my chutney jar. In there all the onions protons and electrons are squashed up against the side of the glass. It is the densest preserve I have ever witnessed.

I was pretty annoyed with myself. I had wasted a lot of time, ingredients, money, and the house still smells faintly of vinegar. I then decided to check my emails to see if McSweeney’s had got back to me about the piece of writing I had submitted to them. I thought maybe some kind of cosmic harmony would balance up my chutney failure with some good news. Perhaps I had earned it. They had got back to me, with a classically polite rejection. I don’t actually believe in cosmic harmony. You can’t get writing accepted by making dreadful chutney.

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