Quince paste and other musings

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We have had some fairly tempestuous weather these last couple of days – the type of weather that keeps you indoors listening to the wind howl, the windows rattle, watching Frozen as it seems more than fitting! It’s also the perfect weather to potter in the kitchen and consider how you want your kitchen space to function.

I have previously mentioned the complete lack of bench space this old kitchen of ours has to offer. For it to function at the most basic level, I really have to be on top of the washing up (no dishwasher), and I have to accept that the overflow of said washing will be on the floor, a large teatowel always at the ready. I can rarely invite the kids to cook with me, and moving with another adult in this space induces a conniption (kidding!). But others work with much less, so I’ll try to quit whingeing and focus on what this quaint little space is capable of creating.

We are lucky to have some fantastic apple orchards close by. My favourite being Pialligo Apples at No 10 Beltana Road in Pialligo (for anyone in the Canberra region). It is an organic operation specialising in heirloom varieties, quinces, plums, honey, seasonal veggies – visiting that stall during the short apple season each year is heaven for me. Last weekend I picked up 4 kg of quince with a view to producing some quince paste, a luscious, scented ‘cheese’ that pairs beautifully with (actual) cheese, and gravies, roasts – I think the options are endless once you feel a need to find as many ways to consume it as possible. With family visiting in a month, at the official beginning of the ski (ie cold) season, I wanted something seasonal, delicious, and portable, that they could return home with to sunnier, warmer corners. A simple reminder of the time spent down here in the cold, with us. As usual, I failed to read through the whole recipe before embarking on some quince paste making yesterday. I had just finished a batch of green tomato chutney so I felt I was on a roll and didn’t want to interrupt the flow! The recipe as it turns out requires hours, indeed a full day’s, attention. But I had already started the process so there was nothing more for it but to clear my diary and plow on. Oh who am I kidding, my diary is always empty, kitchen hermit that I am.

Notwithstanding not wanting to make this post about making quince paste, my batch is currently in the oven on the lowest possible temperature for it’s overnight slow set. I can highly recommend using a slow cooker to cook the paste once you have reached the add sugar stage, and I’d recommend that you both puree and strain the pulp before that stage – it will result in a finer texture. I used my mouli to process the pulp (as suggested in the recipe). I’m sure it will still be delicious, but the texture will not be as satisfyingly smooth.

But one can not survive on sweet quince paste alone; greater sustenance is required. To that end, I decided to take a walk in the past with a quintessential high school home economics class cookbook “Day to Day Cookery’, the third edition no less. A wonderful compendium of no-frills dishes ranging from minted pineapple salad, blancmange, and where I settled for tonight’s dinner, scotch broth. Last night we had enjoyed a fabulously tender shoulder of lamb baked in a beautiful glazed Terre d’Hautaniboul (bit of a mouthful!) baking dish I had picked up as a house warming gift to myself (yeah a bit off, but I do like a good excuse to buy new kitchenalia). It is the dish I always choose to bake lamb – it helps keep the meat moist and imparts a wonderful aroma. But as with most roasts, there is always leftovers, usually looking a tad worse for wear upon refrigeration and therefore best suited to be re-purposed in a soup. With a pot of chicken broth prepared the previous day, some onion, winter root vegetables and barley, our dinner came together with little exertion. As the meat was already cooked, it was added, chopped in the last 20 minutes along with some pumpkin and savoy cabbage. With a dollop of sour cream, and a generous teaspoon of mustard, this was a delicious and hearty dinner.

It’s good to keep things moving one step ahead, in the kitchen especially. Pots of bone broth should be put on to simmer regularly so as to have the wherewithal to make a soup or casserole or sauce at any given time; good quality plain yoghurt needs to be left out to strain overnight for a healthy supply of whey to be used in fermenting, soaking grains (I have just read a very interesting article on the Traditional Foods website which appears to debunk the practice of using whey or other calcium rich acidic mediums to soak grains – well worth a read), adding to smoothies, sauces, mayonnaise; grains should be rinsed and soaked (in just plain old warm water it appears!) to reduce phytic acid contain, ready to be turned into porridge, used in casseroles or soups, or even as the basis of bread. I like to see large mason jars of sauerkraut fermenting on the shelf from time to time as my reserves start to run down, and am most unhumbly pleased with my attempts so far! I would love to find a large bowl of sourdough starter in a warm corner of my kitchen from which I scoop for a loaf of bread or perhaps some weekend pancake goodness. But that practice really does require some more bench space. For now, I enjoy making the ‘Homemade Whole Grain Bread’ the recipe for which appears from one of my favourite cookbooks Feeding the Whole Family, by Cynthia Lair. I am not an everyday bread baker though, mainly because I end up overindulging!

There are so many more food frontiers for me to explore, but for now I can say I am happy with where my kitchen activity is at. Please share your own kitchen secrets. I would love to know what kitchen practices you have found invaluable.

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