Thursday 16 January 2014

Turmeric - flavour of the month

At last I have been given the go-ahead to make one of my favourite chutneys - Squashney (Squash Chutney).
This spicy condiment is loosely based on a recipe for Marrow Chutney from Tim's 1971 Cordon Bleu "Preserving" by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes. Given our love for all things courge we had rather a large stock going back ten years, hence the embargo on producing any more.

The excuse this time was that we found some fresh turmeric at the All-green Pea.

Fresh turmeric from Biocoop, Châtellerault

Turmeric (curcuma in French) is the dried and ground root of a member of the Ginger family (Zingiberaceae), the main species being Curcuma longa. It is native to India but is grown all over Asia, and in Peru which is where ours came from. The fresh roots are long and narrow, taking the form of "hands" like ginger, with pinkish slightly knobbly skin.

All sorts of claims are currently being made about the health benefits of turmeric - that it can prevent cancer, heart attack, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's... control type 2 diabetes and weight loss... treat stomach ulcers, skin rashes, arthritis, leprosy, you name it, you can treat it with turmeric.  Just take two tablespoons a day and you'll live forever! You may have to put up with bright yellow pee, but you'll be able to wrestle gorillas. See an example of a slightly less excitable medical opinion here. Turmeric is actually useful for the treatment of dyspepsia and has been shown to be a painkiller as effective as ibuprofen for sufferers of osteoarthritis.

Be that as it may, the widest use of turmeric is for flavouring food. Turmeric is one of the staple spices of Asian, Caribbean and North African cooking. Known in India as Haldi, it is included in the diet because it is, as Madhur Jaffrey puts it, "a digestive and an antiseptic". It is also used to give a warm yellow colour (E100) to cheese, yoghurt, margarine and so on. As a fabric dye it gives a glorious but transient egg-yolk yellow, as I once discovered on the way home with a takeaway on my lap in a foil box with a hole in it that leaked curry sauce all over my shirt. My Ugandan Asian friend advised me to hang the shirt on the washline in the sun - in an afternoon it was as though the stain had never been.

Tim is determined to try growing some of the turmeric roots, given our success with growing ginger (zilch). We do not lack advice (here, here, here and here), although the advice is about as consistent as that of our old allotmenting friends on the subject of growing potatoes. If our plant (a) comes up (b) fails to die on us (c) undergoes some sort of miraculous conversion, it may even have an attractive flower, which is also edible.

Curcuma longa flowers, from
We have fond memories of Squashney. One lunchtime we gave a jar of it to our friends the kitchen staff at the West Riding Refreshment Rooms in Dewsbury. On returning later in the afternoon we were presented with an empty jar and a request for more please! They had rapidly progressed from eating it spread on bread to scoffing it direct from the jar with a spoon.

Here's the recipe for Squash Chutney. You can use any kind of thick-fleshed squash or pumpkin. Acorn squash such as Table Ace are particularly good. Don't peel Acorn squash if they are fairly fresh - the colour contrast adds visual interest to the chutney. This time I used butternut squash, which I had to peel because the skin is quite hard. This quantity fills 5-6 standard jamjars.

4lb /2kg Squash
2 tbsp Salt
8oz / 250g pickling onions or shallots, peeled
½oz / 15g ground turmeric, or 1½oz / 45g fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped
9 chillies, fresh, frozen or pickled, coarsely chopped (use fewer if they are hot)
1½ oz / 45g ground ginger
1½ oz / 45g English mustard powder
1½lb. / 750g sugar
2 pints / 1½ l white malt, white wine or cider vinegar

Remove seeds from the squash and peel them. Cut into ½ inch / 1cm cubes, place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Cover and leave overnight. Drain off the liquid.

Put remaining ingredients in a preserving pan. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 10 minutes. Add the squash and boil for about 40 minutes, or until tender and the liquid has thickened. If the mixture is still liquid, fish out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and boil the liquid until thick. Warning: do not over-boil or it turns into toffee.

Squashney with whole dried chillies - didn't work, replaced with chopped pickled Cayenne (volcanic)

Put into hot jars and screw down while still hot to make a good seal.

Serve with cheese, cold meats, sausages, curries or spread on crackers. Or even straight out of the jar.

Allow to mature for a couple of weeks. This should be ready at the beginning of February.


GaynorB said...

I haven't ever thought about where turmeric originates from so an interesting post.

As for the squashney it looks delicious and another thing to have a go at. Soon.....

Susan said...

To be honest, this sounds better than tomato chutney, but I'd never get it past you know who.

Tim said...

Gaynor - it's good stuff and you can make it as hot as you like. Susan - does he eat sweet potato, or is that verboden too? P.