Monday, 17 December 2018

My ‘chutney’ didn’t cause fridge explosion

A RETIRED chef insists his home-made rhubarb “chutney” didn’t cause a friend’s fridge to explode.

A RETIRED chef insists his home-made rhubarb “chutney” didn’t cause a friend’s fridge to explode.

Chris Hackett spoke out after the Henley Standard reported the blast in the kitchen of Margaret Goodwin’s flat at Hanover House, in Homelands Way, Henley, last week.

The 71-year-old, who made the jar of what he calls relish, says it has a bit of a kick but is not explosive.

Mr Hackett, who has been a qualified chef for 25 years and used to train pub staff, said: “There’s no way that the ‘chutney’ blew up the fridge. I don’t mind though because it has given everyone a laugh.

“I would want to know what make of fridge it is because it must be faulty.”

Mr Hackett, who cooks every fortnight for residents at the sheltered home, had made four jars of rhubarb relish and gave a jar to a neighbour, who then offered some to Ms Goodwin, which she stored in her fridge.

Ms Goodwin, 66, was in bed on Tuesday last week when she was woken up by the noise of her fridge door being blown off its hinges and fired across the kitchen.

The door smashed the glass of a montage of family photographs on the other side of the room and took a chunk out of the wall.

The force of the blast also temporarily lifted the ceiling and caused cracks at the top of the wall, living room and porch and blew the casing off an extractor fan.

Firefighters initially believed the blast was caused by an open bottle of champagne but Adrian Green, technical director of the property, said the chutney was to blame after it fermented and caused a build-up of methane gas in the fridge.

Mr Hackett, a volunteer at the Blue Cross shop in Duke Street, said: “I didn’t hear the explosion at the time because I was in the shower but luckily Margaret was in her bedroom.

“If she had been by the fridge she would have been dead, that’s for sure, because you can see what it did to the fridge door. I imagine she went into a bit of shock, thinking she could have been there.”

Mr Hackett, who has an Open University degree in biology, has conducted his own experiments with the same batch of relish and claimed these showed his recipe was not to blame. He left the condiment in his own fridge for 17 hours and nothing happened.

He also put a tablespoon measurement in a dish placed in a champagne bucket, which he covered in cling film sealed with an elastic band and put in the fridge.

Mr Hackett took it out after 21 hours and threw a lit match on top of the cling film but there was no explosion.

“If it had methane in it like people are saying, that means my own stuff is more powerful than Semtex,” he said. “There would have been a ‘bang’, sending the cling film up, but no gas came out of it.”

Mr Hackett said a key ingredient of his relish was vinegar, which acts as a preservative and allows it to keep for up to six months.

He said there had been a lot of interest in his home-made cooking since the Standard broke the news of the explosion, so he plans to name his next batch “Valencian bang bang chutney”.

He has offered it to chefs he knows at Café Buendia in Bell Street and to the Loch Fyne restaurant in Market Place.

“Everyone has been trying my chutney since the explosion,” he said. “They didn’t try it beforehand!”

Mrs Goodwin, who has replaced her fridge, said she was still sure the relish was the cause of the blast and believes the gas was ignited by an electric spark from a faulty light in her old machine.

She said: “I was told it’s perfectly normal to have a build-up of methane in the fridge overnight.

“There wasn’t anything else in there, just bottles of milk, butter, cheese, smoked salmon and caviar — what you would expect to find in a Henley fridge?” Mrs Goodwin thanked her neighbours for storing her frozen food while she was without a fridge-freezer.

She added: “I would also like to thank the fire brigade and the Standard. Everyone has been so kind and made me feel better because I was shaken up by it. It was quite reassuring.”

Dr John Emsley, a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Methane and air mixed are highly explosive but normally you would have to have an electrical spark. Perhaps the light in the fridge was faulty.”

Mr Green said: “Methane from the chutney was the only logical cause. I spoke to the fire service and they agreed.

“We’ve asked around to see if anyone else may have been given some of this chutney as obviously it doesn’t pay to have it knocking around for too long!”

Feeling brave? Make your own rhubarb relish

Ingredients: (for six jars) 900g rhubarb, four chopped red onions, 350g caster sugar, 100g light muscovado sugar, 400ml white wine vinegar, one tablespoon of crushed coriander seeds, half a tablespoon of ground allspice, 50g raisins, one star anise, four preserved lemons cut into wedges.


Put all the ingredients, except the lemons, in a large saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Cook over a moderate heat, stirring frequently for about 30 minutes until thick and pulpy, adding the lemons after 20 minutes. Remove the star anise and ladle into a sterilised jam jar. Label and store in a dark, cool place. Keeps for up to six months.

Tip: Good with roast chicken or mackerel.

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