Archives for posts with tag: fruit

Stephanie Sarley is a contemporary American artist who makes these brave Fruit Art Videos.  I think they are challenging and fun to watch, as well as having the effect of making people laugh– should you want or need that pleasure.

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Well, maybe you feel a little longing when you look at photos of lots of your friends in a city where you used to live. You see their beautiful children, and the making an event of a day pressing apples, fruit that they’ve grown in orchards they’ve planted with love.  Everybody’s pitching in and working toge ther and it’s a productive food-preparation idyll there in suburban Oxford.


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Japonica Quince (Chaenomeles)

I love love LOVE the red flowers and climbing geometric branching of this ornamental plant, and never quite realised the fruits were edible until a friend Sheila, knowing my predilections, offered me the crop from her back garden. Her mother made jelly with these back in the day, and maybe I’d want to too?

I am a keen learner and experimenter, though was slightly daunted by the thought of time required, and am ever aware that these kind of activities represent a  luxury of time and energy– even if I am staying up too late and slightly cursing myself all the while.

I did happen to have some larger proper quince, and with my friend Emily did a comparison– Japonica more astringent, a lemon perfume to the orange fragrance of the Quince.   Japonica reminded Emily, and I could somehow agree, of those old-fashioned candies, violet and lilac  — an echo of a perfume…  hard to define except in dreamlike reference to something else…

Thank you to EdibleThings to whom Google led me, for leading me to the Wikipedia definition of Bletting which as a concept has so many metaphors and so much resonance in many aspects of fruit gathering and harvesting .  Where there was “rot” in the fruit there was fragrance — these japonicas are so much about the smell.  And the colour– an incredible yellow after simmered then pureed through the food mill.


I’d also been really amazed at how easy it was to collect the seeds.



I had read that quince seeds are a traditional mucilaginous remedy for sore throats and chesty coughs, and was hoping the same to be true of these wonderful cousins,.    As with apple seeds, one would need A LOT, like a cup at a time, for toxic effect, so worry not with a teaspoon of seeds soaked for a tea– at least I, worry wort queen, would not worry.

What I did with all that pulp: 5 jars of a preserve, not sure what to call it, maybe Japonica Butter —  for each cup, three-quarters a cup of sugar, Cinnamon and Ginger, Nutmeg and Cloves to give a medieval feel and to hear in my heart Maddy Prior singing Of All the Birds (can’t find a link), a wonderful song from a long-gone Steeleye Span record.  I mixed a little with some yoghurt, and I think it will be wonderful as a compote, also maybe as a filling for a gingerbread cake, or on a scone, or as Christmas gifts.  Maybe in a tart or crumble, cobbler or Japonica Quince Betty.

And the pulp strained from the “butter”– well–  I mixed it with water, kept it in an  open top jar for a few days, stirring all the while to let it ferment and keep it simultaneously aerobic, and it’s becoming an ever more acidic wild vinegar (see the post below on making scrap vinegars)– a really beautiful, perfumy vinegar, like no other smell I’ve smelled– maybe like a hyacinth dancing a citrus rhumba.

On the subject of Japonica perfume: a friend told me back in the day a famed use for these garden fruits was as a room freshener, on the mantle or kitchen table.  Let it blet just a little, then — inhale –an incredible, intoxicating fragrance. This is something that might have been familiar to some grandmothers’ grandmother…

So the fruit of Ornamental Japonica– now I know.   Perfumy, bright, historical, astringent, beautiful, laborious, fanciful, foragable from gardens urban and suburban.

POSTSCRIPT 4 Dec 2013:   My friend and “Horticultural Tutor” Emma Maxwell was keen that I understand the following:

True  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) Quince, Cydonia oblonga, is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae (which also contains apples and pears).Flowering quinces of eastern Asia in the genus Chaenomeles, also in the family Rosaceae.

So I guess these are clues to research whether all those seeds I lovingly saved are useful or not in therapeutic teas.  Or useful simply to plant for a new shrub?

Neither Snow-White Nor Eve Nor I Could Resist

What gorgeous, sweetly tart, nicely textured apples these are, though I don’t know their story at all. I gathered these as wind-falls from the ground under the tree in a park area adjacent to a town car-park, and just gasped with awe for their beauty when I got home and cut one open. Here’s a link to a US site, but I think there are additional elements to be learned for the British part of the story…

Or, here’s a link to growers in Wales who grow and sell I might guess the same variety called Severn Black:

Three Sisters

Last night I stayed up late baking for this morning, three cakes for the launch of a community kitchen venture I will write about soon. I’d been inspired by the idea of the Three Sisters of Native American growing– corn and beans and squash.

A cornmeal (or polenta) cake with blackberries my family picked; Vegan Black Bean Brownies that were equally delicious and weird– hard to get a grasp on; and a moist, dense Pumpkin and Apple Cake, that I made with gluten-free flour and roasted, very orange and dense squash that I pureed through a food mill. The internet is so vastly full of ideas when you need them. Ask me and I can give you any particulars…

I am entranced by the idea of cakes with vegetables– of course carrots and courgettes and marrows, and all the chocolate beetroot cakes — though I want to try the squash cake above with that rosy beet instead, to play and shine the earth of beet rather than hide it behind the dusky sweet chocolate. Parsnips too intrigue, and there’s that world of sweet pies and tarts that have spinach or swiss chard with raisins and custard, or not… and would love to try these with nettle leaves some day. You could imagine savoury cakes and loaves too, playing with the sweet form with usually salty ingredients, but what I feel like exploring first is just how far you can take veg into a sweet cake. Going to do a little research– I’m sure there’s loads to be discovered.

IMG_0173Gift Economy

Thank you to our neighbour, who carefully packs the apples from the trees in his back garden, puts them in bags on the street for passers-by, and knowing how much I like them, each year seems to bring a big sack to me. Last year I made him some chutney, this year I may make a cake– maybe I’ll just ask him! He’ll say, oh, I don’t need anything, but I want to show him how deep my appreciation runs.

I so enjoy gifts of bounty. And I am equally moved by the anonymous gift, by the way this man just puts his gifts on the pavement, for anyone. I remember on a particular street in Oxford, the doors to an incredible hidden orchard that was gardened by nuns one never really saw. In front there, one year, was a big bag of golden plums that seemed there just waiting. I felt so lucky to be the one to take them, made a jam that was a jewel-yellow. I wish I’d left a jar of that jam by the door of their garden. Maybe I need to just put a jar of something wonderful, another year, anywhere else at all.


Six organic pineapples have travelled long miles, no longer smell sweet, have soft brown spots, and are not going to sell at the shop where I sometimes work. I bring them home with the idea that i’ll make a wild-crafted vinegar for all of us who work there, to play with in our cooking – a fun and exotic ingredient.

Wild “scrap vinegars” are inspiring and incredibly easy. I’d always read that one needs to begin with a “mother,” those strange, gelatinous “creatures” that float and grow in vinegar– amalgamations of yeasts and bacteria that float and sink like jellyfish…  My understanding now is that mothers represent a visible home for acetic acid to culture, but that actually you don’t NEED one (human beings a different story.) Through history we haven’t always invited acetic acid fermentation as much as we’ve sought to avoid it!

Basically, to make vinegar, and it is SO basic– you get fruit, or fruit scraps, raw or cooked– you place in water, add some sugar, make sure there is air, and wait. Stir when you walk to discourage baddies and to encourage oxygenation, which acetic acid bacteria like.  This stage is represented by the photograph on the left, above.  First your concoction turns a little alcoholic, then you wait some more. Then your “wine” begins to sour, vinegar-sour. It’s THIS easy. Keep stirring, to keep it airy and so that films of yeast don’t develop, nor moulds on any bits of solid that pop up out of the liquid. At some point, after it’s begun to sour, you strain and then bottle, as in the photo on the right, and then as time marches forth, your vinegar gets ever more vinegary, until eventually it reaches its highest acid level.

(These kind of vinegars are different from fruit vinegars in which the fruit is boiled in sugar then strained and steeped in a pre-made vinegar. These sweet vinegars – you might be familiar with blackberry vinegar made this way– are nice but to my mind too sweet, too boutique, and acutally less useful in a daily way. |And they are closer to “shrubs” and certain varieties of old-fashioned cordials that are really nice to drink mixed with water or bubbly-water and quite refreshing in hot weather. In that context the vinegar would have been a preservative for the sweetened fruit mixture.)

Last Thanksgiving (a festival of gratitude I celebrate with my England-born children) I saved the peels from all the apples that went into pies, and made a load of scrap vinegar.  I also experimented with cooked scraps,  fermenting the skins, seeds and cores that didn’t make it through the food mill of the apple sauce I simmered and jarred.  And I bottled a similar batch made with the tough skins and cores of quinces.  These vinegars have all been lovely in salad dressings, to brighten sauces and stews, in marinades, and sometimes just to drink in water for a little refreshment and alkalising…  The pineapple vinegar was a wonderful brightening lemon-substitute in some guacamole I made…

And more: my husband brought home from a supermarket, a bag of reduced-for-clearance pears– they weren’t ripe and a month later, forgotten, they were still not ripe.  I cut off a few bad bits and…  chopped into water and sugar they went.   This is the vinegar that now, on my kitchen counter, seems to be clouding with forms that I’m hoping, fingers crossed, are early “mother” formations.  Annother,  rhubarb: I’d chopped and simmered and intended to make a rather labour-intensive cordial for a friend.  On that day, I was overcome by a migraine, lay down in the dark, allowing that huge pot to languish sadly.  As it did the next day, and the next, until finally I put it in the fridge and …  and…..  and…..   But all was not lost, and I’ve now several large bottles of Rhubarb Wild-Vinegar, a brightener that was the amazing secret ingredient in a spicy chickpea curry.  Also: Plum Honey Vinegar, Blackberry Apple, and now, as I edit, I’m setting myself the experiment of making a winter-squash flavoured condiment with the pulp that surrounds the seeds I intend to roast.

Warning: we are advised NOT to make long-term preserves (chutneys say) with vinegar in which the acid level is not measured to be sufficient to counteract the growth of botulism spores– at least I’ve read this on the internet.  (Though I am not convinced, in the case of many jarred chutneys, that sugar is not the main preservation agent and vinegar there to counteract the sweetness for a savour condiment– but what do I know?)

One reads about verjuice / verjus in historical European recipes.  It’s a kind of sour juice  made from unripened grapes and sometimes, crabapples.  I’m sure there were infinite local and individual varieties.   I’ve come to see my “scrap vinegars” — through the stages of a little sour through to the final, acidic vinegar — as a really interesting culinary twist on the continuum of juice-wine-vinegar and a citrus / sour element of modern global cooking styles.   My vinegars allow me an amazing range and subtlety of flavours that are truly local and extremely economical, made as they are from what would otherwise be thrown out or composted.

Making scrap vinegar is addictive and fun.  Rotting kiwis?  Tried it– flavour not so nice though, and it became a great home-made cleanser to keep by the kitchen sink, deglazing grease and burn effectively from dinner pans.  I’ve also made an effective cleaning product just fermenting peels and green off-cuts from potatoes– added sugar, air, time and…. voila, something very cheap and useful– definitely effective up-cycling.


[Postscript:  Don’t prematurely bottle and cap– until all the sugar is finished fermenting, even these liquids need air.  I just had a messy frothy soda-fizzzzzzzzzy experience that erupted all over my clean outfit.  And that’s better than a glass explosion.  Just remember: Vinegar wants air, so keep yours exposed while they are “maturing”.   🙂   ]

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