16 Oct 2018

A Harvest of Quince and The Best Recipe for Quince Jelly. Now where's my runcible spoon?

I'm feeling rather pleased with myself and slightly uneasy at the same time. Why, you may ask. Let me tell you.

Having wanted to grow proper quinces for several years, this year my tree has produced the goods. I counted 40 this year, a thrilling effort from this four year old tree. To have forty quinces gives plenty of scope for trying out new ways of cooking and preserving. But if there's this many this year, what of the future?  I've read of massive gluts and that's when I start to get jittery. Forty I can cope with; eighty or more might start to feel like overwhelm. Do we really know what we want to do with a wealth of quinces? It's one of those 'Be careful what you wish for' moments.

My desire for a quince tree started in 2012 when I noticed the round fruits of Chaenomeles x superba growing in the gardens at Capel Manor where I was studying. I was told that they were edible, like quince. Seems reasonable as the plant's common name is Japanese Quince. I snaffled a few from the ground and made membrillo.  It was jolly good.

I also used some to make a tea infusion.  I'd heard that Lithuanians traditionally steep slices of raw quince in hot water and honey to make a soothing winter drink. Apparently the fruit is a good source of vitamin C, as well as copper, magnesium and other very useful minerals. I made some with Japanese Quince and was singularly unimpressed; it didn't taste of much.  Obviously I needed proper quinces for this.  (Perhaps I should try again with one of this season's Cydonia quinces.)

So why bother with Cydonia (real) quince when you can use Chaenomeles? Both have an aroma, although quince will perfume an entire room, and both have fruit that goes pink when cooked.  I remember Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles) being quite sharp flavoured, a bit like having lemon in tea so I'm going to guess that Cydonia quinces are slightly sweeter, possibly with more depth of flavour. (Or maybe it's the other way round? Foraging might be in order when the rain stops. If anyone reading this knows, please tell!)

I'm having a bit of fun trying out various ways of using my quinces.  After a weekend of rain, several of the fruit had split so were quickly picked and turned into a quince crumble using a Nigel Slater recipe from his fruit book 'Tender, vol II'.  It was nice, in fact the topping was delicious, but it's not a patch on plum crumble!

(The online link to the Slater recipe is here; make a note of the topping ingredients and enjoy Nigel's writing!)

After that, I was rooted in indecision for a while - there's more choice than just membrillo - but rediscovered this recipe for Old Fashioned Quince Jelly in my National Trust Preserves book. I had more split quinces that needed to be used quickly before they went brown and this recipe is one you just get on with. No peeling, coring or boring stuff. Just chop the quinces up, chuck into a pan, cover with water, cook, strain overnight, add sugar to the juice and boil.

The result is a beautiful clear jelly, sweet with a definite quince taste and scent. I had a enough left over for another half jar so have tried it out today on bread and butter; it's delicious. I like that its recommended uses are either for savoury (to go with lamb, cold meats, cheese, etc, like a redcurrant jelly) or topped with cream in a cake or, even better, spread on toasted muffins or scones! Now you're talking. Here's the finished result - four (and a half) little jars of deliciousness.  Now where's my runcible spoon?

And I still have a bowl of quinces in the kitchen ... possibly for pickling.

Old Fashioned Quince Jelly

1.35kg (3lb) ripe quinces
Water to cover
Thinly pared rind and juice of 1 large lemon (unwaxed)
Granulated sugar

Wash the quinces, rub off any down. Don't peel or core them but chop roughly into a large pan and just cover with water. Add the lemon rind then simmer gently until the fruit is soft and pulpy (about an hour). Stir in the lemon juice and strain through a jelly bag overnight.

Next day, measure the juice and pour into a clean pan. Add warmed sugar (I put mine in the oven at 140°C for 10 minutes) allowing 450g to each 600ml juice. (I had 900ml juice so used 675g sugar - and, yes, I did very gently squeeze the jelly bag to get the last of the juice from the pulp.)

Heat gently, stirring to completely dissolve the sugar, then bring to boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. 104°C if you have a sugar thermometer, or wrinkly spoonful on a cold plate if not.

Skim, then pot into hot/warm clean, sterilised jars, cover and seal.  (I washed my jars, rinsed well and dried them in the oven after the sugar was warmed.)

14 Oct 2018

Mid October: In the autumn veg patch

So often in the UK summer weather can disappear overnight and we're thrown straight into a precursor to winter. Not this year though. Mother Nature is letting us down so gently after an unbelievably hot and sultry summer. (Although today it's wet and windy so it would seem that the best of autumn might be behind us.)  The sun, when it shone, has been genuinely warm, perfect for letting the last of the summer crops ripen and very pleasant for working in the garden. I still have a few tomatoes slowly ripening in the veg patch and more in pots on my balcony, giving the occasional treat before I have to revert to buying them. It's the most perfect October  - so far! but I'm expecting a huge reality check in a couple of weeks when the clocks go back. Here's what I'm doing to make the most of autumn.

Winter salads:
With this late bout of warmth it's tempting to sow a few more seeds and I've got germinating trays of winter lettuces, coriander, chervil, spring onions and kale on the balcony. I bought coriander and basil from Johnson's new range of Micro Leaf seeds last week; the seeds are the same as in other herb packs but with double the quantities, or more. Both herbs have germinated impressively quickly. I'm growing the basil indoors as it's a tender herb and the coriander outside on the balcony as it doesn't mind cooler weather.  With shortening daylight hours, realistically these will mostly be eaten as micro leaves - and I'll keep sowing through the winter, bringing the trays indoors when it gets cold.

Sweet peas for summer:
Sweet peas have been sown - 2 to a cell - in deep root trainers; they're just starting to germinate a week later and the little plants will be perfectly fine on the balcony until they're planted out in spring. If/when they get leggy, just pinch the top back to 3 or 4 leaf pairs to create bushier plants. I've done this before and been picking the flowers at the beginning of June but that was during a mild winter, safe from the cruel winds and snow that we had last year. If the winter is harsh again, the seedlings will go into a friend's greenhouse under a layer of horticultural fleece.

Spring bulbs:
I bought all my bulbs a few weeks ago; they're currently stored in a big canvas tote bag under the table while I sort out where to plant them.  In the next fortnight, I want to plant out alliums, fritillaries, daffodils, anemones and ranunculus before the temperatures drop so that they have a chance to make some roots before winter. I'll probably put some in pots as well - some for the garden and some for the balcony.

Tulips are another matter. I'm replacing a lot of my bulbs this year as I last planted tulips under the fruit trees five years ago! I'm hoping for a sunny day when it's really cold at night, probably early to mid November, for this job in order to lessen the risk of tulip blight.  It's the same blight that will affect tomatoes and potatoes and can roll in on the wind after a humid summer. By planting later, frost will kill off blight spores although it's not as pleasant as planting on a warm autumnal day. And a good wash will sort out any blight spores lurking in pots.

In the veg patch ...
Baby Boo pumpkins have been harvested, the dried vines composted and tall purple sprouting broccoli staked against the wind. Asparagus fronds are so prolific that I've tied them together in a clump to control their swishiness.  The colour is just starting to fade in parts but I'll leave it another month before cutting the fronds down to allow the plants to harness as much energy as possible for next year.  The long nasturtium vines have been trimmed as they were becoming a tripping hazard, leaving a bank of the plants to climb up the surrounding fence. I even found several huge garlic bulbs growing under the leaves!  In past years my nasturtiums, all grown from dropped seed, have flowered in a range of colours from salmon, cream, striped yellow, deep orange and red. This year they're plain orange or plain yellow. Very odd. Maybe the seeds are gradually mutating! I've bought new seeds for next year and will try to remove as many dropped nasturtium seeds as possible this year.  Although that's probably a bit of wishful thinking on my part!

Herb flowers are now going to seed so I've cut them back; chive, salad burnet and sorrel will gradually disappear over winter but oregano and thyme will soldier on and be available all through the cold months to add flavour to casseroles and soup.

It's been a daily ritual to check the ripening quinces. Already a quince crumble has been made and eaten. I followed a Nigel Slater recipe; it was delicious but not as nice as plum or apricot crumble to be honest.  Perhaps some honey might have helped change my mind.  Some of the fruit had split so had to be used up quickly; the rest was left to ripen to gold on the tree.  Beautiful deep pink quince jelly has been made, recipe to follow.

Rosehips. While I had the jelly bag down off the high shelf for making quince jelly, it seemed a shame not to gather a few rosehips to make some syrup for winter. This rose, below, grows at one end of the veg patch gardens; I didn't plant it so can only guess at what it is, possibly a Rosa canina with white flowers. It's tucked in an awkward heavily shaded spot behind a large Viburnum so doesn't usually do much but seems to have responded to the glorious weather with hundreds of hips this year.  I had intended to leave the hips for birds but seeing the ground littered with so many fallen squashed fruits, decided to collect some for a more useful purpose.

So that just leaves the garlic and onion sets to plant out after I've moved all the self-seeded foxgloves, forget-me-nots, feverfew, honesty, verbena bonariensis, violets and strawberries. It never stops, does it?

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