Knowing what is in season

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We were sitting around the table exchanging funny stories, some slightly humiliating ones;  a shopkeeper having loudly denounced our ignorance to the whole shop, when asked for something clearly to them, but not us, out of season. There are lots of ingredients we have grown up with that we intrinsically know which season they belong to, but there are the newer and  stranger ones that can out fox us,  even leaving us wondering how to choose a good one. How do you choose a good pomegranate? What do you do with quinces?

The answer to the first question is that a pomegranate should have a firm and leathery skin, not squashable plus it should be heavy with fruit juice, similar characteristics of a good grapefruit. The answer to the second question is partly in the last blog. If you have already made the quince tart in that blog and you still have some quinces left I have plenty more suggestions. The delight of this season for quinces is that they keep well for ages in a bowl and preserved in various ways can be enjoyed a lot longer.p1050256

Yes, I’ve been making my way through a pile of quinces and now have a jam jar crisis. My other crisis was not being truly successful making quince jelly, the most essential element of it being a well set jelly which I failed to achieve first time around. But I have now mastered it thanks to the help of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, which truly is what it says, with a fulsome variety of recipes on nearly every ingredient imaginable. On a rainy Saturday with an enthusiastic quince aficionado we made jewel like jelly and then used the discarded ochre pulp from the fruit to make membrillo or quince paste. A great thing to have as a standby ingredient as well as a gift. We got carried away and bottled spiced quinces too and with more pulp going begging made a nutty quince cake. All thanks to Stephanie, the Elizabeth David of Australian cookery writing  with an impressive chef’s career . A national  treasure in Australia, need I say more. The following recipes are adapted from her iconic book.

For Quince Jelly you wilimg_4915l need:  7 quinces, 3 limes, granulated sugar.

Wash the quinces, rubbing off the down on the skin. Chop roughly, don’t worry about the cores or skin, and then blitz in a food processor, to roughly chop. Put half the quinces in a pot or pressure cooker. Just cover with water and cook until the fruit is soft, about one hour or 30 minutes in a pressure cooker. Next strain the liquid through a sieve lined with muslin or a clean J cloth.  To the strained liquid add the remaining chopped fruit plus the limes, peeled and sliced. Cook again until the second batch of fruit is soft and then strain and retain the juice.

Measure the juice and stir in the same weight of sugar. Gently heat to dissolve and then briskly boil, skimming off any foam that appears. When the jelly reaches 104C -105C it is ready for bottling. To get rid of the last bits of foam swirl in a  bit of butter, hazelnut sized.img_4933

Quince and nut cake made with  250g quince pulp, 125g butter, 85g brown sugar, 1 egg, 180g plain flour,1 tsp bi-carb, 1 tsp each cinnamon and allspice, 75g chopped nuts of choice.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light, then beat in the quince pulp. Make sure any rough bits are first removed, eg, cores. Add the egg and then the flour, spices and nuts. Stir it all together and then pour into a prepared 20cm cake tin. Bake for 30 minutes at 180C. Serve with some quince jelly and crème fraîche.

For more ideas about cooking in season visit the course pages on the web site