Michaelmas Day at The Quince Tree


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Michaelmas Day  at The Quince Tree and the michaelmas daisies are blooming,

There are mare's tails in the sky, cirrus uncinus,

and the quinces are ready.

They are particularly fine this year. Free from blemishes and smooth-skinned. The finest specimens are, alas, out of reach. Too high even for my super duper fruit picking device which you can see in action here. To be honest though, there are more than enough.

 I see I posted a to do list in that post from two years ago (I had no quinces at all last year). My to do list for this week is exactly the same; buy sugar, buy more jars and make quince jelly.

Yesterday I cooked a few of my quinces. First I washed off the fluff using a brush to get into the creases at the flower end of the fruits. Then I peeled them whole before quartering and coring. Taking the core out is very hard work, cookbooks often advise halving the fruit and scooping out the core. I find this impossible. It is easier to remove the core if you quarter them first. Even so I still managed to stab myself in the hand. The quince is not user-friendly.

You can see in the picture below how granular the flesh of the quince is. It retains some of this graininess even after cooking which is why my children are not terribly keen on them.

I poached the quince quarters in sugar syrup until soft. Cookbooks will tell you that quinces take a long time to soften turning a beautiful garnet red in the process. This is certainly true of the Turkish quinces I used to buy before I had my tree, but my quinces seem to soften very quickly without becoming red. A bit of a shame really.

Some of them became so soft I mashed them into a purée which will be lovely with thick yogurt or cream. I ate the whole slices with some of the syrup. Nobody else wanted any...sigh.

It occurred to me later that as we had eaten chilli con carne for supper I had in fact 'dined on mince and slices of quince'. I had no runcible spoon though.

Cheat's Millionaire's Shortbread


Thursday, 26 September 2013

I pre-ordered it.

 It will arrive today.

 It left Birmingham at 6.58 this morning.

But it isn't here yet.

I hope it will arrive before I've eaten all of the millionaire's shortbread.

Cheat's Millionaire's Shortbread

Make some shortbread by rubbing 6oz of plain flour and 4oz of butter together to make a crumbly mixture. Mix in 2oz sugar. Tip the mixture into a greased tin about 6½ '' by 10''. Press firmly. Bake at 160°c (140°c) for about 20 mins until pale gold. Cool.

This is the cheat's part. Open a jar of caramel sauce*, get a teaspoon and eat a spoonful or two, lick the lid and then spread the rest on top of the shortbread. Put it into the fridge to firm up a bit. Use your index finger to clean the jar out thoroughly.

Put  a small bowl over a pan of simmering water. Break 200g of chocolate into pieces, put in the bowl and melt slowly over the simmering water. If you add some cream the mixture will become glossy and less likely to crack when cutting. I added about 3 tablespoons which was not enough to prevent cracking.

Spread the chocolate over the caramel. Sprinkle the chocolate with sea salt if you want to be on trend.

When the chocolate has set firm cut into small squares. It is extremely sweet so don't be tempted to make them too big -remember all the caramel you snaffled earlier.

*Any caramel sauce will do; Merchant Gourmet do a dulce de leche, Bonne Maman do a Confiture de Caramel and you can buy ready caramelised condensed milk.

And behold, as I am about to hit publish a man in a van pulls up in front of my house with a parcel for me.
Now I have millionaire's shortbread and Nigel.

Pie- Along


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

On Sunday Ali and I had a pie-along. Quite by chance. No planning. I happened to post some pie-in-progress pictures on Instagram and whilst standing in a field watching sons play rugby Ali saw them. (Smartphones make waiting around for kids much more bearable). She was planning to make the same pie later. It's this pie .

Alicia's Sour Cream Apple Pie. Except I used crème fraîche instead of sour cream because it was slightly cheaper and came in a bigger tub. It's essentially the same stuff.

I used some little, locally grown, rosy-fleshed apples which were being ignored in the fruit bowl. They looked pretty but their flavour was dull. Alicia recommends a sharp apple for this pie and I will heed her advice next time as it needed a bit of zing.

I used soft brown sugar in the topping which also contains butter, flour and cinnamon.

It was a very good pie. It was also a pie worthy of experimentation. I'm thinking plums, maybe with ground almonds instead of flour in the filling and topping, perhaps some flaked almonds on the top. And what about gooseberries, or rhubarb with ginger instead of cinnamon? But before I try all those I will have to make a quince pie.

A pie made extra delicious by the knowledge that it was also being made and enjoyed by Ali and her family. Social media has its faults but the sharing of pie is not one of them.

By the way you might have noticed my new buttons on my sidebar which link to my email address and the social media I use. My thanks to Nina at Tabiboo for helping me install them -much fiddling around with html code but not as difficult as I feared.

The Colour Collaborative: September ~ Earth


Thursday, 19 September 2013

I'm taking a slightly oblique look at this month's theme. Instead of thinking about the colours of the earth itself I'm focussing on the colours of things which come out of the earth*. Roots and tubers. Now is the season for them. I love root veg, full of nutrition, cheap, tasty and colourful too.

I grabbed my basket and headed to the farm shop to buy brightest coloured root veg I could find. There I found bunches of red radishes, fat carrots, ruby beetroot with their leaves attached, purple and yellow swedes (rutabaga) and pink sweet potatoes from America. There were also parsnips and celeriac both of which I love but were just a bit too monochrome for my purposes (I did, however, buy a 25 kilo sack of potatoes for £4.95. At 20p a kilo I'd have been daft not to).

First I made Carrot and Radish Pickles. Recipe here. I didn't use the three types of vinegar called for, I used half a cup (4 fl oz) of white wine vinegar and half a cup of cider vinegar. The pickles only keep a couple of weeks but they are easy to use up. They are great in a cheese sandwich or with smoked fish and they were really easy to make and look fab.

However, next time I make this I will leave out the coriander (cilantro) despite its prettiness in the finished pickle, because it quickly turned brown and unpleasant.

Beetroot and Apple Relish
Next I dealt with the beetroot. I made a variation on the apple and mint relish here adding diced, cooked beetroot and mixing it with crème fraîche.

And I used some of the beetroot raw in  a beetroot, carrot and apple salad. 

The sweet potatoes were tunred into Tom's favourite soup -sweet potato and coconut. This soup is just as delicious made with carrots, pumpkin or squash.

 I used the swede and the rest of the carrots to make a three root mash with some potatoes to top a shepherd's pie. I simply cooked all three veg together in a saucepan until soft, then mashed with a lump of butter. I threw some chopped rosemary into the lovely orange mash for contrast and to complement the flavour of the lamb.

And after that I thought of all the other things I could have done with my roots. I could have turned the carrots and beetroot into vibrantly coloured, health-giving juices, I could have roasted them until sweet and sticky, made them into tarts, put them on pizzas, made fabulous salads with nuts and tangy cheeses to balance their sweetness. I could have made warming spiced stews and curries and moist cakes. 
What's your favourite thing to do with a root?

*Thanks Annie for the suggestion.

Don't forget to visit the rest of The Colour Collaborative and see what their take on this month's theme is.

What is The Colour Collaborative? All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways. We're excited by where this might take us, click on the logos below to find out!

Quick and Easy Preserves


Saturday, 14 September 2013

 I like to make preserves, and I often make lots of a preserve at once. I prepare masses of fruit, wash and sterilise lots of jars, wield a large preserving pan, faff about with a jelly bags. It's not hard but it can take a lot of time and effort. Those things may be the very things which put you off preserving. But there are easier ways. Get yourself a copy of Simone Sekers' Quick and Easy Preserves.

It's one of my favourite books and I have made many recipes from it. These are all recipes for small batches of things none of which take very long, some only minutes, and all of which are a delicious addition to your storecupboard providing brightness and interest to everyday meals.There are pickles, relishes, chutneys, jams, jellies, drinks, flavoured oils and vinegars, mustards, herb blends and potted meat and fish.

Since I bought this book in 1994 I have made;

Superfast peach and apricot preserve - a brilliant conserve-type jam made out of a tin each of peaches and apricots. Absolutely fabulous and very easy.

Seville orange jelly - marmalade without the bits which makes an excellent glaze for your Christmas ham.

Summer berry jam - made with a bag of frozen summer berries and wonderful as a filling for a Victoria sponge.

Potted herb cheese - a delicious mixture of cheese, cream and herbs for spreading on hot toast or crackers.

Fruit flavoured spirits -this is a basic formula for making drinks like damson gin. Invaluable

Gingerette -a wonderful spiced drink made of orange and lemon juice, chillies, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. to be drunk hot on bonfire night or after carol singing, or best of all added to whisky when you have a cold.

Bread and butter pickles - delicious pickled cucumber and onions

Smoked haddock paste -cooked smoked haddock mixed with softened butter, gorgeous in a baked spud.

Fresh apple and mint relish -see below

Mrs Beeton's excellent pickle -see below

Tapenade - see below

And then there are all the recipes I haven't made yet but will do one day;

Fresh corn relish
Cumbrian sauce - redcurrant jelly, mustard, ginger and orange juice for eating with cold meats.
Preserved lemons and olives
Eliza Acton's groseillée -raspberry and gooseberry jam
Ruby orange marmalade
Christmas raisins -raisins soaked in sugar and rum
Rhubarb, orange and ginger jam
Spiced beef
Aromatic herbaceous seasoning -a blend of dried herbs, spices garlic and lemon rind
Spiced butter for sweet dishes, spiced butter for savoury dishes
Bulldog mustard
Huile de Provence
Chilli and sherry vinegar

This is Mrs Beeton's excellent pickle which is sliced cooking apples, cucumber and Spanish onion covered with a mixture of soy sauce, sherry and vinegar. It is supposed to last a year. I made this last week and it tastes a bit rough and raw at the moment. I have hopes of if mellowing.

Mrs Beeton's Excellent Pickle from Quick and Easy Preserves by Simone Sekers

Thinly slice 1 large cucumber, 2 small cooking apples and 1 Spanish onion. Layer them in a large jar (I used an 800g mayonnaise jar). Sprinkle a bit of cayenne pepper between the layers.

Mix about 150 ml each of dry sherry (I used a mix of dry and amontillado because I didn't have enough dry), cider vinegar and soy sauce. Pour over the vegetables.

I store mine in the fridge.

Below is tapenade. The recipe in Quick and Easy Preserves had sun-dried tomatoes in it. I didn't have any but it is just as good without.

Tapenade -slightly adapted from Quick and Easy Preserves by Simone Sekers
It is easiest made in a food processor.
Throw in 200g pitted black olives, 50g sun-dried tomatoes (or leave these out and make up quantities with more olives), the contents of a small tin of anchovies in oil, 2 garlic cloves, crushed, 1 heaped tablespoon of capers, a teaspoon of French mustard, 1 teaspoon of brandy and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz to a coarse paste.

Delicious on oatcakes or tossed into pasta.

And this is fresh apple and mint relish to which I added a chunk of cucumber which needed using up. Fab in a cheese sandwich or made into a sauce by adding mayonnaise or crème fraîche and served with mackerel (smoked or not).

Fresh Apple, Cucumber and Mint Relish  adapted from Quick and Easy Preserves by Simone Sekers

Put 2 peeled and cored cooking apples, about a third of a cucumber cut into chunks, half a red onion and a large handful of mint in the food processor and chop coarsely (or do it by hand). Mix with 1 tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar. Add a pinch of ground allspice and a pinch of salt plus a grinding of black pepper. 
Allow an hour before serving it and store in the fridge. Use within a week.

September Posy


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

September's posy comes to you courtesy of the Charlecote Park farm shop. These dahlias are what I would have growing in my garden at this time of year if only I could be bothered to be a proper gardener. The shop had buckets and buckets of them along with piles and piles of eccentric squashes.

Meeting Ali at a rainwashed NT property is becoming a habit. A very good habit. The weather doesn't put a stop to a good natter after all.

In the gardens there were ancient mulberry trees. The fruit was ripening, we scrumped a few and I thought about planting a mulberry tree to keep my quince company.

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