quince brandy & glittery cookies

 

My kitchen is full of untidy clutter, silver pine cones and lots to eat. All with a distinctly glittery sheen. Nothing changes.

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The pine cones were painted by children last weekend and are waiting for me to somehow attach them to ribbon (I hadn’t quite thought that one through when I reached for the glittery paint) to make a sort of Christmas bunting to string from the beams. Next to them are Christmas cards that I must write, cards that I keep meaning to hang on ribbon and a few sprinklings of tinsel for good measure. It must’ve dropped off the Nativity play angel halo. I have work to do, ironing piling up, lots that I could tidy, but of course I’ve just found time to make Crisp Cinnamon Cookies from Trine Hahnemann’s lovely Scandinavian Christmas book. Well, we’re choosing a Christmas tree after school and I thought we’d need something festive afterwards.

Another indication of my priorities can be seen on the windowsill.

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This year’s Quince harvest wasn’t as bountiful as last year so I just made my two favourite Quince items – Quince Ratafia and membrillo. Some of the membrillo has already been scoffed by us with cheese and added to tagines for a sweet fragrance but it’s mostly waiting to be wrapped in a tin in a cool room.

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This is how I make my Quince Ratafia, a golden liqueur whose wonderfully exotic name belies its ease of making:

Quince Ratafia

Ingredients:

3 Quinces

1.2 litres brandy

275g sugar

Simply chop the quinces into chunks, cover with the brandy (you can use cheap brandy but not so cheap that it ruins your lovely home-made liqueur) and add the sugar. Shake daily until the sugar dissolves. Strain the liquid after 12 weeks through muslin. Lovely as a tipple with the Christmas pud.

Quince-meat slices have already been made and scoffed.

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And a Christmas pudding that I made with my daughter is tucked away in a dark corner. It may be the best place for it. I’m hoping that the grandparents who will share it with us on Christmas day will be so pleased that it was mixed by their 7 year old grand-daughter that they’ll just be amused by the fact that she was a little creative in its making. I was probably a little too relaxed about how lovely it is to let Ruby get on with things in the kitchen these days. I passed her the baking powder and cinnamon and a teaspoon, mentioning how much to add and even left the room to get something during the mixing. Later, when she mentioned adding a few ‘secret ingredients’ I did recall her darting away guiltily from the ‘treats’ drawer. Then there’s her admission that she may have been rather generous with the baking powder. I did notice the pudding looking as if it was trying to burst out of its basin pre-steaming. I look forward to a mad scientist style pudding on the big day.

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My kitchen has also seen lots of experimenting with bread lately. An easy overnight loaf which I’ll hopefully write about in January ( a good month for the warm fug of baking in the kitchen surely?) and also Rye bread, which I’m planning to make again on Christmas Eve for an easy supper along with smoked salmon and crab.

 

Anyway, back to the glittery chaos (even the cookies are sprinkled with an edible gold variety). Happy Christmas baking to everyone and hope you too have that constant glittery sheen around you. And a big thank you to the lovely Chava of Flavourphotos who did a photo shoot with me for a recent Quince magazine article and managed as always to make something beautiful out of my shoddiness.

 

quincemeat and membrillo

The first tree I planted when we moved here 2 years ago was a Quince. Their lovely mellow yellow appearance, tendency to resist pruning and organization (great excuse to be lazy and leave them be) and wonderfully fragrant fruit were the main attractions. I was seduced by the idea of a beautiful bowl of them making the kitchen smell wonderful in Autumn. And being able to make my own membrillo jelly to go with salty manchego cheese, olives and almonds definitely appealed.

So far the tree has produced one fruit. I haven’t exactly had to face the dilemma of whether to make jelly, quince cheese or add them to crumbles and pies yet.

Luckily I have a great neighbour who turned up with a bag of fruit from her own more mature and productive quince tree.  So I’ve been able to enjoy them heaped in a bowl in the kitchen, looking and smelling like the quintessential Autumn fruit.

It seemed a shame to disturb them and their fabulous scent, and apparently their waxy skins can preserve them for many months. But yesterday was the sort of day made for roasting quince.

Rainy, cold and drab, I had to face up to the fact that pleasant though the sound of the rain on the velux while I lay in the bath was, I couldn’t stay in there all morning. Downstairs I could see the cows sheltering under the oak tree in the field next to us as the rain lashed down relentlessly. I lit the woodburner and put the espresso pot on top, one of my favourite weekend morning treats. After I’d made drop scones to go with coffee, I couldn’t resist making more use of the woodburner. It was definitely a day for roasting quinces.

I’ve been enjoying Diana Henry’s latest book ‘salt sugar smoke’ with its fabulous recipes for preserving fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.  So for my membrillo I followed her recipe for quince cheese, chopping quinces and simmering them on top of the woodburner before pushing the puree through a sieve and simmering with sugar. It was a lot easier than I thought to make, quicker and less fiddly than jelly. No fussing about suspending jellybags to strain juice through. I lined a ramekin with clingfilm for a little membrillo and also used a Lakeland greaseproof paper liner for a loaf tin before pouring the jelly in and leaving it in the fridge. I thought they’d be easier to unmould like this, and the ramekin has worked a treat. It’s wrapped in greaseproof paper for a present, while I’m leaving the loaf tin version wrapped in the fridge. Looking forward to glistening slices of it, although it does look sticky to slice. Should be good with salty Spanish cheese, but does anyone have any ideas of British cheeses to go with my membrillo?

Meanwhile quinces and cooking apples roasted, ready for adding to dried fruit, brandy, lemon juice and brown sugar for my Christmas mincemeat. I just added a few quinces to a regular mincemeat recipe, imagining that less is more when it comes to their fabulous fragrance. And I substituted cranberries for some of the raisins and sultanas, liking the rich look of the crimson berries.

As is often the case in the kitchen and garden, as the quinces roasted and simmered I felt like a big kid marvelling at the wonder of it all. When I sow a tiny seed and it grows into a huge, healthy and tasty plant (well, sometimes!) it never ceases to amaze me. Similarly, it always seems miraculous how heat transforms food and how some simple cooking can completely change the feel of a room, adding warmth, comfort and even a decadence. As the quince puree turned from amber to russet by simply simmering with sugar, thoughts of how I would use the membrillo and quincemeat filling my head. I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I was creating the smells and feel of a Spanish tapas bar or an Elizabethan feast. Both were more tempting than the lashing rain outside.

And I saved two quince to enjoy in my bowl – well, until I can resist using them to add a heady exotic twist to an apple crumble or pie. Or is heady exoticism too much to hope for from a crumble?

Quincemeat

Makes about 3.2kg

2 cooking apples

150g quince

2 lemons

200g vegetable suet

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

450g sultanas and raisins

225g dried apricots, chopped

225g dried cranberries

700g dark brown sugar (preferably fairtrade)

80ml brandy or whisky

Core and bake the whole apples and quince in a moderate oven (180C/350F/Gas 4) for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool. When they are soft, chop. Grate lemon rind and squeeze out the juice. Mix all ingredients together, put into sterilised jars (I use them straight from the dishwasher) cover with jam covers and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using. Keep in a cool, airy place and it should keep for at least 6 months.

 

ps at least someone enjoyed the rain:

I preferred the Autumn sunshine today, and the cows appeared to feel the same.

 

 

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