Doni’s Million-Dollar Chutney


My tale of million-dollar chutney begins with a basket of free figs, a gift from Don and Elaine Cohen. Wonderful figs, which we halved and drizzled with honey from my little sister’s beehives.

But one can only eat so many figs, not to mention that fresh figs ripen like that. (Snap.)

And I’m loathe to waste any food, especially a gift of food.

I decided to make fig jam. Easy weaver.

I grabbed a small pot in which I heated a simple syrup (half sugar/half water – uh, hummingbird food), and added the quartered Cohen figs, with the zest and juice of one lemon.

I simmered it for about 1 hour.

It looked pretty.

It also looked – lacking.

I rummaged around in the refrigerator and extracted a bowl of leftover apricots from a No. 10 can Kelly and I opened to make a few dozen apricot tarts in puff pastry for a fundraiser.

Apricots, meet figs – figs, meet apricots. They hit it off. Their union produced fig and apricot jam.

It seemed a good idea. At first. But the apricots looked like orange polka dots in a sea of specks.

I rummaged in the fridge again and salvaged some tired, wet, translucent strawberries that remained from the mascarpone/whipped cream profiteroles Kelly and I made for the same fundraiser.

The strawberries were a definite help. They added a slight blush to the jam, and the little seeds looked like kissing cousins to the fig seeds.

I’d gone too far. What had I created?

Fig, Apricot, Strawberry Jam.

Ugh. Ick.

I departed the realm of sweet, overly fruited jam.

I entered the realm of savory chutney.

I finely chopped onions which I sauteed in olive oil on low, low, low until they caramelized.

What are onions without garlic?


Must correct, immediately.

Peel a head of garlic. Mash the cloves with salt until they resemble apple sauce.

I added the pale, creamed garlic to the onions and sauteed the mixture a bit longer. Things were getting crowded in that pan, so I scraped everything, including the onions and garlic, into my favorite stainless steel medium pot, the one I use for lemon curd and ice cream custard, among other things.


Much better. More head room to add more stuff.

Peppercorns, freshly cracked. Couple of bay leaves. Pepper flakes.

Ooh. Hot was good. Chipotles, cayenne, cumin seed, half a bottle of horseradish.

Eeek. Too much heat. Need cool, stat.

More apricots. Hey, where are those dried cherries? They’ll plump in the moisture. Perfecto, if I do say so myself.

Needed a little pop – needed a little – something.

Cognac. Quarter of one bottle should do it.

Suddenly it was all brown. The cherries were lost.

Disappointed? Yes.

Defeated? Absolutely not.

I rolled up my sleeves. Into the pantry I went.

Out came cans, jars, containers.

More honey. Whole fennel seed. A Mendocino mustard I’d saved for a special occasion. Now we’re cooking with gas.

Brown sugar. Canned mango. Dried mango. Mango juice. Love mango.

More garlic. Salt, salt, salt.

Gloppy, sloppy.

Chunks and hunks of floating matter. Oh my gosh. And the pot was nearly overflowing.

I placed my biggest pot in the sink and carefully carried over the hot chutney and poured it into the bigger container. Better. Much.

I dug out Mr. Hand Blender, my smooth operator. (Just saw one at Grocery Outlet recently. Cheap.)

Whirl, whirl, whirl.

Don’t overdo it. Leave some small hunks for color. Good idea.

So pretty. Delicious.

I adjusted the seasonings, and tried a trick I’d learned when food needs a little pick me up (no, not tiramisu, not this time): Vinegar. I like rice vinegar, so that’s what I used. A little bit … just enough so I could barely, barely taste it, but not enough that it might scream VINEGAR.

Some freshly ground pepper. Some more salt. And, OK, in the spirit of full disclosure, I also added some Smokey Tabasco Sauce.

I’d reached chutney nirvana.

I had four cases of half-pint jars I’d bought for about $10 a pop. Ouchie wawa, I should have been watching for yard sales. Oh well. No chips, guaranteed.

I poured the chutney in my biggest green bowl. I know, it looks unappetizing here, but the flash messed with the color. Trust me. It’s good.


I then ladeled it into the clean, hot jars, that I’d just removed from the dishwasher. (A mother-in-law’s trick.) chutney-pretty

I processed the jars in boiling water just like the pros do it, then found more empty jars and some new lids and rings, because I had more chutney than could fit in my new jars.

That’s fine with me. Money in the bank.

Doni’s Million-Dollar Chutney.

Don’t ask me for the recipe.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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