Two weeks ago, after 12 years of marriage, my husband asserted that Saturday nights were to become his nights to cook. Suppressing the sarcasm that is surely one of the reasons he’s stayed away from the stove, I smiled and said “ok my love, that would be wonderful”, while harboring a secret back-up plan for what would surely be his failed attempt at culinary participation. But then something astonishing happened. He produced the most succulent, crispy Korean fried chicken, with a sticky, sweet and spicy sauce that was so dippable I think we could market it for money. This most confusing event has brought me joy and insecurity in equal measure. On the one hand, wouldn’t it be great if we could spend weekend evenings together in the kitchen, utensils working in unison, his knife chopping to the rhythm of my mandolin, but on the other hand, what if he becomes a better cook than me? Since I have more than ten years of domestic cooking under my belt, I’m choosing to focus on the bonding potential of this new marital development. One of the reasons I think we all cook is to please others, and that’s certainly one of my priorities in the kitchen. For me, it’s rarely about putting up something to eat.
Figs, in particular, please us both, and during their fleeting season between August and October we’ll eat them fresh and plain, with buratta, sometimes drizzled with honey. When the black Bursa variety appear in stores for a brief 3-4 weeks around now, I’ll make chutney, which lasts beyond Christmas and is one of my favourite ways to preserve this elusive fruit. There are only 6 ingredients in this chutney, the gorgeous sweet, soft, ripe black figs; a good red wine vinegar, onions, sugar and spices – mustard seeds and star anise. Some recipes call for raisins, but I’m not a fan of this idea as I really want to preserve the figs, not abate their flavour by adding a dried fruit component. Likewise with the spices, I’ve used only half a teaspoon of mustard seeds and 2 star anise, which, to my taste, are the perfect aromatics to turn this from a jam into a chutney.
The chutney keeps well in the fridge for a few weeks, but if you want to confidently keep this until Christmas, process the jars according to these instructions. It’s an obvious choice with cheese, but great with roast meat too. You can also use other fig varieties, green figs in particular are good, but I might add a touch more sugar with less sweet varieties.