Tag Archives: Quince

To NaNo or Not to NaNo, That is the Question

croppedquinceOctober again. And, a lot of my writing friends are talking about NaNo. And no, we’re not talking about Mork and Mindy. NaNo is short for NaNoWriMo which is short for National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve never heard of this, you really ought to check it out. Click this for a link to the official NaNo website.

You might be looking at the photo to the left and wondering why a post about NaNoWriMo is illustrated with four lovely quince. I don’t have just four. It’s more like FOUR HUNDRED quince. It feels like it at least. They are here to illustrate that I have many things I need and want to do, quince being the most sweet-smelling of them, that compete with my writing time.

My quince trees always ripen in October. This year it’s a little earlier than usual. I’ve already put up three batches of jelly, poached a few, and made membrillo. I’ve given some to others who appreciate their subtle charm and beauty, and I have plans for the rest. But, these plans take time. You can’t just toss them in the freezer in a baggy to wait for a more opportune moment. The fuzz must be washed off, the ends trimmed and the fruit cooked, peeled, chopped or whatever. I’m shredding some for more quince liquor (a tasty hit for my drinking friends.) I’m going to pressure can some for savory uses throughout the year. My canner can only handle so many jars at a time, my hands can only peel or cut so many of these hard gems a day.

The ever-present question of time management and whether I can juggle everything going on while doing a NaNo project. Nearly 2,000 words a day don’t appear on the screen without some thoughtful planning. And that has to include things like quince, laundry, cooking, parenting, being married, etc. I’m also taking a night class every Tuesday that requires preparation. While it is a writing class, its focus is on editing and refining. I am supposed to be editing and re-writing. I fill my writing time with criticism and doubt over every word choice and plot twist. And minutiae like a character’s hair and eye color shifting from one chapter to another. Tracking and changing all of that is hard, time-consuming, and sometimes boring. I am not loving editing my own work.

NaNo is all about the abandonment of self-criticism, the free-form crazed writing that gets done at break-neck speed with little regard to punctuation or repetition. No editing, no re-reading, just writing and getting that first crappy draft out there. It’s a completely different process than editing a rough into something more polished.

NaNo is a distraction from that hard work I am doing on a novel whose arc is known and familiar. It’s filled with the unknown and the process of meeting new characters, new plot twists and new ideas. New words. Fun.

To NaNo or not to NaNo….

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Quince Liqueur–with the help of some friends

Those of you who know me well may be wondering about this latest project, because if you know me well, you know I don’t drink booze. You probably also know that if quince is involved, there is no question about my participation in such a project. I have blogged quite a bit about this marvelous fruit. Last fall, we had a huge crop of quince, and I was running out of ideas. Even an ardent lover of quince can only eat so much quince jelly, jam and chutney. We can only give away so much of it to friends and family. As I googled quince and what other people did with it, I came across a home made quince liqueur recipe somewhere. After following the directions of cleaning a jar, cutting up fruit and covering it with vodka, I put the jar in the pantry. I remembered to shake it every once in a while, but it got shuffled around enough that I kinda forgot all about it.

20130602-121254.jpgThat is, I forgot about it until Bill came out of the pantry holding up the jar, suggesting I should throw whatever was inside away. The top layer looked sort of gross, but all the fruit was well covered with vodka. I did an immediate plea for suggestions on Facebook and people responded right away. Booze is a preservative and, with the correct seal, the vodka should be fine.

I proceeded to filter the fruit through a coffee filter to drain the vodka, and out came this golden liquid.

20130602-121453.jpg

It smelled divine–like quince vodka. I had it in my head to make the liqueur but couldn’t remember where the heck I had found the original idea. It turns out that there are recipes all over the place, so I followed the suggestion of a friend to add simple syrup a half cup at a time until it seemed right. Since I had quince syrup in the pantry, I decided to up the quinceness of the drink by adding quince syrup instead of plain simple syrup. I added half a cup, but it didn’t seem like it was sweet enough (I didn’t really think a teaspoon was going to send me into a frenzy of uncontrolled drinking…it didn’t) so I added another half cup to use the jar of syrup I had opened and felt like it was sweet enough, and boozy. Now, I have to admit, I did this all by smell and a tiny tiny taste. Not knowing how sweet liqueur is “supposed” to be, I left it as is. I figured my taste testers could let me know if I need to add more next time.

20130602-122014.jpgThe finished product has the same amber jewel tones of my quince jelly, except it is liquid. My plan is to figure out a dessert that features the quince liqueur. Maybe a different take on tiramisu–soaking the lady fingers in the liqueur instead of espresso and layering it with a lime mousse. We discovered that quince and lime make a terrific combination a few years ago, and….oh…yeah…I just remembered. I have leftover lime quince marmalade, too. I see something coming together. A trifle with a twist? Candied lime peel as a garnish? Hmmmmmmm….

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It’s Quince Time

20121023-195933.jpgI blogged about quinces last year, but this noble and much ignored fruit deserves a yearly mention. There simply is nothing else that smells like quince. It has been described as a mixture of apple and pear with overtones of honey, and that is probably as close as you can get without actually experiencing quince yourself–but it is much better than that. I typically cook up the fruit and make a clear fruit juice for jelly. Used to be that was all I made with quince–Jelly. The yellow fruit is pretty enough, but it doesn’t look like much to begin with. And, while it is cooking, the house smells divine. I sometimes go outside just so I can come back in to the fresh smell of it. Once cooked, the liquid turns a rich rosé color,and the jelly looks jewel-like in jars.

The foreground tree was so heavily laden that it bent over to one side. As I picked the fruit, the branches lifted up off the ground a couple of feet, but the main trunk of the tree is still quiet askew. We will need to stake it and do some clever pruning to get it back into its upright position. The tree in the back is at the top of a little hill in our orchard. It took about an hour of going up and down a ladder to get most of the fruit off. I ran into trouble with the hawthorn tree next to it and gave up on a couple of pieces. After all–I already had nearly 100 pounds picked, and I don’t do so well on ladders.

20121023-201500.jpgSo now I have these two boxes of quince to process. If you look closely, you can see the one box has fruit that is more pear shaped, while the other box is a bit more rounded. Last year, I kept the two varieties completely separated in the cooking process. This year, I am going to do some mixtures to see if the combination of the two creates a more complex flavor profile. In addition to regular old plain jelly, I plan on repeating the experiment of quince-lime marmalade from last year, and adding in membrillo to my repertoire for the first time. I have plenty to experiment with!

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Lime-Quince Marmalade Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

The other day I was doing that clicking thing that happens when I look at blogs. I read a blog, click on the links to read another blog, and another. Pretty soon, I’ve read a couple of dozen blogs and find myself forgetting what it was I was doing in the first place. I stumbled upon this recipe for cardamom shortbread bars with marmalade. I’ve written about cookies more than once on this blog, and, I guess, I have a particular ‘thing’ for cookies. So, when I saw the words cardamom and shortbread together I couldn’t help but print out the recipe for some testing.

As also happens, my dreams are influenced by what I read during the day. I woke up the next morning with a variation on the recipe running through my head. It really is a complicated mix up of thoughts that brought me to it, but between the recipe on the blog, the plans I had for making quince jelly and my husband reminding me how much he wants me to save some of the quince juice for a drink we make, I ended up with a new idea.

The drink we make takes quince juice and freshly squeezed limes and sugar. It’s nothing more than limeade plus quince juice, but it tastes unbelievably good and is rather exotic. I found it in a Persian cookbook when I was desperately looking for something to do with some extra quince juice I had made once I had hit the wall with making jelly. Since it was a Persian recipe to begin with, it seemed to me that the cardamom shortbread would go with a lime-quince marmalade. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any recipes out there for lime-quince marmalade, but I found one for lime marmalade. Substituting most of the water with quince juice, I made a lime-quince marmalade jelly like substance that tastes an awful lot like the drink with a heady lime kick to it. (It’s quite yummy on English muffins.)

By following the cookie part of the recipe linked above and using my new concoction instead of the grapefruit marmalade, I got a cookie that would fit in on a plate of Christmas cookies (pretty colors) and also fill in for a dessert at the end of a middle eastern dinner. I’d never had to grate frozen cookie dough before, so I thought it would be fun to do a time-lapse of the process. This brief clip shows the whole process once the dough has been frozen for two hours until they are put away. This video shows the way the cookies are put together.

Lime-Quince Marmalade
8 Cups quince Juice
2 pounds limes
one cup water
9-10 cups sugar
14 cup canning jars, lids and rings, processed and hot

Carefully grate the lime peel off the limes, removing the green part with as little as the white pith beneath. I used a regular grater for this and then chopped up the pieces. Juice the limes.

Put the quince juice, the lime peels, the lime juice and the water in a heavy non-reactive stock pot or dutch oven. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for two hours. This softens the peel and infuses the quince juice with yummy limeness.

Bring to a boil, add the sugar and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium and stir, stir, stir, stir. Just keep standing there stirring. For a long time. Until the mixture comes to 219° F. Pour into waiting hot jars and allow to seal at room temp.

Quince Juice

Lime Peels

Quince Juice
Finding quinces is going to be the tricky part. Quinces are a fruit that have a brief season and show up in the stores for just a week or two in October. To make quince juice, you just wash off all the fuzz, quarter the fruit and toss it in a huge pot. Add enough water that it shows through the fruit but is not floating, bring to a boil, cover and cook until the fruit is moosh. Strain well. If you have a jelly bag, you can use that. I usually put it through a colander first, then a fine mesh sieve, and finally a sieve lined in wet cheesecloth. I’m not too picky about it being perfectly clear, though. If you want to make super clear jelly, then doing an over-night hang with a jelly bag will keep it from getting any cloudiness.

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Ambrosia from the Orchard

One bowl, about a third of the total harvest. These are "Smyrna" quinces.

Last year’s quince harvest was lame–a singular fruit that I think I forgot about in the depths of the fridge. In the linked post, I was bemoaning the lack of quince while still dealing with the remaining jars of “not quite jelly” from the 2009 harvest. This year’s was more like the one in 2009, giving some credence to the “every-other-year” theory of fruit production.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to deal with three huge bowls of quinces this weekend, but I also didn’t want to watch the fruit drop to the ground and get eaten and stomped to mush by the deer. We already lost a bunch of apples that way, and I didn’t want that to happen to this precious fruit.

It used to be every orchard had a quince tree, but the fruit has gone out of favor. I’ve seen small quantities of PCC in the fall, but it’s never available out of season. The rise of commercial pectin has made making jelly extremely easy and the humble quince unnecessary for the process. Before “Sure-Jell” and “Pomona’s Pectin” the home jelly maker had to rely upon quince or very long hours of cooking to make jelly. A quince or two in the jelly pot would provide enough jell-factor for just about any fruit. And still does, but who needs a quince when you have a sure-fire way of making jelly without it?

According to mythology, the quince was a gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Thus quinces are widely represented in Greek paintings and mosaics as a symbol of commitment and fertility. An Athenian wedding tradition called for friends and family to toss quinces into the bridal chariot after a wedding. Some scholars even believe that quince may have been the “forbidden fruit” that Eve fed to Adam.

After washing, the fruit is cut into chunks and put into a big pot to cook until soft.

A number of people have told me they’ve never had quince before. I thought, “I’ll make a bunch of jelly and put it in small jars so I can let more people taste this stuff. I’ll make converts. People will rise up and demand quince trees all over the world!” Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find 8oz jars at the store! Seriously? I am pretty sure people do not want a quart of any kind of jelly, no matter how delicious. I went through my stock and found about a dozen 1/2pt jars and eventually ended up ordering more online. Turns out that the best place to get canning jars is Ace Hardware.

I have more than five gallons of quince juice from two different trees. I’ll put at least half of that into jelly–made the old-fashioned “add sugar and cook for a long time” method. The other half will stay in the freezer and be turned into the Persian drink I mentioned in the blog post linked at top. I finished cooking the last batch of fruit just a little while ago, and the heady scent fills the house in a most delicious way.

The juice is strained and then cooked in small, four cup batches, to make jelly. I use about 3/4 C sugar per cup of juice and take it to 219 degrees F. It's about half an hour of standing and stirring.


The jelly is poured into hot, clean jars and left to seal.


The final color of the jelly is magical. The fruit is yellow, gets brownish when it oxidizes, and then turns into a lovely jewel.

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Happy Accidents Ala Mode

A handful of grapes and a singular quince.

Last year’s quince harvest was astounding. I don’t know how a laundry basket compares to a real bushel or peck, but we had a couple of laundry baskets last year. That’s a whole lot of quince. This year’s harvest has been quite the opposite. Given the huge quantity last year, I was understandably overwhelmed at the prospect of cleaning, cutting, cooking and juicing them all. I found a few recipes to use where the whole fruit was incorporated, but I resorted to jelly making for the bulk.

I made, I believe 32 pints of jelly. Might have been more. One batch got left to sit over night before I added the sugar and it was turned into a “Quince Wine Jelly” from the resulting mini-fermentation it received due to my negligence. I froze some syrup that makes a deliciously unique Persian drink when mixed with lime juice and seltzer. A couple of the batches of jelly I made turned out to be more syrup than jelly. Making it in small four- cup amounts is really the way to go, but I was beyond ready to be done with the whole mess when I dumped more than three times that into the jelly pot and declared it good. It never jelled. I stuck the resulting liquid in jars hoping time would make it stiffen up. A year later, I have several pints still sitting on the shelf waiting to be re-cooked in smaller batches. To be redone.

My mother-in-law's handwriting makes the jelly much more attractive. One of my non-jelled jars of tasty goodness.

Re-cooking jelly requires opening and emptying the jars, washing the jars and purchasing new seals. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten to that little project yet. Enter a box of fruit and veggies from Full Circle farm–a local CSA to which my in-laws were lucky to win a subscription. With our own apple and pear trees bearing heavily this year, I wasn’t exactly excited to get a bunch of pears, apples, nectarines and peaches all at the same time. When I’m faced with a bunch of fruit, I tend to defend myself by making pies. They require a lot of fruit all at once and you don’t generally have to worry about the jell factor.

One of our favorite pies is from a Sunset cookbook. You make a pie crust and bake it. Then, you fill the crust with fresh nectarine slices, raw, and berries–blackberries, bumbleberries whatever you might have. Then you take more berries, sugar and water and make a heated syrup thickened with cornstarch that you pour over the raw nectarines as a blanching glaze of sorts. You pop this in the fridge to let the berry sugar blend set for a few hours. Then, you slice and eat. It’s very simple, and the raw nectarines retain a freshness that cooked fruit does not.

I only had a bag of Remlinger Farm’s frozen mixed berries, and I decided that tossing them with the nectarines would result in a blechy mashup. Frozen berries work great in smoothies and are not at all pretty to look at when defrosted. I’m not exactly sure how I happened on this idea, but the fact that the non-jelly in my cupboard popped into mind. Why make a new syrup when I already had lots of it? I had Bill find a pint of it while I cut up the nectarines. Then, we heated up the syrup and I tossed in a couple of cups of frozen berries which almost all immediately melted into the syrup to create a quince based berry syrup. I had to leave right then, so Bill was ordered to add “some cornstarch” and pour the resulting hot liquid over the nectarines.

Evidently, unjelled jelly does not re-jell when you reheat it and add cups of berries to it. The cornstarch wasn’t quite enough, so after three hours in the fridge it was a nectarine and berry soup in crust. We spooned the resulting glop for dessert and dolloped some vanilla ice cream on top. Turns out, the filling was tastier than it ever had been with the regular Sunset recipe–jelled or not. The underlying base of quince syrup added a honey-like sweetness that matched up with the tartness of the berries with an unbeatable flavor. I would have to say this might be the best tasting pie I’ve made in a long, long while. It was that good.

Waffles with quince-berry syrup and whipped cream.

Given that I was totally guessing on quantity and flying by the seat of my pants, we had some of the resulting berry syrup leftover. It would have meant an overflowing pie plate, so Bill just left the resulting cup or so in the pot. This morning, he made waffles and heated up the syrup for a breakfast treat that was simply amazing. I’ll be doing some more experiments with the quince syrup and see where it will go for me in other ways. I just love it when a little accident in the kitchen can turn out so darn tasty in the end.

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