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Custardy Squash Prune Barberry Squares

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Custardy Quince Squares

Gratitude to the culinary grace of cookery writer Dorie Greenspan for these wonderful Custardy Apple Squares. She writes that she sees the recipe in the link as a “back-pocket recipe.” In the few weeks this recipe has been in my life, I’ve come to consider it a “back-pack” for the ways that it can travel, light and flexibly, be adapted to ingredients on hand, rise to an attitude of perfection or laziness as befits one’s mood, and sit somewhere on a continuum of cake, tea time snack, and pudding (in the various British senses).  And it doesn’t seem to go wrong. Read the rest of this entry »


I have a vision now of a calendrical-seasonal kitchen, in which I find uses throughout the year for ingredients I’ve made at a different moment in the wheel. I was so thrilled by the bright result of using Rosehip Syrup with Rhubarb.  I’m looking forward to making little jam tarts with my vegetables marmalades and carrot jam for summer picnics.  Mostly I have an array of maturing Scrap Vinegars to get creative with — Red Pumpkin, Pear, Rhubarb, Blackberry-Apple… Some are nearly a year and a half old, and still wonderful.  Magical ingredients, for pennies.

Lately I’ve just been splashing a spoon’s worth or so of these in glasses of water, for a kind of body-alkalizing tonic.  (Have I unabashedly revealed to all that sometimes I get kidney-pain that abates if I drink vinegar?)

This morning I strained and decanted a scrap Chaenomeles Vinegar I’d made in late November– from the scrapings and cores of the Japonica Fruit used for the very Christmassy Chaenomeles Preserve I wrote about here.

Do read about Chaenomeles — it’s inspiring to think about the illustrious past and possibilities of what we know as an ornamental in gardens.

And the vinegar is the finest perfume! It’s the fragrance of something you’d spray from a fancy bottle onto your wrist and neck before a date (if you did things like this, or had dates).  I wish the internet had a Scratch and Sniff capability.  Maybe I should put a vial in a Mary Poppins carpet-bag and start traversing Paris…

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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?

Ready, Steady, Cook mid-September mid-Wales

My lovely friend Vicky left this for me on my doorstep. She gardens very beautifully and gives gifts from her abundance. It’s very moving to receive these gifts and reminds me to be grateful that we all have created the space and time for gardening and cooking in our lives. Of all my friends, she is the true fan of my fermented beetroot bubbly, and I love making it for her. So we kind of have a barter situation going on, but I always feel i get the better deal. (Not that it’s about precision in any economic sense.)

Here were four Bantam eggs, some sorrel leaves, jerusalem artichokes and a hunk of a fresh turmeric rhizome. I could not resist presenting the photo on my Facebook as a Ready, Steady, Cook type invitation to ideas.

SNM: Some kind of egg drop soup with greens? That’s one of my favourites.

VW: Jerusalem artichoke and sorrel sauted with a little turmeric, and poached eggs on top??

VW: Parboiled, sliced and saute the j-artichokes till golden brown. Mix finely-diced turmeric and shredded sorrel with hard-boiled egg yolks and replace in halved egg whites. Serve in bed [with husband who was trying to make out with her].

CM: Is it ginger? Looks like galangal. Either way, I’d make some sort of Asianesque soup, but would need some thin chicken stock, too. Would have two eggs leftover and a humongous quantity of the root as well. What’s the green? Not arugula, not a brassica. Yes?

CM: Oh, sorrel! Tres bien. A nice, lemony Asian soup.

Me: Oh fun everyone! My thoughts would be– a really nice Richard Olney gratin of hard boiled eggs with sorrel, and would add some grated turmeric and serve the sunchokes on the side, roasted probably. Or, an artichoke (pureed)/ grated turmeric/ sorrel souffle, or frittata, or tortilla, with the artichokes slivered… But love the soup ideas too… Anyone else? x

Z: I would make an omelette and give the arties to someone else!

TH: I was going to say Tortilla.

Me again: I’ve long wanted to serve them at a dinner party and see if everyone could get comfortable with farting if everyone was doing it…. Actually I only rarely like them too, but thinking about it I think the sour sorrel and the fragrant turmeric could actually improve them… And they’re nice carmelized…

AH: I had them ONCE and the pain was unbearable! Everyone at the table was farting………and in pain!!

OT: Great way to eat J’lem artichokes: mash them up into mashed potatoes. It makes a lovely creamy mix.

CM: That sounds really nice. Maybe mix them up with mashed parsnips and/or rhutabaga [swedes] as well. (I do potato/parnsip/rhutabaga mash and it’s really good. Lot’s of butter, though.) I love artichokes, and have never had the issues mentioned. They do have a chemical effect of making water that you drink just after chewing an artichoke taste sweeter. Has anyone noticed this? I have. It seems that phenomenon might have a genetic component.

CM Jeruselem artichokes, or what are called “sunchokes” here [the US], are not artichokes but rather the bud of a plant that’s in the sunflower family. (I think I’m correct about this, but I’m too lazy to fact check.) Could they be the cause of the flatulence, rather than artichokes? Just wondering.

OT: I think it is technically considered a tuber. In any case it is a “root crop” like potatoes or parsnips, and yes, a kind of sunflower. They also are notorious as “fartichokes”.

LMcH: Omelette x


Well, in the end, sadly, I just put the sorrel in some soup, we used the eggs for breakfast, the J’artichokes were roasted for another meal, and the turmeric got grated into a lentil dish and we still have lots… Good uses, but would have been really fun to find them in one meal. Maybe next time. What would YOU have done with this particular set of foodstuffs, Dear Reader?

UPDATE 2 October 2013: Next time I have sunchokes (as I called them in my native land) I will excitedly put them in … Kimchi! This idea evolved from looking at the amazing tubers that are Szechuan Pickled Vegetable. And apparently fermenting them really reduces the flatlentia that seems to plague so many tummies and so many of us with juvenile humour find so funny…

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.

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