Novice allotment holder's chutney

Traffic-light stew.

In our house, we’re not particularly partial to pickles (try saying that with a mouthful of gherkins).

Mr Mandy Sutter had a piccalilli ‘incident’ at seventeen and has never touched that violent yellow cauli, mustard and turmeric combo since. Dad is a mono-condimentalist and that condiment is HP sauce.

Dog MS’s one attempt to eat a pickled onion ended in a sneezing fit that nearly took her head off.  And I haven’t eaten Branston since someone put some down the toilet as a ‘joke’.

But along came the allotment and changed all that.

For the pickling season is upon us. Gluts must be faced, and the idea that vegetables can’t be kept for longer than a week abandoned. What can’t be endured must be cured.

We’re not alone in having a lot of green tomatoes at our allotment. It has been a bad year for blight (or a good one, if you are a blighter). Tomatoes have gone straight from green to rotten, leaving out the useful bit in between. They have hung, brown and bulbous, looking disturbingly like diseased nuts (yes, I do mean those sorts of nuts.)

If you’re in the same boat,  I recommend rescuing some before they succumb and chutnefying them with this Nigel Slater recipe. It has a nice nip of chilli, and suggests using a few ripe tommies to help the unripe ones along.

We had some red and yellow ones in the garden and added to the green ones they looked great, roiling, boiling and moiling in the pan like some sort of traffic light stew.

A shame it all has to turn brown in the end. But despite now being the same colour as the blighted tomatoes, the chutney tastes lovely, especially with a Bath Oliver and some cave aged Emmental. If you find those ingredients pretentious, as Mr MS does, please substitute a Jacob’s cream cracker and some mild cheddar from Tommy Tesco’s.

And the pickling hasn’t stopped there. A friend, hearing about our great bounty of brassicas, lent me a Harsch Gartopf fermenting pot. Ideal, he said, for making sauerkraut.

Allotment stories: making sauerkraut

Kraut-ready

Alone with the pot, Mr MS was suspicious. ‘Yes, but what IS sauerkraut, exactly? Do you eat it hot or cold? And what with?’

‘It’s pickled cabbage,’ I said. ‘You can eat it any way you like.’

I don’t know why I always pretend to know everything when talking to Mr MS. I’ve no idea whether you can eat sauerkraut hot.

But I was on a roll by now, reeling off different kinds of German sausage, unmoved by his baffled expression.

Then I relented. ‘Hot dogs,’ I said.

Suddenly, he was a different man. ‘Hot dogs? Why didn’t you say so!’

That’s the thing with menfolk. Eventually, you have to speak their language.

Actually, sauerkraut doesn’t so much involve pickling as fermenting. Or so one discovers, watching the 149-minute long video that comes with the pot, where a chap with massive sideburns and adjoining moustache tells you a very great deal about it. After two hours, he tells you how to make the stuff too. For him, it isn’t just about passing on a recipe, or even a practice. Fermentation is an ethos.

Allotment humour: how we won't be gardening in Yorkshire!

World Naked Gardening Day

I can’t make up my mind whether this is the best or the worst thing about growing your own; the fact that you don’t have to look very far into any of its aspects before you stumble across sub-cultures peopled with evangelical folk with unlikely facial hair and home-knitted trousers, or no trousers at all in the case of World Naked Gardening Day (which falls on Saturday 5th May 2012 in case you’re wondering).

Books about recycling your own piss; Potato Days; Scarecrow Festivals, the list goes on. You couldn’t make it up.

But the sauerkraut is made, anyway.  I plan to lift the lid next week.  If I can get the picture of rotting veg and handlebar moustaches out of my mind, I may even eat some.