One of my favourite old Sussex terms is ‘brencheese friend.’ A brencheese or ‘bread and cheese friend’ is a friend who’ll stick with you whether you feed him a feast or share with him your simplest provisions. Likewise a true brencheese friend is one who will tear off a hunk of bread and cut you a good slice of cheese even when that’s all he has and his stomach is rumbling.
There’s a celebrated story (one which I’ve probably only remembered half correctly) about Mad Jack Fuller, one time squire at Brightling, MP for Sussex, a drunk and a supporter of slavery, that on one occasion he invited all his ‘friends’ for dinner and that to test the sincerity of their friendship they arrived to be served plates of bangers and mash.
Needless to say the fair-weather friends stood up and walked out in low dudgeon, whereupon Jack Fuller invited those who remained to a sumptuous feast which awaited them upstairs.
But I reckon that a good loaf and a nice bit of cheese can be a feast in itself, especially accompanied by the right pickle or chutney. I’m a fan of some of our local Sussex cheese-makers. Blessed they are indeed. Two particularly fine ones are the Traditional Cheese Dairy just down the road in Stonegate and the High Weald Dairy a ways away near Haywards Heath.
Now I don’t pretend to have tried everything they’ve made but ‘Burwash Rose’ and ‘Lord of the Hundreds’ from the Traditional Cheese Dairy and ‘Brother Michael and Ashdown Forrester’ (a smoked cheese) from the High Weald Dairy are all sublime.
The joy of them is that a little goes a long way. A skim of Burwash Rose or Brother Michael on a good bit of bread gives you an explosion of flavour that you wouldn’t get from a cannonball sized lump of greasy supermarket cheddar. They’re all cheeses fine enough to make a Frenchman flail around in disbelief while declairing that the perfidious cheesemakers of Albion must have torn the labels of France’s finest and added their own. Then all I needed was the pickle.
Frankly it was a minor miracle, given the weather, that any tomato which had the misfortune to sprout in Britain this year, ripened at all. Mine got blight again, though, when one thinks how cold and wet it has been, I lost remarkable little of the fruit to it.
Nevertheless I decided earlier this week that leaving the rest of the tomatoes to ripen was simply tempting fate. I chopped them all off and earmarked them for green tomato and apple chutney.
Not that there were so many apples either. Last year might have given up a glorious crop but this year, phtttt. Bramleys there were none. The trees were bare. The Blenheim Orange, the cider apples, most of the eaters including the russets, nada. Only the Arthur Turners were any good and they really don’t keep.
But this chutney doesn’t call for huge quantities of apples. It’s quite simple, a variation of a few recipes I’ve seen and the results were pretty good.
1.5kg green tomatoes roughly chopped.
300g onions finely chopped
650ml vinegar (pickling or malt)
300g soft brown sugar
300g apples chopped small
150g sultanas roughly chopped
The first job is to chop the tomatoes and onions, the former roughly, the latter finely. Put them in a large steel bowl or pan, mix in the salt and leave to stand overnight.
Every recipe I have read stresses the importance of doing this. Why? Because in the morning you’ll find that the salt has drawn an impressive quantity of water out of both and that’s liquid you’ll not have to boil off later. It really does save a lot of time on the hotplate. Remember: don’t rinse them. You want as little water as possible in the mix.
Then put the vinegar and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil, lowering to a simmer and stirring until the sugar has dissolved. I add the spices at this point, stir them in and then add the apples and sultanas. When the apples have softened and the sultanas started to swell then throw in the tomatoes and the onions.
Bring back to the boil, reduce to a simmer and stir just often enough to stop the mixture catching on the bottom of the pan.
I’ve seen recipes suggest boiling for as little as an hour. Mine took three. Keep an eye on it. You want the fruit to go pulpy and the mixture to thicken.
The result was five jars of a chutney worth of decent bread and cheese and, almost as if it knew its fate, the loaf I pulled out of the over is probably the best I’ve yet made. It would hardly test the loyalty of one’s brencheese friends to lay all that before them.