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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Little Jars of Sunshine for the Holidays

I hereby present two perfect things to make as gifts for the holiday season fast approaching. The hardest part is going to be finding the perfect jar. The rest is easy.

Oh, think I'm jumping on the Seasons Greetings, Christmas, New Year cheer at bit early do you? Damn right I am. Plan for your future, I say.

Some of you may remember last year -- traipsing about the gastromoans trying desperately to discover the perfect gift for the 6,000 colleagues, friends and neighbors. Only one solution. "I made it myself."

I have taken my cue from every Russian landlady I ever had and offer you Mysterious Things in Jars. A wicked chutney and preserved lemons, which will be just the thing to decorate a corner of your gloom. Angle a jar of preserved lemons in your kitchen the right way and you will never notice you've had no sunshine.

Once you have found the jars, you need to ensure they are super clean. All you need are hot water, dishwashing liquid, perhaps a go in a dishwasher and then either a warm oven to really dry them or a quick zap in a microwave.

Sterilizing the jars in the microwave is good for the blood pressure. I was supposed to be watching my Aunt Ruth when she taught me this whiz-quick method, but I was momentarily distracted and only guessed at how long it took. I put a glass jar in the box, turned it on and ended up having to pick shards of glass out of every nook and cranny for hours after.

As long as the jar is quite dry (and you can't do this one with any metal ring around the lid) you can zap it for 20 to 30 seconds on medium high and be sure of killing off the potential bacteria and not your person.

Once the jars are ready, it's time to don the swimming goggles and peel 20 onions. Sorry, but once you taste how sublime this chutney is, you will realize how much easier it is to make it all in one batch. Oh yes, and beware the fumes: All that steaming wine and vinegar can make one woozy.

Here is my version (less butter and half the quantity) of Bibendum's house special -- the bit on the side of the pat? plate. They call it marmalade, but you can call it chutney if you prefer to think of that hallowed jam only between bread at breakfast.

Bibendum's Onion Marmalade

2.5 kilograms medium onions

300 ml sherry vinegar

1 liter red wine

450 grams sugar

Salt and pepper

500 grams butter

Melt the butter in an enormous heavy saucepan and sweat the onions for about half an hour. Do this on low to medium heat and stir constantly. Add the sugar, salt and pepper and cook for 30 minutes more until the onions caramelize. Keep stirring because the onions will burn if you leave them unattended. Pour over the red wine and the vinegar, mix well, increase the heat to medium high and cook away for another hour until the chutney is reduced to a thick, gooey mass.You need it to be quite a solid chutney, so give it 15 minutes or more.

Remove from the heat, allow to cool and ladle into sterilized jars. The chutney will be ready to eat in a week, but it is best to wait until Christmas.

I'd read about and seen preserved lemons in zillions of recipes, but until someone actually showed me how to make them I didn't realize that you only eat the skin. Playful. But tasty. And a lot more pleasant than the sight of the insides of the lemons once they have sat in their pickling juice for a month. That's why you need to preserve them in their entirety.

Preserved Lemons


Good rock salt


Olive oil

The formula for this preserve is one heaped teaspoon of rock salt per lemon plus one tablespoon for the water to pickle them.

Scrub your lemons until they sparkle then cut them in quarters, but don't cut all the way through. You need to be able to insert all the salt, then close them up again. Do this to all then pack them tightly into a sterile jar. In the meantime boil water and add some extra salt, stir and allow to cool. Stick in fridge or on balcony until the salt water is cold. (And no, a bottle of Georgian mineral water is not a good substitute). Pour in the water up until about 2.5 cm from the top, making sure the little blighters stay submerged. Top up with a slurp of olive oil to keep the air from the lemons. Seal and leave to pickle.

After a few weeks, remove a lemon, discard the gooey center and dice or slice the peel. They will liven up any dish and give rise to plenty of sour old lemon jokes around holiday season when you proffer them as gifts.