This week was fairly low key, much less the Russian roulette that was last week with the wild mushroom foraging and consumption. Although, I will not lie—I did attempt more foraging this week. I found a different wild edible mushroom commonly known as the Wine Cap Stropharia. But by the time I had it officially identified, it had unfortunately spoiled and was inedible. However, I now know for next time.
One of our work clients generously gave me about 25 pounds of quince this week. Last year, we were at her home and we noticed her quince bush was fruiting. She had let me harvest as much as I could carry between mine and my mother’s coat pockets. This year we were much better prepared with buckets and able to haul away the entire harvest. When we pulled into her driveway, we could smell the bush from her backyard, it was that fragrant. She enjoys the plant as a flowering shrub, but does not use the fruit. I will surprise her with a few jars of the finished products as a ‘thank you.’
I made quince jelly for the first time last season. It is an easy preparation but an unfriendly fruit to have to pick, peel and core. We waited until the fruit had dropped from the bush on its own. I still have the battle scars from reaching through its thorny branches for its delicious and aromatic fruit hiding under fallen leaves and ivy. It was totally worth it.
On its own, fresh and raw, quince is rather puckering and sour. However, canned and preserved or cooked down with the help of sugar, it becomes exotic, fragrant and delicious.
Over the past few days, the quince began to yellow slightly and ripen. Much like Asian Pears, they will continue to ripen off the plant. It was time to get to concocting. Once canned, quince’s flavor is reminiscent of an apple. But then you notice the honey and floral notes also; they’re really quite a complex flavor.
Yesterday Grayson and I began to tackle the two buckets worth of fruit. We only made it about a third of the way through, and are leaving the rest to continue to ripen on the counter. Grayson helped me fill up the sink and scrub the fruit with vegetable brushes before prepping it for canning.
I assure you, you’ve never seen someone so excited about a sink-full of water, a scrub brush and some fruit to clean-up as he was. First we made quince paste. After the fruit was peeled, cored and chopped, Grayson managed to put down the scrub brush and get to the real work.
Only after a quick wardrobe change, as obviously the previous task required getting soaking wet. He helped combine the fruit with sugar and water and stir periodically over a couple hours until it was ready for canning. The end result was a cloudy looking soft-set jelly, speckled with a very delicate pulp; perfect for pairing with soft goat’s milk or cow’s milk cheeses.
We made a ploughman’s cheese tray for supper last night, just so we could have an excuse to try out the quince paste. Although the recipe suggested pairing with soft cheeses, we used a smoked mozzarella and a sharp cheddar; to which it paired with both beautifully. It was perfect drizzled on a wedge of sharp cheddar on a slice of sourdough with smoked turkey and hard salami. Understandably, Grayson’s attention dwindled drastically towards to end of this task.
When it came to making the quince jelly, I waited until after his bedtime to get to work. Quince jelly reminds me a lot of apple jelly, but if it also had honey. It is a rich amber in color and sweet and floral; delicious as an everyday kind of jelly on scones and toast. At the end of the day, about a third of the harvest ended up yielding twenty-nine jars of jelly and paste; perfect for Christmas and holiday gifts.
I also experimented with infusing gin with quince and thyme as well as quince and rosemary. This week, I once again harvested a few large bouquets of fresh herbs. The basil did not survive the first couple of frosts very nicely and is on its last leg. But the hardier herbs are still abundant. I coarsely chopped a few large fistfuls of fresh garden herbs and tossed them with coarse seal salt.
The salt should draw the moisture from the herbs and hopefully make a savory seasoned sea salt for cooking or rubbing on meat roasts this winter. I ended up combining nasturtium and pineapple sage flowers, sage, basil and thyme with the salt. Sometimes coming up with your own visions in the kitchen is what works out best. I try to not be afraid or hold back in the kitchen—because when it comes to cooking, there are no rules and it should be fun.
Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger