Take a good but ordinary cracker and a good but ordinary piece of cheese. Put them together, munch them down and what do you have? A reasonably good and satisfying but pretty ordinary snack.
But add a dollop of an exquisitely crafted jelly, say red currant or crabapple, bright and clear as a jewel, or an equally good chutney, and what do you have? A rarified moment — a bit of suspended routine — and an appetizingly animated taste sensation.
Likewise can be said about a nice little slice of unprepossessing but decent ham or a sturdy grilled chop: good enough by themselves. But add a tart jelly or that savoury chutney and the whole meal is elevated to a feast.
This time of year with so much gorgeous bounty around — fruits both wild and not plus all those garden-fresh vegetables — you'd be just plain nuts not to try your hand at some of your own preserves.
Last week, canning expert Thelma Henderson and I aimed to deflate some of the mystery about canning. Today, it's jellies and chutneys all the way.
It must be my mother's English-Irish side, not my Polish half, that drives me to jellies and chutneys. Growing up, we were never without some kind of wonderful condiments — jellies, jams, chutneys — put up by my mom or her mom.
By Reay Tannahill's account in Food In History, I come by this honestly. Chutneys have been part of English cookery for hundreds of years. Recipes for them made it into English cookbooks by the 1700s, no surprise what with England and other European colonizers having set up trading posts in India a century before. ("Chutney", explains classical language scholar Martha Barnette in her book, Ladyfingers and Nun's Tummies, comes from the Hindi "catni", meaning to be licked or tasted.)
Never having made such delicacies myself, I dialed up Rebecca Craig. Her wonderful chutneys, jellies, jams and salsas with the distinctive Cedar View Estate label, along with a host of other items grown or made on the family farm in Pemberton Valley, can be had this year for the first time at Whistler's farmers' market
I couldn't have picked a better champion. Rebecca happens to be English and, like me, grew up with conserves, sweet and savoury. Besides the delicious products that result — products that are so inexpensive to make and can double as much-appreciated gifts at Thanksgiving and beyond — she has more good reasons for getting into making them.
"There's something special about making a delicacy like a chutney or jelly out of something that's of no use to anyone else at all," she says. Her grandmother, who raised four children in the war in England, took full advantage of this factor as fresh fruit wasn't readily available and could be picked from hedgerows for free.