Doni’s Million-Dollar Chutney

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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 I’d 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 I’d 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 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 what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is 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, California.
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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Handouts Don't says:


    Don't save it for a special occasion. USE IT and enjoy.

    My mother would always save everything for a special occasion. By the time that occasion rolled around, the goods had gone bad.

    USE IT and enjoy!

  2. Avatar EasternShastaCounty says:

    Genius! I would have stopped after adding humingbird food to the figs. Very impressive.

  3. Avatar Darcie says:

    This describes you soo well Creative, willing to try new things, tenacious, optomistic and satisfied with the results of hard work!

  4. Avatar `AJacoby says:


    What Handout said. Use it and enjoy . . . .

    Oh, and what Darcie said, too!!

  5. Avatar pmarshall says:

    I would never have the ambition or creativity to do that. It has to be good, though. So if you can't use it all, please give a jar or two to your family and friends.

  6. I love the way you combine whatever you have on hand! You are an inspiration and, having tasted many of your yummy concoctions over the years, a very good cook!

    Moral of the story: as long as there are still ingredients on hand, never give up on a dish!

    • That's right: Never give up on a dish. A dear friend confided the other evening that he'd tossed some thawed ground turkey because it was too watery. I wanted to weep. I told him to call me next time. We could have saved it …. add some bread crumbs, a beaten egg, some panko, some herbs, grated Parmesan … presto … meatballs.

  7. Avatar shelly shively says:

    This is as close to a recipe as we'll get 😉 Funny stuff, Doni…and, as I've observed countless times over the years, accurately describes your creative cooking process. Magic in Motion!

    • Shucks, thanks, Shelly. And this is why I could never bottle and sell my dressings and sauces and other foods … no recipe. Every batch is different. Kind of like every one of your paintings. Every one is different. 🙂

  8. Avatar Joanne Snyder says:

    The only downside of this chutney is that it will never…in a thousand years be duplicated. There will be folks walking around with something missing in their life once that chutney is gone. "this is good, but it's not like the…" If you read the book "How we Decide" by Jonah Lehrer, you will know that your everything you did to make this perfect chutney was the result of a collaboration between all of the culinarily trained parts of your brain…..all of your senses were involved in this masterpiece. Beautifully written piece.

    • Thanks, Joanne. I am like lots of cooks who are capable of following recipes, such as when baking, where it's more like science.

      But we have the most fun when we can use the "million-dollar chutney" method, where there's more wiggle room, such as with soups, sauces and dressings.

      I have to smile when someone says something like, "I love your tomato basil soup!" because I know that my tomato basil soup never tastes the same twice, and sometimes I'm even chasing down a taste I created once and have never been able to replicate. It's sort of maddening.

      Maybe the next time I start down that road I should keep a pad of paper nearby and write as I add.

  9. Avatar Handouts Don't says:

    Doni –

    Here's an idea for your next article.

    Start a recipe drive. Commenters would post their favorite recipes. This could either be one they created, or one they just like.

    If your readers cook or create the dish and like it, then they donate $5 to your favorite cause – homelessness. Any organization in Redding they wish such as Living Hope, the Good News Rescue Mission, People of Progress, Etc.

    Alternatively, one could submit a good cooking tip.

    What do you think?

  10. Avatar Carol Cowee says:

    didn't mean to "send" was trying to figure out how to spell…anyway, this recipe I always have on hand and as we are traveling now, 8 months in an RV around the US…15th year doing it…I need to be able to whip it out anytime. So, give it a whirl, it is a keeper. From Carol Cowee, Niagara Falls, NY…1 Sept. 2013


    2 1/2 # chopped canned or fresh mangos…can use fresh peaches or nectarine

    1 1/4 cup white vinegar

    1 1/2 cup sugar

    1 3 in. piece cinnamon stick

    2 Tbs raisins

    1 1/2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

    2 teas. pwd. coriander

    1 1/2 teas. dry mustard

    1 teas. pwd. ginger

    1 teas. salt

    1/2 teas.each cayenne pepper(the "secret" and most important ingredient) and lemon


    1/4 teas. pwd. cloves

    1. Peel and cut into chunks the fruit, add rest of ingredients to fruit, cook over med. heat till reduced and thick, 1 1/2 – 2 hrs. Doesn't take as long with the canned fruit, stir often to keep from sticking. Discard cinnamon stick, refrigerate or freeze.

    2. I use discarded small jars that have a rubber gasket in the lid. Simmer lids. Run jars through the dishwasher, fill with the hot chutney, wipe rim, tighten lids, cool upside down on a towel. This will seal and last for a long time. We eat ours up so fast they don't get stored too long. This tastes like the Major Grey's Chutney at $4.00 a bottle!

    Servings: about 3 or 4 pints

    Source: Gourmet 9-91