Take Ripe Quinces . . .

quinceThe Quince is a fruit of ancient origin. The Roman cookbook of Apicius, a collection of Roman cookery recipes compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD gives recipes for stewing quince with honey and leek.

Historically, marmalade was made from quince (the English word ‘marmalade’ comes from the Portuguese word marmelada, meaning ‘quince preparation’ and is used to describe quince cheese or quince jam : ‘marmelo = quince’)

quinces-stewed-with-leeks-apiciusNowadays, a marmalade is defined as a jellied fruit product that holds suspended within it all or part of the fruit pulp and the sliced peel. It is prepared from pulpy fruits, preferably those that contain pectin. Citrus fruits are especially desirable because of patina-de-cydoneis-apiciustheir flavour and pectin content. They are gorgeous cooked, and make the most beautiful rose-coloured jam, loaded with natural pectin, so there’s no need to add any during the making.

 Quince are a rather an odd fruit. They look like a cross between an apple and a pear, and as such seem inviting to eat. But take a bite of one picked from the tree and the sour, astringent taste will make your mouth curl up in disbelief.

Ripe quince have a strong, floral fragrance, very close to roses. For best results use quince that are ripe and rose scented. When choosing what quince to pick or buy, smell the bottom of the fruit.

It should have a strong floral fragrance. If not, it’s not fully ripe.

quince-marmalade-greekjelly-potjelly-2nd-boilreducing-slowlyQuince cheese, also known as dulce de membrillo in Spanish, is a sweet, thick, jelly made of the pulp of the quince fruit.

Quince cheese is a common confection in several countries, where it goes by first-boilbottled-marmaladeother names, such as carne de membrillo or ate de membrillo in Spanish, marmelada in Portuguese, marmelo in Galician, codonyat in Catalan, cotognata in Italian, birsalma sajt or birsalma zselé in Hungarian and membrilyo in Tagalog. In Australia, it is known as quince paste. The taste is sweet but slightly astringent, and it is similar in quince-marmaladeconsistency, flavour and use to guava cheese.

It is sold in squares or blocks, then cut into thin slices and spread over toasted bread or sandwiches, plain or with cheese, often served for breakfast or as a snack, with cheese or to stuff pastries.

The Pastafrola, a sweet tart common in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, is usually filled with quince paste. In Argentina and Uruguay, the dulce de membrillo is also a popular dessert, eaten with cheese,

dulce-de-membrilloIn the Philippines the dessert is known as membrilyo, even if it is made of guava, since quince is unavailable in the former Spanish colony. It is a traditional part of the nochebuena served on Christmas Eve.

In French  quince paste or pâte de coing is part of the Provence Christmas traditions, a part of the thirteen desserts, that are the traditional dessert foods used to celebrating Christmas the region.

In Serbia, Hungary (where it’s called birsalma sajt) and continental Croatia, quince cheese is an often prepared sweet and is named kitn(i)kes, derived from German ‘Quittenkäse’ Also a New England specialty of the 18th century, it required all-day boiling to achieve a solidified state, similar to the French cotignac.

Péter Melius Juhász, the Hungarian botanist, mentioned quince cheese as early as 1578 as a fruit preparation with medical benefits.

Quince are available in October and November in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Honey, Spice & All Things Nice

Honey and Gingerhoney-spice-ring have long been considered staples of the ‘cold weather’ tea-table.

Although the cost of spices in general has dropped considerably during the last century, they are still seen as a luxury, even today.

As such they are used mainly in festive foods for special occasions such as Birthdays, Weddings, Christmas and Easter!

Here are a couple of interesting  recipes from a ‘Farmhouse Kitchen’ cookbook from the eighties.


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Of Hare & Rabbit

first-catch-your-hare-by-john-doylea-hareThe eating of hares and rabbits has a venerable history in Europe.

Greeks, Germans, Spaniards and Britons love rabbits and hares, as do Italians in certain regions. Most of the recipes in modern usage have their roots deep in those European traditions.

a-cute-bunnyOften maligned as ‘poor people’s food’ both rabbits and hares can make better eating than some of the larger game. Rabbits are typically tender and of a perfect eating size, one will serve a person nicely, although you can split one rabbit between two people if needs must!

mediterranean-cookery-hare-and-rabbit-imageDespite their cute and fluffy appearance, rabbits are a long overlooked source of sustainable meat. One of the primary differences that set rabbit apart from other meats is that it is one of the only animals we are prepared to eat here in the UK that is also kept as a domestic pet. I mean, who on earth wants to tuck in to Fluffy’s baby sister?

To anyone weaned on Watership Down and the Easter Bunny the very thought is mediterranean-cookery-lievre-a-la-royale-1going to be subject to a fair degree of horrified reluctance.

Hares on the other hand are not so cuddly. Larger, up to 12 lb in weight, one will serve four easily. Hares have the darker, stronger flavoured meat both are served braised by long tradition. Not having been domesticated and unlike rabbits they live in small groups and nest above ground as opposed to complex warrens of the rabbit.

The number of wild rabbits in the UK is estimated at around 50 m while hare numbers tend to hover somewhere around 4 m.

mediterranean-cookery-lievre-a-la-royale-2It should be a foregone conclusion then, that with such numbers and the common knowledge of their over-enthusiastic breeding, rabbit is a meat should be on the menu far more frequently despite the sentimental affection for the bunny.

A wild rabbit in the UK will eat more grass than a sheep, and hares can consume up to three times as much. Given a good combination of herbs and seasonings these wild animals have a subtle gaminess not at all in the ‘tastes like chicken’ category whilst hare is always wild. (about getting caught most probably!)

In England it is the brown hare that we occasionally see in mediterranean-cookery-lievre-a-la-royale-3good butchers, but in Scotland you will often find the blue or mountain hare.

Traditionally, hare should be hung undrawn; guts still inside, for seven to ten days to enhance its flavour and to tenderize the meat.

However, speaking to several chefs*, it appears this can make the meat somewhat overwhelming and so it is usually hung with its insides removed.

One of the main problems cooks face with rabbit and hare is that they both dry out rather quickly. Braising is the preferred method by the traditionalist, as is their inclusion mediterranean-cookery-lievre-a-la-royale-4in pies and casseroles. Their use in stews is also a most noble way of preparing those cute little buck-toothed bunnies!

mediterranean-foodMyself, being an unrepentant, dyed in the wool traditionalist, trained as a cook in the classical style, go along here with the recipe for lièvre à la Royale (right) that Elizabeth David gives in her 1950’s volume, A Book Of Mediterranean Food.

It is just pleasing to note that unlike the current breed of ‘celebrity chefs’ she has not added her own unique twist and claimed it as her own, purely for royalty purposes of course, but recounts it as written by Senator Couteaux in his mediterranean-cookery-lievre-a-la-royale-5Parisian Le Temps newspaper column of fifty years earlier!

*It is, and always be, my contention that there is only one chef in the kitchen, the chief cook, the man, or woman, in charge. All the others are cooks of differing levels of knowledge and experience who, pulling together under their leader produce well-presented and highly edible food. Anyone can call themself a chef but it doesn’t follow that they can cook!

To outrageously misquote the late Lady Thatcher ‘If you have to tell people you’re a chef, you aint!’



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A Very English Pudding

bb1Summer pudding or summer fruit pudding is an English dessert made of sliced white bread, layered in a deep bowl with fruit and fruit juice. It is left to soak overnight and turned out onto a plate.

The dessert was most popular from the late 19th to the early 20th century.  It first appears in print with its current name in 1904, but identical recipes for ‘hydropathic pudding’ and ‘Malvern pudding’ from as far back as 1868 have been found.

summer-pudding-14Making summer pudding is much easier if the bread is somewhat stale. This helps the fruit juices soak through the bread, which makes the pudding more pleasant. Summer pudding can be served with cream.

summer-pudding-1The fruits typically used in summer pudding are raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, and blackberries. Less commonly used are tayberries, loganberries, cherries and blueberries.

Today, 29th September is Michaelmas Day, traditionally the last day of the harvest season is the feast day of Saint Michael the summer-pudding-2Archangel, the patron saint of the sea, of boats and boatmen, of horses and horsemen. He was also the Angel who hurled Lucifer from heaven for his treachery.

Originally the harvest began on 1st August and was called Lammas, or ‘loaf Mass’ where farmers made bread summer-pudding-4from the new wheat crop and gave them to their own church.

This custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and currently the festival is at the end of the season, near Michaelmas Day.

summer-pudding-7Folklore in England holds that the devil stamps on bramble bushes or as they say in some areas, spits on them. Therefore one must not pick blackberries after Michaelmas.

The reason for this belief has ancient origins. It was said that the devil was kicked out of heaven on St Michael’s Feast Day, but as summer-pudding-8he fell from the skies, he landed in a bramble bush! He cursed the fruit of that prickly plant, scorching them with his fiery breath, stamping on them, spitting on them and generally making them unsuitable for human consumption.

hampshire-summer-puddingLegend suggests he renews his curse every Michaelmas day and so no more blackberries can be gathered beyond today!

See here for further details!


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Poppy Goes Blackberrying

bb3It’s that time of year again! The hedgerows groan under the weight of the trailing, blackberry laden brambles while higher in the branches you will find both elderberry and sloe.

Poppy and I have a number of preferred locations in the area for such activities and this is the Queen Elizabeth Forest, which along with its ‘over-the-road’ adjunct of Park Wood, are ones that we frequent all year dsc00536round for pleasantly sun dappled summer afternoons, wet muddy winter ones and the all too infrequent snow filled ones.

Either way it’s a good place to be, to spend a few hours of meandering thoughtfulness amid the madness. To be quite honest it has been a calm refuge of peace, tranquillity and thick black mud for me and several generations of my dogs, of which there have been far too many to many to name here.

dsc00535But be that as it may! Seamus Heaney’s ‘Blackberry-Picking’ (right) is one of the great twentieth-century poems of disappointment, epitomising that moment when we realise that nothing will ever live up to our expectations.

bb5Heaney uses the act of picking blackberries to explore his theme. First he focuses on the picking of the blackberries, the experience of the picking of them, the eating of them, and the taking of them them dsc00537home.

It then reflects on the subsequent sense of disappointment when the hoarded blackberries are found to have fermented and there is a fungus growing on the fruit.

It encapsulates the realisation that this would always happen: soon after the berries had been picked, they would go rotten. Growing up is about reconciling ourselves to the realities of the world, and ‘Blackberry Picking’ addresses this theme.

dsc00538It’s a rite of passage that we all experience akin to the realisation that there is no such thing as the tooth fairy or, even more depressingly, Santa Claus. It pinpoints the precise moment when our clear and sunny skies of hope cloud over with disillusionment.

The taste of the blackberries, juicy, voluptuous and sweet, is a sensual experience, much like a first kiss: a thrill that, after which, there is no other.

Indeed, the fruit-picking calls to mind the biblical story from the Book of Genesis, that loss of paradise brought on when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. In doing so they gained worldly knowledge but lost their innocence.

dsc00534Ironically, nowhere in the bible is it written that the fruit of the forbidden tree is the apple. So why could it not have been the blackberry?

Apropos of nothing in particular, a further post detailing what to actually do with the harvest of today will follow shortly, well, by Michaelmas at the very least!

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To Catch A Crook

cycc1As a last foray into the ‘Eagle Annual’ for the time being here is a very innocent, very un-PC look at the world of the ‘stiff-lipped-upper-class-sergeant-Bruce-of-the-Yard’ and the lesser breed of ‘ill-educated-but-clever-lower-class-career- criminal-mastermind-Burke-the-Peterman’

The language alone is a dead give-away!

There will be a short quiz at the end to see if you have managed to spot all of the clues and solved the riddle along with our square jawed policeman!  Good Luck!

cycc2   cycc3cycc4Can You Catch A CrookI hope you all all enjoyed the stiff, right-handed upper cut from our hero to fell the villain!

So did you work it out?

If so, give yourself a well- deserved pat on the back.

The story must have been written some sixty odd years ago but the ethos and story line hark back to the era of Bogart, Cagney, Hemingway and Conrad, to the very Heart of Darkness itself!








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Wembley, 1966

WembleyThis weekend, a mere 900 years since the Norman invasion, sees the commemoration of one of this country’s finest ever achievements in the realms of international success – namely the winning of the World Cup in 1966 against Germany at Wembley Stadium!

Eagle Annual 1966England Win 1bIn a year when England achieved the unique and unenviable double of leaving Europe (European Cup and Union) twice in one week, the archive comes to the fore with an article from the 1966 England Win 1aedition of The Eagle boys annual.

Now the annual, in the age old tradition of such volumes  was published in time to be a boys Christmas present in the previous year of 1965. It has, therefore, no knowledge of the result.

England Win 2 Various pundits are arrayed to give their views on the subject with some rather interesting images.

In our current age of instantaneous information and immediate reaction it may seem strange that such a England 2delay should be built in, but then it would naturally heighten the enthusiasm and add to the build-up of tension.

England 4For the occasion BBC radio will be broadcasting the entire match-day commentary towards the end of July which will doubtless be available on the iplayer beyond that.

England 5Being at the time a mere whippersnapper of a thing in short trousers (or was it nappies? it was a very long time ago!) my memory of the event is vague but I have been reliably informed that my father, not on the whole a wealthy man hired a new-fangled colour TV for the entire month!
England Team 1966Such extravagance! But it was a good game by all accounts!

Fred by Fiddy


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