During the past couple of weeks we have moved house from picturesque Eaglehawk Neck to a small 5 acre property at the head of a delightful small valley in Molesworth.
The property is situated in the Derwent Valley, a region renowned for its abundance of fresh seasonal produce with celebrations such as the Autumn Festival showcasing not only the produce, but what can be made with it. We hope to grow berries and currants ourselves, as well as a range of vegetables.
I was delighted when told by one of our neighbours that locals call our house “The Three Bears”. Apparently this is because there is the main house, with a matching chalet and children’s cubby house, all made from Western Red Cedar. It really is very aesthetically pleasing here – there is a small orchard and established, though somewhat overgrown, garden beds. Yesterday I made some progress in removing the weeds and planted out garlic. I was delighted to find that the soil is rich and easy to dig, bonus – even found a bowlful of potatoes left in the plot, pink-eyes it seems, not many but enough for a meal or two. Grandson Jacob found a small pumpkin hidden amongst the shrivelled vines and there were even a couple of green tomatoes. All a promise of things to come.
I am also much attracted by the prospect of ‘foraging’ down the country lanes, as indeed my daughter Stephanie already does as a resident of the area. There are all sorts of edible treasures to be discovered as the seasons progress. A day to two ago she gave me a bagful of late season quinces. I left them for a time in the pantry and in a bowl on the table as their exquisite aroma fills the house.
However, last night I decided it was time to finally cook them up – I peeled, cored, chopped and cooked them with about a third of their weight in Granny Smith apples and just a little water. I add sugar to taste before the fruit fully breaks down as this arrests the process and the stewed fruit still has some definition. If the mixture is too liquid, then it needs to be thickened with some cornflour paste – just some cornflour mixed with a little cod water and stirred in until the mixture thickens. If you don’t do this, the liquid will potentially make the pastry soggy. Once it’s cooled I will use this to fill small tarts.
I hate to waste anything, so kept the peels and cores. I roughly chopped the cores and threw them in a large pot, then barely covered them with water, brought it to the boil, then simmered it for an hour or so on top of the wood heater here. It was then strained first through a colander, then through an old tea towel. I’m cooking it up again until the liquid is reduced to about 4 cups, then I’ll add a bit less than 4 cups of sugar, bring to the boil and boil briskly for about 20 minutes until a spoonful of the mixture sets on a cold saucer (this indicate that setting point is reached). It then needs to be poured into warm sterilised bottle and be sealed immediately. The jelly will keep in a cool, dry dark place for at least a year or more.
This recipe works as the skins and cores, especially seeds of the fruit, contain high levels of pectin which is crucial to the setting of jams and jellies. If by any chance it doesn’t set, which is highly unlikely, use it as a topping for ice cream or panna cotta – you can even stir it into ice cream, swirl style fashion, which is absolutely delicious.
The jelly can be used on fresh bread, toast and crumpets of course but also try adding a spoonful to a casserole style dish or a gravy or jus – it makes an amazing difference.
Oh yes – here is a recipe for making tart cases. I find that it’s a good idea to brush the base of the pastry cases, before adding the fruit, with a little egg white. This eliminates the risk of the fruit making the pastry soggy so means that the tarts keep well for longer.
200g plain flour
50g self raising flour
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then whisk in the egg until well combined. Mix in the combined flours with a metal spoon until the mixture forms a soft dough. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll out thinly on a lightly floured surface and cut rounds to fit the base of small pie tins (or scoop patty tins).
Brush with a little beaten egg white, then spoon in the cooled stewed quince and apple mixture. Cut smaller rounds from pastry to fit the tops and press edges together. Prick the top of each tart once with a fork.
Bake at 170C for 12 to 15 minutes. Leave to stand in tins for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.