The History of Chutney

Plum Chutney – Now’s The Time !

Thick volumes have been written on the impact of history on eating habits – as on the impact of some plants, i.e. coffee, tea, potatoes, pepper, cotton, on world history. I’m going to confine myself to chutney which I got to know in GB.

A text on the net with the title ‘The History of Indian Food’ informs me that the various invasions the Indians had to endure have had major influences on the nature of Indian cuisine ‘(Moghul invaders in the 16th century introduced meat and rice dishes. Portuguese rulers introduced chilis) and the more recent rulers from Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries had an influence on chutney variants.’

I thought the British had learnt to love chutneys in India and brought them home, instead they ‘influenced’ the Indian cuisine in India. This is something they can be praised for (we’re not discussing here if they had to invade India in the first place, of course).

Until the 1960s conservative Indians would refer to a Westernized Indian as a “Chutney Mary”, Londoners may know an Indian restaurant on King’s Road, Chelsea, by that name, the owners chose it denote the fusion of cultures they want to achieve.

Chutneys belong to the same family as pickles and salsas, all part of daily life in India: ‘brought out at every meal, they add a touch of the unexpected to whatever you’re eating. A comparatively uninteresting food is brought alive by a new array of punchy flavours A chutney may be sweet, sour, sweet and sour, jammy, preserved or freshly made.’ They have limited nutritional value, same as many other good things.

I’m sure nobody knows how many recipes exist, there’s a rich sweet tomato chutney which simmers away for a couple of hours, and a sour green chutney, made freshly in a matter of minutes with fresh coriander, green chili and yoghurt. There’s chutney of mint leaves, lemon juice, and apple, a sweet and sour one made with tamarind, cumin seeds, and banana, and another with grated coconut, root ginger, and coriander, in fact, many, many different kinds of vegetables and fruit and spices can be used, and every cook can experiment to their liking.

There’re some shops in Germany now which sell Asian food, but the choice is limited and can be in no way compared to what you find on offer. Therefore I’ve never ventured into the typical Indian chutneys, but make a chutney with 100% German plums. A positive aspect of globalisation is that we get to know new things, alter, adapt and finally integrate them, thus enriching our own cultures.