Archives for category: Fruit

The next in my series of homemade Christmas presents: quince paste (membrillo to the Spanish). It didn’t feature in my gift plans until I saw two gloriously enormous quinces outside the Moroccan deli. It was an impulse buy, but the sort that doesn’t leave you with buyer’s remorse. The owner was quite curious about what I would be doing with them (in Morocco, he said, they would stew it with lamb).

I’m afraid that, like the previous two recipes, this one is quite time consuming, but you don’t have to do much during that time other than be around. I plan to give it to people in slabs with a nice piece of cheese, some manchego or a Cashel blue maybe. The basic recipe I used comes from Stevie Parle (see also: other quince recipes) and he suggests putting it inside a roasting game bird or eating it on toast. I think it would also be nice instead of the jam layer in a bakewell tart, or in small pieces in an apple pie or crumble (I think I’ve stolen that last idea from somewhere).

Quince paste

Makes as much as you have quinces

Where I differed from Stevie’s recipe was to blend the mixture to make a smooth paste, for aesthetic neatness. You can skip this for a coarser paste.

Quinces (I used two large ones which weighed just over 1kg)
About the same amount of sugar as quince

Preheat the oven to 180c. Put the whole quinces in a deep roasting tin, add 2.5cm water and cover with foil. Bake for two hours, or until completely soft. Take them out and leave them until they’re cool enough to handle.

Pull the quinces apart and discard the hard core. Any soft bits, including the skin, can be kept, although you might want to get rid of any black bits that you don’t want in the paste. Weigh the soft flesh and the remaining liquid from the tray and put it in a saucepan – preferably with a heavy base – along with roughly the same amount of sugar (if you want to use a bit less, another recipe I consulted suggested three quarters sugar to quince pulp.) Put the pan on a low heat, stir and cook until the paste turns a deep red colour. If you want to blend it, you can do this when the sugar has dissolved using a hand-held blender. Stevie says this cooking process ‘might take an hour’ – it took me an hour and three quarters. It might seem like nothing is happening at first, but it will darken a lot and start to thicken considerably. You just need to stir it occasionally and check it’s not sticking on the bottom of the pan.

When it’s ready, pour it into a tray lined with baking parchment and leave it to set. Wrapped up pieces can be kept in an airtight box.

Adapted from Stevie Parle’s ‘Real Food From Near and Far’

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In my last post I suggested that a batch of rosehip syrup might prove handy with the Christmas gift season approaching. Today I have another homemade present idea, and this one has already been tried and tested on last year’s recipients. They almost all said it was too sweet, so I’ve tweaked the sugar content this year to make it as bitter as any true marmalade lover could wish. The one person who truly loved it last year, Tom’s brother-in-law, sent me a forlon facebook message the day his jar ran out, so apologies to him in advance if he now finds his favourite marmalade unpalatably sharp. Sorry Don.

The genius of this marmalade is the grapefruit and lemon, which contribute the sour element which you get in a traditional marmalade from Seville oranges. Since Seville oranges aren’t available until January and don’t last long, this means your marmalade-making season is extended, theoretically year round. I think of this as a winter thing, though, because of the citrus which are around in the colder months, and slightly more obtusely, because I associate homemade marmalade and grapefruit for breakfast with my family and Christmas time. My mum also introduced me to Campari and grapefruit, which is the drink equivalent of this: clean and reviving and bittersweet.

I plan to post some more recipes in the run up to Christmas for the edible presents I make – there are a few things that always seem well received (there have also been plenty that didn’t work out as I hoped…but I tend to think that chucking a substandard biscuit in the compost is less effort than transporting an unwanted gift set to Oxfam). Some of them are honestly less effort than rosehip syrup or marmalade, although I do like doing that kind of lengthy kitchen work at this time of year. Something about pottering around with the central heating on and laying in stores of things in jars is immensely satisfying.

Orange, grapefruit and lemon marmalade

Makes about 4.5kg (around 12 jars)

2 oranges and 2 grapefruit, weighing 1.3kg (I used 2 1/2 grapefruit to make up the amount)
4 unwaxed lemons
3.6 litres water
2.2 kg sugar

You will also need a huge saucepan, or to be prepared to split the ingredients between two big pans.

Wash the fruit (remember you’ll be eating the peel!) and cut in half. Squeeze out all the juice. Remove the membrane – a bit of determined scraping with a teaspoon should do the job. Cut the peel into quarters and slice the rind widthways into thin slivers. Put the rind in a bowl with the juice and water.

Put the membrane, including pips, in a muslin bag/clean tights/other thin porous material and add to the bowl. Leave this overnight.

The next day, simmer the fruits, with the bag of membrane, in your huge saucepan for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the peel is edibly soft (it must be really soft before the sugar is added, otherwise it will become irredeemably hardened). Make a note of the volume when you start – marking it on a wooden spoon is handy – so you know how much it has reduced by later. Cover the pan for the first half an hour, then uncover and allow the liquid to reduce, eventually to between a third and a half of its original volume.

While the liquid is reducing, warm the sugar in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes and sterilise your jars.

Remove and discard the muslin bag from the pan. Add the warmed sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook until it reaches setting point, which should take around 10 minutes*. Pour the marmalade into the sterilised jars and cover while still hot.

*To check setting point, put a saucer in the fridge until cold. Put a teaspoonful of marmalade onto the cold saucer and put it back in the fridge for a couple of minutes (turn off the marmalade while you do this to prevent it setting too hard). If the marmalade forms a wrinkle when you push it with your finger then it’s ready.
 
Adapted from Darina Allen’s ‘Ballymaloe Cookery Course’
Rose hips, see also Rose hip

Image via Wikipedia

I have a cold again. I feel as if I’ve had a cold constantly since autumn arrived – sometimes it’s been on standby, but it’s always been ready to send me running for the tissues at a moment’s notice. And this time I’m feeling particularly self-pitying about it. Good news, then, that rosehips have twenty times more vitamin C than an orange – according to my Richard Mabey  – and that I had picked a whole stash of them in a more energetic point in the cold lapse.

I made a rosehip syrup last year but found it disappointing on the flavour front. I’ve since had it pointed out to me that I probably picked my hips too early – this may seem blindingly obvious, but like any other fruit, they ripen. While they appear from late August, at first they’ll be hard; later on they’ll soften and have more flavour. You can eat them raw if you want to see how they taste, but avoid the little seeds which are not good for your insides.  Be careful, also, if you’re picking them at the squishy stage: they have tiny inner hairs which will itch like crazy if you get them on your skin. I speak from uncomfortable experience.

This year I used the recipe in Mabey’s book, which is in fact an old Ministry of Food recipe used when citrus fruit was scarce and the aforementioned vitamin C status of rosehips became particularly valuable. It’s more time consuming than the one I used last year, so best to do it on a day you’re planning to stay in, but the results just about capture the flavour – something like a cross between apple and rose. It’s also recommended that you bottle the syrup in small portions as it will only last a couple of weeks once it’s open. Since this recipe yields a lot, you will end up with several small bottles of syrup. In other words, that’s a few Christmas presents sorted.

 

Rosehip syrup

Makes about 750ml

1kg rosehips
900g sugar

Wash and drain the hips (they can be frozen if you don’t want to make the syrup straight away). Bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil and roughly chop the hips in a food processor. Toss them into the boiling water, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Pour everything into a jelly bag or piece of muslin or clean tights and leave it to drip into a bowl until just about all of the liquid has dripped through. Put the hip residue back into the saucepan, add another 750ml boiling water and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Put it back into the jelly bag and let it drip through a second time. Put the first cupful of liquid back through the jelly bag for a final time (to make sure you don’t get any of the tiny itchy hairs in your syrup). Measure the final amount of liquid and put it back into a clean saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce until you have about 750ml left (measuring it first makes this easier to judge). Add 900g sugar and boil for 5 minutes. Pour straight into sterile bottles and seal. Store in a dark cupboard.

The syrup can be used as a cordial or flavouring for milk puddings or ice-cream – the flavour is quite delicate so it needs to be paired with something subtle.

From Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’

After butternut squash dip heaped onto strips of toasted pitta, the main course. It was griddled lamb chops with a fennel and lentil salad, but that was a bit lengthy as a post title, so I’m going to focus instead on the dressing I used. It’s a good one, honestly. And maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I assume if you’re reading a food blog you can grill a lamb chop and make a salad. I forgot to mention in my last post that we also had an aperitif, a little creation of my own inspiration, which we christened the Royale Noir. It’s cava with a generous splash of homemade blackberry vodka at the bottom. It’s probably a bit more potent than is advisable, particularly if you want to do any cooking afterwards.

So, luckily, this is a simple thing to prepare. Halved lemons are griddled on a hot pan until the edges start to char and the resulting juice is squeezed into your dressing; it’s a bit stickier and darker and consequently gives a richer flavour than plain old lemon juice. I have an old issue of the now defunct Waitrose Food Illustrated to thank for this idea, which they say is also good with griddled chicken, fish and halloumi. It makes sense, if you’ve got your griddle pan out, to put something else on it. I’ve got a second-hand Le Creuset thing that weighs as much as a small human and I certainly don’t want the effort of lifting it out of the cupboard to go to waste.

Caramelised lemon dressing

Serves 4ish

2 lemons, halved
5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 garlic clove, crushed
1  tsp honey

Heat your griddle pan until very hot. Brush the cut side of the lemon halves with a little of the olive oil and sear for a few minutes, until they have caramelised golden patches. Leave until they’re cool enough to handle, then squeeze the juice into a cup. Whisk in the remaining olive oil, garlic and honey and season. Voila, doable even while tipsy! You can then drizzle a little of the dressing over whatever it is you’re griddling – I put half of it over the lamb chops as they cooked and the other half on the salad.

prunus spinosa

Image via Wikipedia

The bad news is it’s too late now for your sloe gin to be ready in time for Christmas. The good news is, that means you won’t feel obliged to give any of it away as Christmas presents. Hooray! You’ll probably be in more need of it in January, anyway. In fact I recently learned that if you make your own booze by mixing vodka with blackberries, elderberries, sloes etc. in a jar, leaving it in a dark place for a few months, and shaking it every day, then you have made ‘tincture’. I.e., it’s medicinal. If you want to make it more drinkable, you have to add a considerable amount of sugar, which no doubt reduces its healing benefits somewhat, but the link is clear.

If you live in Oxford, plentiful sloes are available in Brasenose woods (at the bottom of Shotover). If you don’t, I’m afraid I can’t help you, except to say that the branches of the sloe have lots of sharp thorny bits which are apparently slightly poisonous, so avoid getting scratched by them if you can. And don’t eat the berries raw, they make your mouth taste all furry.

It goes without saying that you should not use your finest gin for this – any nuances of taste will be smothered by the sugar and fruit. I used Tesco’s value range, but I’ve heard good things about Lidl gin in this context.

Sloe gin

Makes approx. 2 x 70cl. bottles

700g sloes
350g sugar
2 bottles gin

You will need 2 large kilner jars, or similar. Sterilise them by washing them in hot soapy water and drying them in a low oven. In the meantime, wash and dry the sloes and prick each one several times with a (sterilised) needle. This is the tedious bit. I read that you could bypass it by putting the sloes in the freezer so the skins burst, but it didn’t work for me. So put the radio on, or listen to a podcast or something. When all the berries have tiny holes in them, divide them between the  warm jars, cover each with half the sugar, and top up with a bottle of gin each (keep the gin bottles to reuse for the final product if you like). After 3 months the gin will be ready to drink – apparently it benefits from being kept for longer, but I’m not able to comment on that. You should shake it every day for the first couple of weeks or so and then whenever you remember after that. Keep it in a dark, cool place.

When the time is up, strain out the berries and pour the finished gin either back into the original gin bottles or into something prettier (the rather cute Christmassy bottle in the picture came from Ikea).

From Darina Allen’s ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’

As I enigmatically alluded in my last post, today I have for you a recipe for a quince cake. This is a puddingy sort of cake, with a close-textured sponge at the bottom, a layer of ground almonds above that, a wheel of golden poached quinces above that, and on top of that a cinnamon and sugar sponge layer. We ate it warm from the oven with a splodge of creme fraiche, which I can highly recommend. The leftovers went to work with Tom, so I don’t know how it fares the next day, though I can’t imagine anything bad coming of sponge and quince and almonds.

It’s not as difficult to make as it may sound – if you’ve baked your quince, you’re away. If you haven’t, it will take a few hours, but I think this is a nice lazy Sunday cake anyway. Alternatively, this recipe came from a Stephanie Alexander plum cake, so you could use any sort of bakeable, cinnamon and nut compatible fruit in place of the quince (i.e. most autumnal fruit).

 

Quince and cinnamon cake

Serves 8-12 (i.e. makes one big cake)

You will need an unusually large cake tin for this recipe – if you don’t have one, you may need to split the mixture between two tins. It rises a lot!

for the topping:
60g butter
110g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs

for the cake:
180g butter, soft
150g caster sugar
135g plain flour
135g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
2 eggs
70ml milk
60g ground almonds
1-2 baked quinces, in wedges

Preheat the oven to 180c and lightly grease a 26cm springform tin, or 2 smaller springform tins.

Make the topping by melting the butter and stirring in the cinnamon and sugar. Allow this mixture to cool a bit before whisking the eggs and stirring in.

Cream the butter and sugar, then stir in the flours and salt. Mix the eggs with the milk, beat lightly and add to the flour mix to make a soft dough. If your eggs were quite small and the mix is stiff, add a touch more milk. Spoon the batter into the tin/s and sprinkle over the ground almonds. Arrange the quince segments in a circular pattern on top and spoon over the cinnamon topping. Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

From Stephanie Alexander’s ‘The Cook’s Companion

Champion quince

Image via Wikipedia

We had quinces at work, great big yellow-green ones, from Italy I think. Quinces are one of the seasonal benchmarks for me. Blackberries into apples into cycling in gloves into Sunday lunches into sloe picking into quince. I love the turning of the seasons, when you feel all optimistic about what’s to come, and autumn is the best one (because spring into summer often doesn’t quite happen, and autumn into winter I’m sometimes too cold to appreciate). Because quinces take so long to cook, they’re a good initiation into the more warming, slow and gentle food we start to eat as it gets darker and colder, and they have the added bonus of making indoors smell like a lovely place to potter around.

There’s a whole section on what to do with a glut of quinces in Stevie Parle’s book, ‘Real Food From Near and Far’ (which is a great book, full of interesting recipes and super aesthetically pleasing). I don’t think four quinces counts as a glut, but I was drawn to the recipe for baked quinces. It involves half a bottle of white wine, just enough sugar, and a lot of bay leaves. I actually got scared and halved the amount of bay leaves. That was plenty for me, but maybe I’m just unadventurous? Anyway, it turns out that a stash of aromatic, golden, tender, faintly bay-fragranced quince is a very good thing to have in your fridge. I’ve been eating it with greek yoghurt and on porridge for breakfast, it was great topped with an almond heavy crumble mix, and today I made a cake with a spiral of quince segments under a cinnamon-sugar top. But that’s another recipe.

Baked quince

2 large quinces
1/2 bottle white wine
150g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
5-10 bay leaves
4 cloves
a thumb sized piece of root ginger, peeled and chopped

Preheat the oven to 150c.

Peel and core the quinces and cut into wedges. Put all the ingredients into a deep baking tray or casserole dish, cover tightly and bake for an hour or two, until tender all the way through.

From Stevie Parle’s ‘Real Food From Near and Far’

I went to visit my parents last week – well, actually, I went to visit the cutest new puppy in the world, Teazel – and came back with a huge carrier bag of blackcurrants (and some over-enthusiastic dog inflicted chew marks, but I forgive her). I remember being struck by a blackcurrant leaf sorbet I came across at Ballymaloe, which made me realise that the leaf itself is almost an echo of the scent of the fruit;  it smells of crouching to collect the berries with a plastic container and the sun on your back, verdant and winey. If the leaf sorbet tastes of the promise of future harvest, with a bag of ripe currants I wanted a sorbet that would capture the taste of late summer bounty. I wanted to distil pure blackcurrant essence into a sorbet. And, not to blow my own trumpet, but I succeeded. This thing is so heady with flavour it’s difficult to eat very much of it – a bit like drinking neat Ribena, but less sweet and with a more beautiful colour. Blackcurrants rival beetroot for the most lovely of food hues, I think (and the most messy stains left in the kitchen).

So most of the credit for this actually belongs to Roger Verge, whose recipe for raspberry sorbet I used as my guideline. The fruit isn’t cooked, so it tastes fresher, as if it’s just been picked. Enough sugar is added to enhance the taste without messing about with it – I increased the amount only slightly from the raspberry recipe, so it’s not too sweet (but neither is it sour enough to make your mouth pucker). The perfect sophisticated finish to a summery meal.

Blackcurrant sorbet

Serves 10-12

1kg blackcurrants
juice of 2 lemons
300g caster sugar, or to taste

First, I highly recommend putting on an apron. There will be purple juice everywhere. Next, puree the blackcurrants in a blender – don’t worry about topping and tailing them as the next stage will remove any debris. Press the puree through a sieve, getting as much as possible out. This will involve some quite hard work with a wooden spoon.

Add the sugar and lemon juice and whisk to dissolve. Taste to check the sugar levels – remember it will taste less sweet when frozen, so you want it to be a tiny bit sweeter than you’d ideally like.

Churn the sorbet in an ice-cream machine until fairly firm – I found it didn’t freeze as much as ice-cream, but the final texture was still good. Decant into a tub and freeze until solid. It doesn’t seem to need long out of the freezer before becoming scoopable, which is a bonus – as is the fact that, because of the robustness of the flavour, it should last longer than a normal sorbet without the taste dulling.

Adapted from Roger Verge’s ‘Cuisine of the Sun’ via Ballymaloe