Fig Chutney from England by Way of Southwest France

Deep in a quaint hamlet in the region of Dordogne, centered on the Dordogne River, an English woman named Kathy sits at her desk in a loft above the kitchen of her 1740s French farmhouse. Her Internet travels take her to places like Bayou Country in south Louisiana, and eventually to this blog via my recipe for fig preserves.

Kathy's farmhouse in SW France
Kathy’s farmhouse in SW France

Kathy’s farmhouse sits in a township with about ten other homes totalling about 156 people. With sloping hills, stone farmhouse, and a lovely fig tree, the scene is quite a romantic one.

Kathy's green Figs
Kathy’s green Figs

While waiting for the huge figs on her tree to ripen, Kathy offers us a traditional English recipe for Fig Chutney with suggestions for pairing this easy-to-make accompaniment with cold meats, cheese, and a good, fresh bread.

She explains, “In England we would call this a ploughman’s lunch, and the cheese would be Cheddar or one of the other regional English cheeses.  Chutney is a great way to use up figs when you’ve made all the jam and preserves you think you can use. Chutney comes originally from India, and is a traditional condiment with a curry. It arrived in Britain in the 19th century with the Empire and is now a staple of English cooking, being used as an accompaniment to cold meat or cheese of any sort. You can also use it to give a shot of flavour to things like baked beans or soups. I think it’s quite close to what you call fig relish.”

In her email, along with the recipe, Kathy shares a rich history of her region.

“The traditional French name for the region is the Périgord, because the capital is the city of Périgueux. It’s an amazing part of the world where the bones of Cro-Magnon man were discovered in 1868. We now know that prehistoric man lived in this area from at least 40,000 years ago and left beautiful paintings in the caves that were eroded out of the cliffs above the Vézère Valley.  Lascaux is the best-known, but there are over a hundred painted caves in that Valley.  Then the Romans were here, and many places have Roman history attached to them, like Bergerac which was a Roman port on the river. Then there was the Medieval period, when a lot of the small villages were founded, with their stone buildings and narrow lanes; and the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337-1453), when this area was fought over hard, and both sides built astonishingly strong castles on both sides of the Dordogne; and then came the French Revolution and the French Empire in the first half of the 19th century, with the elegant houses and wrought iron balcony railings. It’s all here, and there are more beautiful and interesting things here than we will be able to see in a lifetime.” 

Kathy insisted she didn’t want any credit for this recipe noting that these recipes are as abundant and varied in England as gumbo recipes in south Louisiana.  She also shared that this chutney recipe can be infinitely varied by “adding (or not) onions, garlic, apple, raisins, dried apricots etc.; by changing the spices – cinnamon, mustard, coriander, cloves, pepper (black, red, Szechuan, etc.), turmeric, allspice, ginger (fresh is best but powdered works too); by using different kinds of sugar (white, brown, Muscovado…), or vinegar (cider, malt, white wine, red wine etc.). In other words, you can make it however you like with whatever you’ve got, so if you don’t have something the recipe calls for, just substitute something else that sounds attractive or that you have.”

Kathy's courtyard formed after connecting the old barn to the farm kitchen
Kathy’s courtyard formed after connecting the old barn to the farm kitchen

With advice like this from a British native, how can we south Louisianians (and the rest of you) go wrong?  I just want to offer a huge thank you to Kathy for sharing her chutney ideas, the interesting history of her farmhouse and her community.  I’m not sure that I will get enough figs to even try one small batch of chutney this year, but I want some of you to give this a try.  And as you spread the chutney on your fresh-baked bread and munch on a chunk of cheese, imagine that you are in sitting in her courtyard in the southwest of France. Then, come back here and leave her a big thank you and your responses in the comment section below!

A big bayou thank you, Kathy!  I’m so glad the Internet led you to the fig preserve recipe!


Fig Chutney

Traditional Fig Chutney from reader, Kathy, in southwest France

  • 1 kg figs (2.2 lbs, any type)
  • 250 g brown sugar (1 cup)
  • 300 ml . vinegar (1-1/3 cup, either cider or malt or a mixture of the two)
  • 250 g onions (9 oz, chopped)
  • 250 g raisins (9 oz by weight, or dates, prunes or other fruit)
  • 1 teaspoon 
  • 1 teaspoon 
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1-1/2 inch piece fresh ginger root (grated)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (crushed in a mortar)
  1. Chop the figs roughly. Place in a large pan (stainless steel or enamel) together with the vinegar, onions, raisins, salt, allspice, cracked peppercorns, garlic, ginger and coriander. Bring up to the boil and simmer until onions and fruit are soft. (about half an hour)
  2. Stir in sugar, bring back to the boil then reduce heat and simmer gently until thick enough to see the bottom of the pan briefly when a wooden spoon is pulled through it. This can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes to an hour, depending on the fruit. (It will not gel like jam, but it will thicken through evaporation.) When cooked, put into warm, sterilized jars and seal. (Makes about 3 jars.) Store in a dark, cool place for at least 6 weeks before eating.

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    1. Cammy, so sorry but when I was copying and pasting the recipe, evidently some of the lines got left behind! It has now been corrected!!!!!

      1. Thanks. It has been so long since I made the chutney for my mom from her figs. Would you believe I am sitting 21 miles south of the Montana border as I read this? I wonder what fruits are getting ripe up here at this time? I know that wild game is plentiful. I have never seen so many deer in my life!! And wild rabbits.

        I know moms trees are suffering from the heat but they are loaded down. She was picking some Wednesday and fell, again. She just has to have her fig preserves though.

  1. I’ll try again. I’m having computer issues.
    I’ve heard of chutney, but never have had any. Sounds interesting and I probably would have tried making some IF I HAD SOME FIGS THIS YEAR! My tree is diseased and will probably be cut down when the 10 figs I have ripen.
    I enjoyed reading about your home. AND… Thanks for the recipe.

  2. Hi, Steffi, BW said it was OK if I sneaked in and replied to you myself. Because there are two things I should probably to add to the recipe as it stands.

    First, try to leave any chutney to mature for at least 6 weeks or so in a cool, dark place. This is quite important since it lets the flavours, which are quite strong when you first make it, blend and ripen. You can keep most chutneys for at least a year on the shelf. (Obviously you use sterilised pots and screw on the lids while the chutney is still hot.) Once opened, I keep mine in the fridge.

    Second, big sympathy for a poorly fig tree 🙁 You will really miss it if you lose it, for sure.

    But chutney doesn’t have to be made of figs, not at all! You can make it out of loads of different things. Probably the classic chutney is made from mangoes, but don’t stop there. I made a rhubarb chutney back in May that came out very well; last month I made two different kinds of apricot chutney; and in September I will make an autumn chutney with apples and pears. There are recipes for chutney made with courgettes, tomatoes (red or green), blackberries, plums, peaches, cranberries, onions, beetroot, carrots, pumpkin… get the idea! So if you want to try chutney and don’t have any figs, worry not, you’re bound to have something else at hand you can use as a base. Oh, and you can find quite a few chutney recipes that use dried fruit (like dried apricots) as a main ingredient, so the fruit doesn’t even have to be fresh.

    So if you fancy having a go, don’t be put off just because you don’t have figs! Just find a recipe that uses ingredients similar to whatever you have, since the ratios of sweet-fruity-sour-spicy are key to a good chutney. Once you’ve made a few batches you will be able to swap and substitute however you like.

    Sorry, Steffi, I went on a bit there, but chutney really is soooo good….in a sandwich, with cheese, with any kind of cold meats, with plainly cooked meat like roasted ham or pork, swirled through a pot of baked beans….. Well, you can tell I’m a great chutney fan. I hope you will like it too!

    1. Thank you SO much for stepping in and I invite you to monitor comments here and answer ALL their questions. Further, maybe I should change the title to just chutney rather than fig since there are so many different varieties????

    2. Kathy
      The recipe said to let the chutney cool,then place in warm jar.Thats what i did…… is it going to stay ok?do I have to water bath it?. Im on my second batch,its so good.!My question is …to jar it hot or let it cool?.Should i empty all my others out and heat again?

      1. Hi Mary. Kathy is not a regular contributor here, so she probably won’t see your question. let me see if I can answer you. If you are jarring this/canning this, I’m not sure where you see the instruction to let the chutney cool before jarring. Here are the instructions, straight from that recipe page. It must be boiling hot and jars must be warm, then sealed; by which she means a bath.
        Chop the figs roughly. Place in a large pan (stainless steel or enamel) together with the vinegar, onions, raisins, salt, allspice, cracked peppercorns, garlic, ginger and coriander. Bring up to the boil and simmer until onions and fruit are soft. (about half an hour)
        Stir in sugar, bring back to the boil then reduce heat and simmer gently until thick enough to see the bottom of the pan briefly when a wooden spoon is pulled through it. This can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes to an hour, depending on the fruit. (It will not gel like jam, but it will thicken through evaporation.) When cooked, put into warm, sterilized jars and seal. (Makes about 3 jars.) Store in a dark, cool place for at least 6 weeks before eating.

    1. Steffi, I wouldn’t do a straight substitution of pears for figs because the two fruits can be quite different but pears are often very good in chutney because they hold a bit of texture (depending on the kind of pears). I have never made ‘pure’ pear chutney, I’ve always used them in an autumn or mixed fruit chutney with apples and things, but I have come across a recipe in which you bake the pears first and then make the chutney. I’m going to try it out when the pears come in here, but that won’t be for a month or two yet. You might like to have a look:

      Of course there are loads of other pear chutney recipes, so if you decide to give it a go, please let the rest of us know how it comes out!

  3. Hidden in this post is an important political lesson.
    Most folks are just folks trying to get by no matter where they are.

    Chutney runs deep in my Mom’s side of family being English from somewhere there. However Mom didn’t like it, I don’t like it, and that carrying over to most Indian far east cooking. I have cousins that make yeagadzooka gallons of the stuff. Peach pear apple tomato sweet pepper and you name it.
    It is important to avoid this part of family during chutney making runs. These people never open a jar that isn’t gone in minutes. Diet coke can’t get the taste out of my mouth.

    Ok blu is about a year behind in fishing but loving the scooter life. Plenty room in the silverwing to haul flyrods and such though.

  4. What a mouthwatering recipe. I’ve forwarded this on to a friend on the other side of The Pond.

    Since she does put up chutney, I’m sure she already has something similar. As Kathy said, you can mix and match ingredients and use just about anything that floats your boat. It sounded so good, though, I sent it to her anyway.

    Sorry for being AWOL, BW. Work has just been hellacious this past few weeks and I’ve not been online all that much until this weekend.

    1. Well, we’ve certainly missed you! You know what they say about all work and no play!!! Thanks for sharing. I’m going to have to make some with something other than figs, and then try to find some pretend-like-fresh-baked bread from the village baker, LOL!!1 Oh, and English cheese!

      1. Don’t fiddle around with English cheese, BW—any kind of cheese or cold meat works fine. BW. Just use whatever kind you like and happen to have. The whole point about chutney is that you don’t need anything special, either to make it or to eat it, so enjoy!

  5. Oh, my. I wish I’d seen this when you first published it. I’ve had access to big, healthy fig trees that have been bearing like crazy this year, but the farm is closed today, and I may or may not be able to get out there this week to see if there are any figs left. I brought home about 8 pounds all told, and just ate them all fresh!

    By the way, I tried resubscribing, but the system told me I’m already subscribed, so I don’t know why I’m not getting emails. Always a mystery, this internet stuff. I’ll try and remember to check more often, even without an email.

    1. Well, I’m working on trying to figure this out, so thanks for hanging in there and not giving up on me, Linda! My figs are kaput this year 🙁

  6. Just wanted to swing by and wish you a good weekend. It has gotten pretty hot and muggy here and I haven’t had the energy to do much of anything. I’ve been visiting the library and getting books to read.

  7. BW – your fig preserves recipe is fabulous, and you make it so simple! My Fig Preserves picky husband loves them! Thank you for sharing it and your expertise with all of us wannabes.

    1. Hi Lynn and welcome to the bayou! Your words are so kind! It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished a great feat when someone visits here, finds something useful, and tries it out to their success! So, it’s a win/win, and I’m so glad you came back to let me know and to let everyone else know you had a good experience with the fig preserves! Thanks again! BW

  8. Okay, fellow readers and bayou friends. A new reader has a question, and since I don’t readily know the answer, i thought with your collective knowledge you could help her out. Here’s her question:

    HI BW:
    My parents tell of receiving gifts of “Bomar” or maybe “Bowmar” fig preserves years ago. They are in their 80’s now and asked me to research the topic. They know these figs came from Louisiana. I don’t know if “BoMar” is a fig variety, a company that made the preserves, or a location they came from. Can you shed any light on this for me?? Thanks, Brenda.

  9. Sorry, I can’t help. I even Googled anything close (like Bowman). Hope someone else can come up with some info.

    1. LSU ag center is a great resource, but I have never made pickled figs. Can’t even imagine what those would taste like, could you? BTW, how is your mother’s arm healing? I hope she is doing better!

      1. Thanks for asking about mom. She fell again the 2nd day I was on vacation and in Nebraska. She hit her head so hard on the baked ground that she has whiplash now and tore the tendons worse. So, she is still in braces on both arms. She said her garden is dying and being eaten by the grasshoppers which are thicker than fleas down here. I wish you lived near her. Her sugar fig tree is about 15′ tall and probably as wide and LOADED!! They are falling off onto the ground and rotting. People want them but she cannot pick them above her head and the ones that she allowed to come in climbed up onto the branches and broke them. I bet she would trade you a few gallons for some fresh fish.

  10. BW, I mentioned your column to mom yesterday and she said exactly what I did, she wished you were near enough to come by and pick the figs. I picked a few to snack on but that tree is so full the branches are hanging down really low.

    1. Oh how I wish I could go help her pick figs! Tell her i want her to behave so she can heal up and get well and be ready for next year’s bumper crop!

  11. This recipe is truly amazing! The first time I made it, I only have enough figs for half the recipe, but I put the same amount of other fruit in by mistake (I used 1/3 each candied orange, dried cherries, & golden raisins). It turned out so well that I shared jars with neighbors, & they have brought me all the figs off their trees to make more!

    Thank you for sharing this incredible, delectable gem of a recipe!

    1. Welcome to the blog, Sharon, and so glad you found us here and tried and enjoyed the chutney recipe! I can’t take any credit for it, since it comes from my friend (and blog reader) in France. Please drop by any time! BW

  12. This is with reference to one reader’s query regarding how to keep jars for longer term i.e. is a water bath necessary? You respond that when the recipe says to put hot chutney into clean warm jars and “seal” that this means process in a water bath. But that is not what “seal” means! “Seal” means cover jars with canning lids that have a thin rubber circle on the inside (not the old-fashioned rubber rings that are removable/replaceable). And then you screw on a metal ring that keeps the lid tight on the jar. As the chutney cools an airtight seal forms keeping the metal lid snug against the jar and, most importantly, airtight. This allows you to store the product at room temperature…as long as that seal is not broken. Once opened, it should be kept in the fridge. If you check other canning recipes for salsa, jams, etc. you will see that some call for “processing” as well as “sealing” and this means a spell in a boiling water bath to allow long-term storage at room temperature.

  13. Hi. I’m in England and have a fig tree with a ton of fruit that never ripened before it got too cold. Do you think this recipe would work if adjusted for sweetness and with cooking time extended to allow the fruit to soften enough? Many thanks in advance !