Clutter and Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney.

Today's weather is hopeless. The sky is the same color at 3 PM as it was at 7 AM, and the wind, rain, tiny bits of hail, and thunder have reminded me constantly all day that it is Spring at long last - even if there will be no playing around outside today to confirm it. Knowing that tonight's dinner would be made up of leftovers, I decided this rainy day was as good a time as any to go through some recipe clutter.

The last time I sat down with a stack of recipes to attempt organization with was before the Boy-O was born into the world. I remember, because the idea of not going to work was still new, and I sat quietly at my kitchen table for an entire 8 hours editing and paring down, going through magazines and stowing only the things I knew I would make. My ruthlessness was shocking, and very difficult for me, but I did clear stacks of paper and nicely arrange everything first into page protectors and then on into 3-ring binders.

As I started this bright idea early this morning, I immediately noticed that my cooking life has changed dramatically in the past 4 years. Home life is no longer new, the once new idea of extra time is now habitually on my side. My older self despises collecting anything new and shutters at the thought of (although I feel like I still have plenty of it) clutter. Looking over the loose pages of things to categorize and file I realized that I cook differently than I used to. I may plan something around what I have a taste for once in a week, but I rarely follow recipes anymore, preferring instead to see what needs using up and then throwing something together.

That isn't to say that little pictures or the many pages of things I looked through today don't spark my interests. I've let all of my magazine subscriptions expire, mostly just because I know it's difficult for me to pare down, not because I don't enjoy them. I do miss things in print, in my real hands. I do not miss stacks of pages that start taking over my kitchen, making me feel harried and stressed out.

In the midst of a paper pile, I found several Everyday Food pages - remnants of a subscription I got (for super cheap) 2 years ago. I would have had no recollection of this date chutney, but I count it fortuitously to my advantage that it chose to resurface just before Easter since it is recommended to be eaten atop chicken, pork loin, or ham. Given my predisposition to lacto-ferment almost anything that strikes my fancy lately, I decided to give this condiment the same treatment. I tasted it prior to packing it up into the jar, and let me tell you, the Easter Ham that will be on the table at my Parents house this weekend never seemed so far away. I have a pretty good suspicion that this will be tremendous on sandwiches as well.

I had exactly 8 oz. of dates to use up, and modified the recipe to approximate what I thought would just about fill a pint canning jar. (I used weights, since I find it impossible to accurately measure dates in a measuring cup, but you can pretty much use any amount and come up with something tasty.) My pint jar was shy of the top about 2 inches, and I could increase things a bit more for the next go around. Make this as spicy as you like, I left it on the somewhat mild side, figuring that I can amp up my heat with candied jalapenos - something I add to almost anything I eat. Don't let the lacto-fermenting stop you from making this, either... just omit the whey and add more vinegar and eat within 3 weeks as Everyday Food suggests.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney (adapted from Everyday Food)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 chile de arbol
  • 1 t. brown mustard seed
  • 6 oz. dates, chopped
  • 1 oz. raisins, chopped (I used dark Thompson raisins, but you could use golden raisins as suggested in the original recipe)
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste (about 1/2 t.)
  • 1/2 c. (plus extra if needed) water
  • 1 T. cider vinegar (like Braggs)
  • 1 1/2 T. whey
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat along with the minced garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add onion and arbol chile and saute until onion just softens and begins to turn color, about 4 minutes.

Add the mustard seed, saute about 1 minute until the seeds start to pop.

Add the dates, raisins, salt, cayenne, water and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and keep at a simmer for about 5-10 minutes to evaporate most of the water and soften the dates. (I kept the pan covered for about half of the time.) Add additional water as needed so that the chutney maintains the consistency that you prefer, a bit on the thick side was how I liked it.

Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Add whey, and stir to combine. Add additional water to adjust consistency, and taste for final seasoning. Pack into a clean pint jar, and seal tightly. Let sit at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

The finished chutney tasted amazing... actually figgy and bacony. I assume this was because I used the garlic and onion, but really, I was surprised. The spiciness of the cayenne (and maybe that lone chile de arbol) was fleeting against the sweet dates and raisins. I can't wait a few days to try it again, but I will (unlike the last time, when I polished off the Nigella-Like Salsa within three days). I have a feeling it will age well, and will top off a ham sandwich like nobody's business.

It seems I'm all about lacto-fermenting the condiments lately. Two days ago, I turned some leftover ancho chile sauce that I made for enchiladas into a chile ketchup of sorts - adding lots of toasted, re-hydrated guajillo and arbol chiles and some ketchupy spices... I have another day or so to wait before tasting it again, and I'll try and add some additional spice and maybe some vinegar then. So far, the deep brick red of it has not persuaded me to open the jar and taste it - though it's not without considerable restraint on my part.

It seems I don't get voraciously hungry until Summer - and understandably so. I'm much more active, the foods available are fresh and readily growing thus more appealing. Meanwhile, I'm eating through the stores of last year, mainly my freezer, and adding scoops of insanely appealing lacto-ferment stuff to almost every meal. Days like this remind me to be thankful: the ground will wake up and warm up, and maybe I'll be a better gardener this year than last. With the last of the organization on the table, I should be better mannered now that I, generally speaking, do not add any more to the pile. I can only hope to remain so well-behaved.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney on Punk   Domestics