A Better Way to Make Cherry Chutney

cherry-rhubarb chutney
Cherry-Rhubarb Chutney with grilled chicken

With some of the big, dark cherries the Washington State Fruit Commission sent me last year, I made a tasty chutney. It disappointed me, though. The cherries were so mild in flavor that the spices and vinegar overwhelmed them, and when cooked down the cherries lost their appealing meatiness. The chutney might have been made from almost any dark fruit.

I knew that the flavor of these cherries was too muted to shine in any sort of canned product, but this year I challenged myself to cook them into a chutney in which they would stand out anyway, for their shape and fleshy texture. I made the challenge even harder by also deciding to use rhubarb, which usually turns to mush with a few minutes’ cooking. The way to get what I wanted, I figured, was to combine the ingredients of an English-style chutney with a method of making fruit preserves—that is, I cooked the mixture slow, in the oven.

The chutney turned out beautiful. The tartness of the rhubarb complements the sweetness of the cherries, and the cherries lend the rhubarb better color. And you can tell at a glance that you’re eating cherries and rhubarb, not some mystery fruit.

Cherry-Rhubarb Chutney

2 pounds dark sweet cherries, pitted
2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch chunks
¼ pound onion, cut into wedges
2½ cups light brown sugar
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds, toasted in a dry pan until they pop
2 tablespoons chile flakes
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons canning and pickling salt
2 cups cider vinegar

Set the oven to 250 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large nonreactive, oven-safe pot. Put the pot, uncovered, into the hot oven.

After 40 minutes, gently stir the mixture. The sugar should have dissolved.

After another 40 minutes, stir gently again.

After a final 40 minutes, remove the pot from the oven. With a slotted spoon, transfer the solids to a bowl, leaving the cinnamon sticks in the pot. Boil the liquid on the stove top, with the pot uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until the liquid is reduced approximately in half, to a syrup.

Remove the cinnamon sticks from the syrup, and return the fruit to the pot. Heat the mixture gently, without stirring, just to a boil. Ladle the chutney into pint or half-pint mason jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water or steam canner for 10 minutes.

Makes 3½ pints





7 thoughts on “A Better Way to Make Cherry Chutney”

  1. I was in the mood to can something. Due to one of the wettest, cloudiest, summers on record this year in upstate NY, I may have nothing of my own to preserve. So I bought cherries and rhubarb from the supermarket and exactly followed your recipe. I used hot pepper flakes I dehydrated and made from My garden last year. Your concept and inspiration was absolutely brilliant! It is a truly superb conserve, not as much a chutney as I had in mind. It’s a perfect proportion of hot and sweet and not too vinegar-y. I will continue to make your cherry-rhubarb chutney recipe forevermore. I really love it. Thank you so much for your effort at “inventing” it and for sharing it.

  2. Arh half answers my question. I am interested in buying your book The Joy of Pickling but was after a book without sugar, will I be able to leave out and possibly add dates or prunes to act as some extra sweetness if I wanted? I suppose I mean as with this recipe will the apple cider vinegar be enough to preserve by itself? And will all the other recipes be as easy to change?

    1. Claudia, sweet pickles and relishes, including chutneys, are a small part of the book. Pickles don’t need sugar to preserve them, so it’s easy to avoid sugar by making only sour pickles. If a sour pickle recipe has just a little sugar, for balance, you can easily just leave the sugar out. An English-style chutney, however, wouldn’t be the same thing without sugar. You could certainly use dates or prunes as the sugar source, but you’d have to develop the recipe from scratch, and you’d end up with a date or prune chutney. The colors and flavors of other fruits wouldn’t come through.

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