The Skinny on Fermentation: Chutney

{Another post from our resident fermentation guru, Jesse Frost of Rough Draft Farmstead. If you haven’t yet, you really need to pick up a copy of Jesse’s new book, Bringing Wine Home. It’s a fast and strangely riveting read considering my interest/knowledge level about fine sustainable wines was pretty much nonexistent going into it. Can’t wait for the sequel to read more about Jesse’s journey with alcohol, love, and farming!}

I have a thing for condiments—it’s kind of embarrassing. I love ketchup and I love mustard and I love relish. Condiments are my favorite punctuations to meals. They provide contrast, and when fermented, they also help to spark the digestive process. So not only do they taste delicious, and help balance out the flavors and textures of a meal, they have a specific purpose. Plus, if you want to eat something fresh in January, it’s hard to beat a nice, spicy chutney.

Provided below is a recipe for a simple pear and red onion chutney I like, but don’t feel limited. Chutney’s are typically just a lacto-fermented mix of herbs, fruit and vegetables. If you want to substitute apples for the pears, for example, or garlic for the onions, or simply remove the ginger—go for it. Experiment. Follow the guidelines and you can pretty much make whatever kind of chutney you desire. They go great with spicy food, and especially curried dishes. And if you have any favorite chutney recipes, please feel free to share!

What you’ll need

(makes about 1 quart)


4-6 asian pears (I used Crimson)

1 small red onion

1 head of fennel

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

2-3 tablespoons real or sea salt

1-3 teaspoons of dried red pepper

Dechlorinated water


Dice your red onion small.

Mince your ginger and lemon zest and place in a mixing bowl with red pepper flakes (your call on how spicy to make it).


Then medium dice your pears and fennel and combine with ginger and zest and a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice (to keep the pear from turning brown—oxidizing).


Combine those ingredients in a bowl with two tablespoons of salt and toss with hands until a liquid begins to form. Salt is the key to making a successful ferment here so don’t be afraid to add a little more if the liquid doesn’t seem to be coming.


After about three minutes of tossing, pack the ingredients into a mason jar using the back end of a wooden spoon or some other non-reactive tool (plastic or rubber are fine, no metal). The liquid should cover the chutney, but if it can’t completely cover, mix a little salt and water in a separate bowl and pour it over top. Or, if you have whey or leftover brine from kimchi or kraut—even better. Add a little of that instead of salt water as it already contains the lactic acid bacteria you’re trying to encourage, and will keep the saltiness down. You’ll want to leave at least an inch between the top of your chutney and the top of the jar. And at least 3/4 of an inch between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar.

Next you’ll want to weigh the chutney down so no solids float to the surface. I use a plastic lid from a baking powder can which fits perfectly into the quart-sized mason jars. I also really like using a small sandwich bag with a little water placed right inside the jar. The idea is to keep oxygen off the chutney itself—be creative!

Next, tie a cloth over the top (to keep bugs out), place the jar into a bowl and set it on your counter. Over the next day or so you will start to notice it bubbling and it will probably start to smell a little sweet. If it bubbles over (thus why I recommend putting it in a bowl) don’t worry, that just means it’s working. Replace your cloth and let it keep going. Let it ferment for a three or four days or until it looks less active. Loosely screw a lid on—though if you use a metal lid you’ll need to separate the lid from the ferment with a piece of plastic to keep it from tainting your chutney—and let it sit on the counter for at least a few more days, occasionally unscrewing the lid to let out any excess gasses.


Chutneys are traditionally used in a lot of indian dishes and go really well with spice and curry. I also find they are particularly good with fatty foods and fish. Or, just eat it by the spoonful like I’m frequently guilty of doing.

If you have any questions, recipes or comments please feel free to leave them here or you can write me at


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Author:Jesse Frost

Although born in Colorado, Jesse spent his formative years in Richmond, Kentucky. After high school he received an opportunity to cook at Le Relais Restaurant in Louisville under Chef Daniel Stage where he spent two years learning the importance of local produce before moving to New York City. While there, Jesse found himself managing a small wine shop in lower Manhattan. Specializing predominantly in organic, biodynamic, and sustainably-produced wines, he discovered a fondness for natural fermentation and farming. After four years, he left the city and returned to Kentucky. A two-season internship at a small farm in Southern Kentucky called Bugtussle introduced him to farming, his first ferments, and a wonderful lady. He now runs Rough Draft Farmstead with his wife Hannah in Danville, and you can read their blog and follow their story at Jesse is also available for speaking engagements and seminars on gardening, starting small farms, and fermentation.


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