Articles by Author
Anyone who’s ever traveled in the Swiss Alps will know that farming there is nothing new. Wherever you go, you will see doe-eyed, moleskin-brown cows grazing vertiginous, brilliant green, manicured hillsides, their fragrant milk destined for great wheels of hard mountain cheese. But fish farming? It sounds unlikely — a bit like salmon farming in the Yemen — but it’s true.
The story began with the Lötschberg rail tunnel, which enters the Alps at Frutigen in the heart of the Bernese Oberland and emerges the other side at Raron in the Valais.
More from Zester Daily:
The tunnel is the latest example of the Swiss flair for engineering. As often happens when tunneling in the Alps, the project hit a few snags. Chief among these was the water runoff from rain and melting snow, which filters through the limestone layers to the tunnel below. Thanks to the geothermal effect, the water is warmed on its descent through the mountain to a rather comfortable 64 F. To channel it directly into the local river would have played havoc with the wild fish population, accustomed to an icy alpine torrent.
The solution came from engineer Peter Hufschmied, head of site management for the tunnel and a keen angler. Instead of expending energy in cooling down the water before allowing it to run off, why not take advantage of the warmth to raise fish? Simultaneously, they would use any surplus energy to heat greenhouses where tropical plants and fruits would grow. A perfect – and perfectly sustainable — solution.
The Tropenhaus in Frutigen was born, a pilot project was put in place in 2002, and by 2005 the first sturgeon were introduced. The original Swiss caviar, christened Oona (a word with Celtic roots suggesting “unique” or “extraordinary”), was harvested in the winter of 2011-12. Now leading Swiss chefs such as Heiko Nieder at the Dolder Grand in Zürich, Werner Rothen of Restaurant Schöngrün at the Paul Klee Centre in Bern, and Ivo Adam of Restaurant Seven in Ascona on Lake Maggiore can’t get enough of it.
At least 27 different sturgeon species are raised or fished for caviar. From these, the Tropenhaus chose the Siberian sturgeon, Acipenser baerii. It’s a strange and wonderful beast, light gray to brown in color with five rows of bony plates along its back and sides; an elongated, upturned snout; and a kind of four-pronged goatee beard. In captivity, the females of the species will mature at approximately 6 years of age, which makes them an economic proposition for farming. (Wild Siberian sturgeon needs at least 20 years to reach maturity.)
Once mature, the females are stunned and killed, the sac of roe is lifted out and set aside and the fish is deftly filleted. The fillets — firm, dense and devoid of bones — feature on the menus of the two on-site Tropenhaus restaurants and are also sold to restaurants and shops (including select branches of the Swiss retailer Coop, which is also the Tropenhaus’ main shareholder). Some fillets are sold fresh, others are smoked to create a delicacy not unlike smoked eel.
Harvesting roe for caviar a simple process
Considering the mystique surrounding caviar, the process for making it seems simple, at least as demonstrated by caviar-meister Tobias Felix. Clad in a hairnet, overalls, a plastic apron and white boots and equipped with surgical mask and latex gloves, he looks like a cross between an astronaut and a surgeon.
First, taking care not to damage the precious eggs, he gently coaxes and massages them through a wire mesh, leaving behind the membrane that surrounds them. Next, he rinses the eggs in cold water, drains them in a fine-meshed sieve and painstakingly picks out impurities with tweezers. At this stage, the eggs are a dull grayish-black; only when he adds the carefully calculated measure of salt will they take on their characteristic glossy sheen. The newly salted caviar is promptly transferred into custom-made tins, which are sealed hermetically. The entire process takes 15 minutes from start to finish.
For the final step, the tin is embedded in a sleek, black sphere, which in turn is enclosed in a solid chunk of glass resembling an ice cube, made at the Hergiswil glass factory on Lace Lucerne, an ultra-chic piece of packaging that won a coveted Red Dot Design award in 2012.
The likelihood of Swiss caviar coming to a table anywhere near you is probably slim. “The quantities are tiny (production in the first year was around 300 kilograms, 700 pounds) and for the moment we are focusing just on Switzerland,” admits marketing manager Andreas Schmid. But there are ambitious plans afoot: Production is set to increase tenfold, and then they will consider the export market.
Even farmed, Swiss caviar will never be cheap; that’s at least part of its mystique. (Thirty grams or 1 ounce of Oona costs 144 Swiss francs, or $155 U.S.) But now that caviar from wild fish is out of bounds due to a disastrous combination of damming, overfishing, pollution and poaching, farmed caviar is increasingly meeting demand for this prized product. Sturgeon is already raised on fish farms all over the world, from France, Spain and Italy to Russia, China, Canada and the United States.
Now Switzerland has joined the ranks.
Top photo: A spoonful of Oona caviar. Credit: Tropenhaus Frutigen
The Salon du Chocolat, founded in Paris by the aptly named Sylvie Douce and François Jeantet, has a mission that few right-minded people would quarrel with: to promote the understanding and enjoyment of chocolate. Since its first Paris manifestation 18 years ago, countless other editions have been staged in 21 different cities worldwide, from New York to Tokyo to Moscow to Shanghai. It’s a magnificent show, wherever it happens. Each one has its own indigenous flavor and character.
One of the venues for the Salon du Chocolat is Switzerland. This, remember, is the land of Rodolphe Lindt, inventor of the conching process, which involves patient heating and repeated rolling of the cocoa mass to smooth away the gritty particles naturally present. It was here, too, that Daniel Peter, together with his friend and colleague Henry Nestlé, produced the first solid milk chocolate bars that would keep without spoilage. And then, of course, the Swiss are the acknowledged world champion chocolate-scoffers, putting away an impressive 12 kilos (close to 27 pounds) per person per year.
Perhaps the only surprise about Switzerland’s Salon du Chocolat is that it took until 2012 for the first show to be staged in Zurich. The 2013 edition recently closed its doors after three exhausting, exhilarating days starring a cast of about 90 chocolatiers, pastry chefs and chocolate experts from all over the world. “This year’s Salon was another sweet success,” enthuses Kerrin Rousset, a chocolate and confectionery connoisseur based in Zurich and responsible for working with the Salon team in Paris to come up with the program of events for the Swiss show.
From fashion to food, Salon du Chocolat is all things chocolate
Stunning new chocolate creations were presented to (and enthusiastically sampled by) the public. Sylph-like models in chocolate-trimmed designer gowns paraded nonchalantly up and down the catwalk. Chocolatiers and pastry chefs from boutiques and top restaurant kitchens demonstrated in Choco Démo, including Swiss Chocolate Masters David Pasquiet and Claudia Schmid. Conferences in the chocosphere filled up quickly, with the public eager to learn about pairing chocolate with wine, whiskey or even with beer, or to debate issues such as the sourcing and sustainability of cacao.
Any Salon du Chocolat, wherever it takes place, provides an opportunity to apply a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the chocolate world, so I was delighted to do my bit to find out what’s new. Among the many developments visible (and tastable), my favorite — speaking here more as a cook than a chocolatière/pastry chef — is the growing trend for salt in chocolate.
Of course, the salty-sweet dimension is hardly novel. The Bretons have used crunchy demi-sel butter in candy forever, and sweet Scottish shortbread is pleasingly seasoned with salt. Nowadays any self-respecting chocolatier seems to have a salt-speckled chocolate in his/her range. Even Toblerone has joined the game, with a sky-blue packaged bar whose familiar toasted almonds are tossed in crunchy salt crystals. Repeatedly at the salon, I was struck by the degree to which salt — provided it’s added with enormous care and in the right quantity — can enhance fine chocolate, allowing complex flavors to bloom while adding a piquant counterpoint to balance sweetness plus an element of crunch. Two stars for me were Beschle of Basel’s 64% dark chocolate with fleur de sel and pistachios, and their startlingly good Lassi, a white chocolate lifted by the addition of yogurt, lime and a whisper of salt.
Nibbling my way around the Salon, I made a few more discoveries. The first was there’s nothing quite like a chocolate bar (as opposed to truffles, pralines or other composite delights) for getting the full chocolate hit. Every one of the top chocolatiers present displayed positive libraries of bars — square, round, rectangular, large, medium or bite-sized, and all packaged to within an inch of their lives.
Another revelation was that milk chocolate should not be scorned. Chocolate snobs (I have to admit I’m probably one) generally favor the dark varieties and play one-upmanship games on cacao percentages, the higher the better. That was until I discovered Alpenmilch by celebrated Zurich chocolatier Honold — sinfully smooth and seriously chocolatey, amazing depth of flavor with marked toffee notes, a reminder that Switzerland is the Heimat of milk chocolate. (“High as the Alps in flavor” was the proud marketing slogan for Daniel Peter’s original Gala milk chocolate).
And for one who also has been know to purse lips at the very suggestion of flavored chocolates, I made short work of Honold’s dark (65%) Venezuelan Criollo, dusted with a discreet shower of strawberry flakes and crushed pink peppercorns. Not to mention anything from the newly established, Budapest-based ChocoMe, which makes big, bold, beautifully packaged bars bulging with fruit, nuts and spices.
Salon du Chocolat calendar for 2013
Salvador de Bahia: July 6-8
Paris (professional): Oct. 28-30
Paris (open to the public): Oct. 30-Nov. 3
Lyon, France: Nov. 8-11
Cannes, France: Nov. 22-24
More from Zester Daily:
Final mention of another important trend in the choco-world: The increasing interest in where and how chocolate is sourced — “from bean to bar” is the buzz phrase. The same kind of thing that happened with Terra Madre and Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto is taking place within the Salon du Chocolat: Terra Madre, once a colorful sideshow representing grower-producers from the Third World, is now an integral part of the Salone del Gusto. In just the same way, the Salon is broadening its focus beyond the pure hedonistic pleasure of chocolate to embrace pressing themes like transparent sourcing, conservation, sustainability and equitable work practices.
Original Beans (Amsterdam) and Idilio Origins (Basel), present at the Zurich Salon, are widely admired for their ethical business model and emphasis on sustainability. Each sets up long-term contracts with individual cacao growers not only in traditional grower countries like Ecuador and Venezuela but also, in the case of Original Beans, in the war-torn Congo, which has no history as a cacao producer. They pay significantly above fair-trade rates and focus on single-origin chocolate, emphasizing not only on the cacao type (Criollo is king) but also the terroir in which it is grown.
The Salon du Chocolat provides a fabulous showcase not just for the finest chocolate but also for the latest trends. The good news is there’s one coming soon to a city near you.
Top photo: Alpenmilch chocolate bars. Credit: Sue Style
Seville, to most people, suggests Spain’s shimmering heat, smoldering flamenco, Moorish architecture, Bizet’s “Carmen” and terrific tapas. To most Brits, Seville means oranges. The trees adorn the city’s streets, their leaves deep green and glossy, their branches heavy with fruit in January and February. These are bitter oranges, Citrus aurantium var. amaro, not the sort to squeeze for juice but the kind destined for orange marmalade, that indispensable, bittersweet component of any self-respecting British breakfast.
More Stories from Zester Daily:
Citrus fruits are thought to have landed on Mediterranean shores during the 10th century via a circuitous route from China. The Romans — responsible for many of the finest fundaments of European food and wine — brought them to Spain, and the Arabs planted them widely throughout Al-Andaluz (modern-day Andalusia) both for ornamental and edible use.
From about 1770 — soon after James Lind made a groundbreaking discovery that citrus fruits helped prevent scurvy among sailors — regular shipments of oranges began to arrive in Britain thanks to the MacAndrews shipping line, whose small, speedy schooners plied regularly between Liverpool and Seville. By the mid-19th century, MacAndrews was specializing in citrus transport between Britain and the Iberian Peninsula.
In 1929, the year of the Ibero-Americana Exhibition, Seville’s streets sprouted yet more orange trees. They received a further boost in the 1960s, when the bitter orange became the firmly established urban tree of choice, valued for its compact size, its vibrant fruits and its exotically perfumed flowers.
Choice of the Brits: Seville orange marmalade
By the 1970s there were said to be about 5,000 trees; nowadays there are estimated to be more than 25,000. The trees are loved by the Sevillanos for their beauty, their fragrance and — not least — for the shade they cast in summer when temperatures regularly climb to 40 C (104 F). But the fruit is hardly used at all locally. Instead, about 90% of the crop goes to the U.K. for marmalade.
There are many recipes, but this one, which involves boiling the whole fruit before shredding it and cooking it down to a rich consistency with sugar, is simple and delicious. Bitter oranges are indispensable; sweet oranges, or even a mix of sweet with lemons, will not give the same result. In Europe they have a short season, though in the U.S. and Mexico the window is longer. You can also find them online or at Caribbean or Mexican markets (naranjas agrias in Spanish).
Seville Orange Marmalade
You can break down this recipe into several steps, timing each to your convenience. First, cook the fruit whole until soft, then cut in half, remove and reserve the pith and pips (they will contribute pectin that helps with setting) and shred the peel. Finally, boil the whole thing with water and sugar until it reaches the setting point.
Makes 8 (1-pound) jars
3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) Seville oranges (about 12)
9 cups (2 kilograms) white sugar
2¼ cups (500 grams) brown sugar
1. Wash the fruit. Put it whole in a preserving pan and add enough water to cover it by about 2 inches.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer until the oranges are quite soft and a fingernail will easily pierce the rind, about 1 hour.
3. Lift the fruit out of the water with a slotted spoon, and pour the water into a measuring jug.
4. Cut the fruit in half, scoop out all the pith and pips.
5. Put pith and pips in a small square of muslin, close up into a bag and tie tightly with string.
6. Chop the rind (finely or coarsely, as you wish) and put it back in the pan.
7. Measure out 8 cups (2 liters) of reserved cooking liquid, adding more if necessary to bring it up to the quantity needed.
8. Pour the liquid over the chopped rind and drop in the bag of pith and pips.
9. Add the white sugar and brown sugar, stir and bring the pan to a rolling boil. It should boil vigorously, but watch so it doesn’t boil over.
10. Put a small, empty saucer in the freezer to check the setting point.
11. Boil marmalade for 40 minutes to 1 hour — precise timing depends on your heat source — or until the marmalade is reduced by about one-third and the last drops from a spoon will fall away slightly stickily. Test for setting by tipping a little into the chilled saucer and draw a finger through the marmalade; it should leave a distinct channel (like Moses parting the Red Sea) and the surface of the marmalade will wrinkle slightly. If it does not, continue to boil.
12. Once the setting point is reached, pour the marmalade into clean, warm jars and cover while still hot.
Top photo: Jars of Seville orange marmalade. Credit: Sue Style
Aga cookers are about as British as it gets. They’re right up there with cricket, warm beer, Marmite, pubs, Wimbledon, the weather and driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s a ticklish business, being British and hating Agas, a bit like living in Switzerland and being a reluctant skier (which I’ve also done).
An Aga, for the benefit of those who don’t currently own one and did not grow up toasting their frozen toes beside one, is a great brute of a kitchen stove. Made of cast iron with a gleaming enamel finish, it runs the full length of the wall of many an English country kitchen. It comes with either three or four ovens, depending on the size of the beast, plus two hobs on the top, each equipped with a shiny, hinged, heatproof lid.
More from Zester Daily:
Some Aga stoves combine cooking capabilities with central heating and hot water functions, though there is a theory that Agas (like many of us) can’t pat their head and rub their belly at the same time, and that to ask them to combine the two activities — particularly if the wind is in the west — is doomed for failure.
If we’re talking cooking, the top left-hand oven on the four-door model is a bit hot for warming plates without exploding them, but barely hot enough to cook anything. The bottom left is fine for plate warming but not much else (except, as Aga owners will assure you, for drying out newborn lambs).
The top right is a positive furnace, great for baking bread, or roasting legs of those little lambs if they ever get to grow up. The heat down in the bottom right oven is not enough for cakes, but a bit more than you need for a gentle braise. (Aga cooks are recognizable by the burns on the undersides of their forearms; they spend a lot of time shunting stuff about from one oven to another.)
And you can boil a kettle or a saucepan (or three) on the top, no bother, but if the tops are left open too long (in other words if you use them), the temperature of the whole thing sinks, along with your soufflé or cake.
There’s no broiler, and you need another oven in reserve for the times when the Aga goes out. This is usually at Thanksgiving or on Christmas Day, and always in summer when, as can happen even in England, the weather is warm and you need to switch it off, otherwise it’s not only the cook who gets hot flashes. In addition, you need a battery of loud and insistent timers, as Aga oven doors are so airtight that there’s no sound or smell of incinerated chocolate cake, roast meat or peach cobbler.
Aga cookers have evolved over time
I was raised at the foot of an Aga. In those days, they ran on solid fuel, which meant you had to feed them with some kind of dusty greasy pat-a-cakes that came in grubby sacks. Our faithful Mr. Hunt shuffled in daily, opened one of the doors, jiggled things about, removed something mysterious and dangerous called “clinker” and retreated to dispose of it, who knew where.
The kitchen was cloaked in a fine film of greasy dust. To get to the stove, you had to pick your way over a carpet of greatly loved and exceedingly smelly sleeping dogs, which sprawled, snoring, on a brightly patterned rag rug reminiscent of Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Nowadays, Agas have moved on: They’re oil-, gas- or even electric-fired, so the clinker is a thing of the past. But how techy are they really?
The basic design has barely changed since 1922. This is the date on which Gustaf Dalen, a Swedish physicist and Nobel Prize winner, dreamt up and patented the idea. Originally made and marketed by Svenska Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator, the stoves never really took off in Sweden (funny, that). It was in England that they flourished, thanks to a company named Bell’s Asbestos and Engineering Supplies Ltd., which imported the technology and manufactured the ovens locally.
The Deluxe Aga cooker was introduced in 1934 and cost £62 ( about $99) while the more modest New Standard model cost a mere £42 and 10 shillings (about $68). Nowadays, they retail at several thousand pounds/dollars apiece, depending on the model. By 1948, 50,000 British families owned an Aga, and a Royal Appointment to His Majesty King George VI had been granted.
Many of my friends and most of my family are inveterate Aga-philes. All cite the wonderful warmth that the stoves radiate, and I have to concede that this is a distinct advantage in most English houses. (Whereas the rest of the world trembles and shrinks from drafts, the British celebrate the joys of what they persist in calling fresh air.) They also swear by Agas for drying clothes (or dogs) after wet walks, or for airing the ironing. At least one of my sisters-in-law reckons that you can’t make properly billowy meringues, light as a whisper and gooey in the middle, without the help of an Aga.
A Scottish friend has found a brilliant use for the cool oven: After squeezing her oranges for juice she puts the shells in the oven. She retrieves them days later, done to a crisp, and uses them as gloriously fragrant firelighters.
I leave the last word to a faithful (but clear-eyed) Aga owner who, like the stove itself, has the benefit of both a Swedish and a British background. “Agas,” she observes, “are a bit like husbands: Warm and cozy and nice to have around, but expensive — and they tend to go out just when you need them most.”
Photo: An Aga cooker. Credit: Aga Rangemaster
Alsace, on the eastern edge of France, has plenty of robust, rib-sticking, flavor-packed dishes that are just right for winter days. Uncomplicated to prepare and good-natured in the cooking, they provide the perfect rescue remedy for the harassed holiday cook. Baeckeoffe, a one-pot meal that combines pork, beef, lamb and vegetables marinated in the region’s famously fragrant white wine, is one of the best.
The name of this traditional Alsatian specialty refers to both the bakery (baecke) and the oven (offe). In former times, ovens in private homes were an undreamed-of luxury — not to mention an unwelcome fire hazard. Small, simple dishes were cooked in a pan on the top of the stove, but larger items requiring all-round heat were prepped at home, then taken round to the village baker’s to be cooked in the wood-fired oven after the bread had its turn.
Origins of Baeckeoffe up for debate
The story most commonly related is that Baeckeoffe was a Monday morning wash-day dish, outsourced to the village baker so the housewife-cook could get on with the household chores. But this seems an unlikely story. (Monday lunch would surely be an occasion for recycling the remains of a Sunday lunch feast — leftover choucroute and bacon or ham for a choucroute quiche, for example.)
More from Zester Daily on Alsatian cuisine:
Picture the scene, in a small, cozy, wood-paneled inn somewhere on the Route des Vins. The tables are decked with rich red-patterned tablecloths decorated with vine leaf motifs. On the sideboard is a collection of classic, decorated pottery terrines and Baeckeoffe dishes. Napkins are unfurled, orders are taken and a small jug of refreshing Sylvaner or Pinot Blanc is brought to sharpen the appetite and ease the pain of waiting.
In due course, the stout chef-patron, clad in his whites, emerges backward through the swinging doors, swirls around in a neat pirouette and sets the immense decorated pottery dish down on the table with a satisfying thud. Carefully he chips and pries away at the band of dough that seals the gap between lid and dish. The whole table leans forward in eager anticipation, the lid comes off and there’s a collective intake of breath as some of the finest flavors and fragrances of Alsace are released: pork, lamb, beef, root vegetables, juniper berries and Riesling, all marinated together for days and baked to a state of gentle perfection.
This is a perfect dish for the holidays, which you can time to your convenience. It benefits from 1 to 3 days’ marinating, and then it needs several hours left to its own devices in the oven. Choose a fatty cut of pork, like neck, which will stay nice and moist, and cut all the meat in quite large pieces so they don’t dry out in the long, slow cooking. Any Alsace Riesling will do as long as it’s a dry one and preferably not outrageously expensive — an entry-level wine from one of the grand domaines like Trimbach, Hugel or Beyer would be perfect. (Keep the expensive one for drinking with the meal.) The ideal container is a large, lidded ovenproof ceramic pot. When you’ve assembled the dish and put it in the oven, you can set out for a long walk to work up an appetite. On your return the kitchen will be filled with wondrous aromas of Alsace. Serve the Baeckeoffe with green salad and plenty of bread to mop up the (unthickened) juices. Any leftovers can be reheated.
Serves 6 hungry people
For the marinade:
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon juniper berries
6 bay leaves, crumbled
2 generous pinches mixed dried herbs
1 bottle dry Alsace Riesling (or other dry white wine)
For the Baeckoffe:
1 pound (500 grams) boneless neck pork
1 pound (500 grams) boneless shoulder of lamb
1 pound (500 grams) boneless stewing beef (skirt, for example)
3 to 4 pounds (1½ to 2 kilograms) firm, waxy potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
2 large carrots, diced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 leek, finely diced
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter, cut in small dice
1. Prepare the marinade by combining in a bowl the chopped garlic, carrot, onion, juniper berries, cloves, bay leaves, herbs and wine.
2. Cut the meat in fairly large pieces and put them in a bowl with the marinade.
3. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to three days.
4. Tip the meat into a colander placed over a second bowl, drain the meat and reserve the marinade.
5. Lightly butter a large, deep ovenproof dish with a well-fitting lid. [Mine is oval, measuring 14 inches by 9 inches by 4 inches deep (36 centimeters by 23 centimeters by 10 centimeters deep) with a 24-cup (6-liter) capacity.]
6. Place a thick layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish, then follow with successive layers of meat and the remaining vegetables (carrots, onions, garlic and leek), seasoning with salt and pepper as you go and finishing with a thick layer of potatoes.
7. Pour on the reserved marinade. It should come about three-quarters of the way up the meat and vegetables. If not, add a little water.
8. Scatter the diced butter on top of the potatoes and cover the dish with a double thickness of foil and the lid.
9. Bake in an oven at 300 F (150 C) for about two hours or until the meat is fork tender. (Fish out a piece and taste it to check, then prolong the cooking if necessary.)
10. Remove the lid from the Baeckeoffe and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes or so, or until the potatoes on top are nicely browned
Photo: Alsatian Baeckeoffe ready for serving. Credit: Sue Style
If you’ve not yet met a quince, you have a treat in store. These fragrant, downy, golden globes, distant relatives of the apple family, are not so much forbidden fruits as forgotten fruits. They ripen in late fall, and by Christmas they’ve all but vanished. If you’re lucky enough to find some, swoop on them and set them on a beautiful plate in the kitchen while you consider what to do with them. While you deliberate, the air will be filled with their delicate, faintly lemony scent, likened by 10th century Arab-Andalusian poet Shafer ben Utman al-Mushafi to the perfume of a loved woman.
One idea is to peel and core them and bake them whole in the oven, bathed in a syrup of honey, sugar, lemon juice and water. Done this way, they turn magically from a brilliant daffodil yellow to a burnished coppery color. They’re amazingly good served warm with vanilla ice cream. Or chop them up and turn them into chutney, mixed with oranges, raisins, white wine vinegar, sugar and loads of ginger. For an original apple tart, substitute a quince for one of the apples, peel and grate the fruit together, mix with cream, eggs and sugar and bake in a fragile pastry case. Best of all, turn them into a shimmering jelly, which makes a delightful Christmas gift. Pour into pretty pots, cut fabric hats for the tops and label the jars with pride. Append a little note to each jar explaining to the lucky recipient that quince jelly is magic on toast or melted and brushed over an apple tart to give a glossy, totally professional French pastry shop finish.
Makes about 8 (1-pound) jars
Juice from 1 lemon
1. Take 8 fine, ripe, yellow quinces, scrub them well to remove any down and cut away any brown bits.
2. Cut the fruit in quarters and chop roughly (no need to remove the peel or cores). They’re very hard, so a good, stout knife will be necessary.
3. Put the chopped flesh in a preserving pan.
4. Add enough water to cover the chopped quinces (about 8 cups, depending on your pan and the size of the quinces).
5. Simmer quince very gently for about 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a knife.
6. Tip the quince into a colander lined with a muslin or other fine cloth set over a large bowl.
7. Leave overnight to let the juice seep gently out – it’s permissible to give it a bit of a squeeze at the end to extract maximum juice, but don’t overdo this or the juice will be cloudy.
8. Discard all the pulp.
9. Pour juice into a measuring jug. For every 4 cups of liquid, allow 1½ pounds of sugar.
10. Put juice and sugar, plus the juice of 1 lemon, in the preserving pan.
11. Bring to a rolling boil, then boil for 20 to 30 minutes.
12. Start testing for a good set after about 25 minutes: Place a saucer in the freezer, spoon a little jelly onto it, leave for a few seconds, then pull your finger through it. The jelly should wrinkle and form a distinct channel.
13. Pour jelly into sterilized jars and cover while still warm.
14. Eat with a runcible spoon.
Top photo: Freshly picked quince in a basket. Credit: Sue Style