Monday, 31 October 2011

Baked or roast quince

RoastI left a box of quinces outside the gate for anyone who cared to help themselves. Later we discovered who it was, when invited to house-warming drinks. Another neighbour thanked us for them, and said she'd used them all for making Nigel Slater's Roast Quince. I have to say I'm immediately suspicious of these sorts of recipes, usually fussy and over-complicated. I have to say all of these sound quite nice (unlike the hideous pear and chocolate crumble that features in Slater's Guardian column this week - what a hideous way to treat Comice pears).

This is our recipe, which differs a little.

4 quinces, peeled, quartered and cored
Large glass of quince wine (or other fragrant desert wine of your choice)
2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tsp of powdered ginger and another of cinnamon

1. Poach quinces in sweetened wine for half an hour, or until slightly soft (we put them in the microwave for 10 minutes, turning them in the bowl occasionally.
2. Transfer to a roasting dish, reserving the fluid,
3. Add the fluid to the brown sugar and spice, stir to dissolve (over heat if necessary)
4. Spoon this syrup over the fruit and place in oven pre-heated to 170 C
3. Bake for 40 minutes, turning and basting occasionally with the syrup, until very soft and tender (we turned down the oven to 120 C and left it for a bit longer).

The result is quite unlike anything you will have tasted, the same concentrated quince flavour as Membrillo but with the a unique texture; the caramelised crust reveals a rather chewy coarse, granular, centre with just a hint of the astringency of the raw fruit.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Two more unidentified varieties

Some unidentified apples from my in-law's garden. The apple was supposed to be an Ard Cairn Russet, this tree was the first apple I grafted, from wood bought from the dreadful fruit nursery Deacon's. The tree is about 10 year old now, and this is the first year it has had a heavy crop to evaluate. I'd already had several other trees and graft wood varieties bought from Deacon's turn out to be completely wrong, here is another one to add to the list. The fruits are medium-sized, very hard and greasy, obviously a very late variety. My father-in-law picked them all far too early (he has early stage dementia so can't really be reasoned with) so they may shrivel before they ripen properly.

I've been going through the catalogues, can't find anything that is a particularly good match for appearance/lateness, Winter Pearmain comes the closest, (based on description in Joan Morgan's The Book of Apples).

The other one is from the enormous and ancient pear tree growing on the wall of my in-law's 17th century farmhouse. It only started to produce fruit a few years ago, after I gave them a Conference to see if a pollination partner would induce it to produce fruit. This worked, and some steady work on pruning the monster has gradually brought it back into producing healthy fruit (rather than scabby little things of the first few years).

The tree is probably at least 70 years old, probably older. It's grafted on to Pyrus communis stock. I have read that can have a negative effect on fruit flavour/quality, but without grafting some onto a quince stock, I can't really make a comparison.

The fruit is loosely pyriform, sometimes highly irregular. It has a slightly musky flavour, and a slightly bitter flavour permeates the flesh as well as the skin. Some of the qualities remind me of Gorham, but the season is far too late, they are rock hard through most of October, just beginning to soften now. The descriptions sound like Vicar of Winkfield but it's rather earlier and more highly russetted than the latter. I will have to get Bunyard out and go through all the old varieties again I think.

Pear foliage

pearFoliage of Fondante d'Automne


Monday, 24 October 2011

Sloe gin

Came across a good patch of blackthorn with a good number of sloes, quite a rarity around here. Having seen branches drooping with ones in south Gloucestershire a few weeks back, at a time when we couldn't stop, I was glad of the find. There are lots of blackthorn bushes in the area, but they crop very lightly or, more often, not at all. I think the free-draining gravel soil means that there is little lime available, which stops the kernel forming properly in stone fruit.

I managed to pick about a kilo before the dogs got too bored, more than I needed for the nearly full bottle of gin that has been on the shelf for rather too long now.

Most recipes seem to agree on 1 lb of sloes to 75ml bottle of gin. I prefer to infuse the fruit without sugar, adding after the liquid has been decanted around Christmas time. I don't bother to prick or freeze the fruit, they were very squashy and the cell walls will break down with time.

Here's the recipe written properly
450 g (1 lb) sloes
75 ml gin or vodka (cheapest possible)
300-400g (12-14 oz) sugar

1. Rinse a clean demi-john with campden tablets.
2. Add fruit, sugar and gin, fasten down with a solid bung.
3. Leave for three months, checking and giving a shake once a week or so.
4. Drain fluid into clean demi-john. Taste and add more sugar if necessary, and leave to dissolve for a few days. Decant into a sterilised bottle.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Medlar wine


I've been meaning to try this for a few years but have never quite gotten round to it. The recipe is loosely based on my
quince wine recipe, but with additional spices and some dried fruit to give it body, should the medlar flavour not quite be as mellow as expected.

2 kg (4.5 lb) medlars
enough boiling water to cover
100g sultanas
half orange, including peel
A generous knob of root ginger (2" approx)
half a stick of cinnamon
600g (1.5 lb) caster sugar
250 g (.5lb) muscovado sugar
Desert wine yeast (I'm trying sherry)
2 tsps of pectolase

1. Pick over medlars discarding any loose matter around calyx.
2. Place fruit and spice in stainless steel pan and cover with enough boiling water to cover fruit. Bring to boil and then remove from heat. Leave fruit infusion to steep for a few hours.
3. Strain off liquid through a coarse sieve into another steel vessel. Add sugar and bring to boil. Leave to cool, until luke-warm.
4. Pour more boiling water over the fruit in the first pan, and bring to the boil again. This will be used to top up the volume in the demi-john as required.
5. Make up some sterilising fluid using campden tablets, and rinse a clean demi-john, bung, funnel, fine sieve and airlock in preparation for the cooled medlar infusion.
6. Pour infusion/sugar syrup mixture into the sterilised demi-john, using a finer sieve inside a large funnel to catch any smaller bits of fruit. Remove sieve, leaving funnel. Open yeast sachet and sprinkle about half into bottom of funnel, then do the same with pectolase. Then flush the powder through as you top up the demi-john to just over 3/4 full using spare medlar infusion (or orange juice if preferred). Swirl around a couple of times to make sure the yeast/pectolase is well mixed.
7. Rinse airlock/bung in campden solution again (I like to use campden solution in the airlock) then twist into neck of demi-john as firmly as you can.
8. Place overnight in bowl in sink, or unless you have some idea how vigorous the fermentation may be (it can vary quite a bit, but generally wines with high acid/tannin content seem to be the most likely to 'boil over').
9. Place in cool, dark place for a few weeks until fermentation has ceased, keeping airlock topped up. Once you are sure it has finished, it can be decanted into a clean demi-john and aged for a few more months before bottling.

Not sure what this will be like, having never tried it before. I used firm, un-bletted medlars as an experiment but would be better/safer to use fully-ripened ones. The infusion tasted quite light, spicy and pleasant, but with a highly tannic after taste, probably because the fruit wasn't ripe eonght. I think I'll leave the rest of the crop 'ripen' a bit more before making jelly or a further batch of wine. I'm hoping for something more akin to a sweet sherry-type wine, with a rich colour and flavour. Time will tell.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Pear and Ginger Upside-down cake

This is a variation on the Eve's pudding recipe which makes a very attractive cake.

100g butter
100 g vanilla sugar
50g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
2 bantam eggs (or one large egg)
2 tsp cinnamon
1tsp powdered ginger
half tsp salt
crystallised ginger
1 large, ripe pear (or 2 small pears)
Quince or apricot jam

1. Cream butter and sugar to a soft paste.

2. Beat eggs, and whisk gradually into butter/sugar.

3.Add salt and spices to flour and mix together. Add ground almonds and mix well, breaking up any lumps of almond.

4. Gradually introduce flour/almond mixture into the batter, and fold in until well mixed.

5. Chop up 5 or 6 cubes of crystallised ginger into small pieces and add to mixture.

6. Take a non-stick cake tin, and grease well. Half and core the pear(s), then chop into slices. Arrange these to make an attractive pattern in the tin. Arrange cubes of crystallised ginger to fill in any gaps. Spoon on the cake batter, making sure that it fills all the gaps between the fruit, without disturbing them. Try to get it so that it is fairly level across the tin, so that it cooks evenly.

7. Pre-head oven to 170° C. Place in oven and check after 20 minutes. If the top is looking browned, cover with foil and reduce the heat to 130° C.

8. After 10 minutes, try the knife test to see how well it's doing, and if it is not ready, return it to the oven and continue checking at 5 minute intervals until it is cooked through.

9. When done, remove from oven. If the top has 'caught' in places, these can be sliced off with a knife, and any bumps levelled out so that it will sit evenly when inverted. Next place a plate or board over the tin, and turn it over. Measure 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of jam into a mug or old jam jar, and melt in microwave. Pour jam on top of cake, and spread out gently to glaze.

Approximately 345 calories a slice, when divided into 6.

Last pear picking

Decided to pick all the remaining pears today, to avoid potential damage from elements, and the last persistent squirrel. Will keep the Winter Nellis in open boxes, as they will ripen gradually from now, but might wrap the Josephine de Malines and Santa Claus in paper to try to prevent too much shrivelling in store, as these can take quite a while to start ripening.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Autumn colours

autumnScabby leaves of pear, Santa Claus and strawberry leaves.


GrenadierThe 2 boxes of Grenadier windfalls are coming to the end of their useful life. At this stage, they are quite palatable for desert use, flavour is full and fruity, though the texture is a bit crumbly. A shame that we inherited a tree that comes at just the wrong time for us.

Pitmaston Duchess

PitmastonThis is the first time this variety has produced fruit, and it has come as a bit of a disappointment. I picked the three fruit, one of which was very large, the size of a Swan's egg, as soon as there was the slightest hint of yellow on one. I left them for 2 days in store, then notice that one had virtually liquefied in that time. We ate the other, which was nothing to write home about. Hopefully I've caught the last one in time, but I can't say I'm impressed. Comice is a similar size, and a much better flavour for both cooking and desert. I grafted 2 maidens originally, both have been very weak growing, susceptible to canker (one succumbed), so it doesn't score well on any count (plus it's a triploid, so not a good choice if you only have one other pear variety for pollination). The tree is only about 4 feet high, so I think I will 'top' it with a more vigorous variety, that might benefit from a weaker-growing interscion.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Santa Claus


I've been assuming the damage on my Santa Claus was due to scab, as (unlike what is says in the catalogues) I find the leaves and shoots very susceptible. This only happens to the ones in my back garden, the front tree (part of an arch) never has this problem on the fruit even though the rest of the tree is scabby. I think I'll pick them soon, they are still very hard at this stage and take a time to ripen but I don't want leave them too long and find they rot from the core (cropping has been light so far so I haven't had much practice with them).

Apple cordons

I think I'm close to admitting defeat on some of my apple cordons. All of my pear cordons are easy to prune and more or less prolific, but some of my apples are really a waste of space. I was advised that M26 is the best rootstock for apples, but I think it is far to vigorous, M27 is a much better stock for supported forms. M26 is a pretty useless stock all round, as it's far to weak and spindly to use as a half-standard form, it needs permanent staking and the branches simply can't support and weight of fruit and are prone to breaking.

Some varieties of apple are fine on cordons, ones that spur freely with compact growth (Sunset is the best in this respect). Most apples are too vigorous and the pruning required to keep a trained form manageable just encourages yet more top growth. With the exception of just a few, most apples fare best with only light pruning to shape.

The more vigorous of my M26 cordons make shoots growth in excess of 3 feet which is just a bit too thick to prune with secateurs; using a lopper results in ugly wounds, and personally I dislike having to resort to a pruning saw. It's a sign that something isn't working.

I will give them one last chance and ringbark the worst offenders next Spring, but I will also graft up some M27 versions of these trees and either make a new cordon, or grow them as bushes now that I have some more space (or both). If ring-barking doesn't work, I think I'll take them out and plant pears in their place.

Golden Russet

This is the first time since this cordon was planted, about 12 year ago, that his variety has produced fruit. It has very sparse growth, with few spurs, and this branch has only come into cropping because it has been bent down in a W rather than a V -shaped cordon. I'm looking forward to trying it as I could do with a late Season russet, as I don't find the Rosemary russets keep their flavour well past Christmas. Looks like roughly a kilo ofunblemished fruit. But as a cordon, it is a disaster, as it it's neighbour Egremont Russet. Both far to vigourous and shy to spur.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Summer pruning!

Made a start on so-called summer pruning, starting with Winter Nellis. I like to prune extension growth away at this time of year as it lets more sunlight in and means fewer leaves end up falling around the trees. Summer pruning should never be done until terminal buds have formed, signalling extension growth is finished for the year, so can be pruned back to the fruiting spurs, apart from long growth required for training in or as graft wood next year. The prunings will go straight on the bonfire.

Sunset - review

SunsetThe real 'star' of this season has been our crop of Sunset, which have ripened superbly well. I'm really impressed by the quality of the fruit, crisp, sweet and aromatic. They seem to have coloured rather more than in previous years, perhaps this explains the lovely flavour. It's sometimes described as a Cox 'substitute' as it is very easy to grow and prolific. This isn't really fair as it's a different kind of apple, juicier and sweeter, but equally good and very heavy cropping. I'll be sad when they are over.

I don't know why I haven't recorded the crop weight of Sunset before, it always produced well, I'd estimate between 3 and 5 kgs

Red Comice - review

RedI think I've been a bit disparaging about Red Comice as a desert pear in the past, so I'm prepared to eat my words. They are superb, the skins are thin and without bitterness, the flesh is like a normal Comice, but rather richer. I think I should have picked them a tad earlier, as some are going a little floury and soft in the middle, but still superb.

Winter Nellis - crop

Excellent crop of 5 kg this year. Although classed as a very late pear, I find they start to ripen quite quickly when picked, unlike the other late pears which do keep well into the New Year.