Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Recapturing childhood memories with a quince ...

There is a quince bush in the front garden of an old lady who lives in our road and every time I walk past it I remember the quince jelly my Grandad used to make when I was a child; it was a strange, exotic jam that I remember being an acquired taste but one I loved.
This year I decided I was going to try to make it and early on when the flowers had finished and the first little fruit were beginning to come through, I asked the old lady if I could have the fruit when they were ripe. Every time I walked past it on the way to and from school I watched those fruit grow and begin to go from deep green to lime green to a hint of yellow. I have to admit I didn't know much about quince as a fruit but I now know that fruit is ripe when it turns yellow and is normally ready to pick in October, preferably just before the first frosts.

Imagine my dismay when literally days before I was planning to pick the ripe quince, they all disappeared! There were still some fruit on the bush but tucked away and nowhere near as ripe as the beautiful yellow/orange fruit I had had my eye on, so I had to be patient and wait a little while longer. A few weeks on and this week I knocked on the door and asked if I could take the remaining fruit (it turns out the old lady's neighbour had taken what I considered to be my fruit). They are still not as ripe as I would like but apparently they do continue to ripen once picked so I decided to take my chance.

My parents also have a quince bush in their garden, so I raided that at the weekend too. Their fruit were much, much, much smaller but beautifully ripe so I decided to start making some things with these while the other, bigger fruit ripen.
I started by experimenting making some quince pickle. I peeled, cored and chopped the quince, which being quite small was a labour of love. I still can't get over how many seeds such tiny fruit had in them. I didn't have the cider vinegar the recipe calls for but did have half a bottle of white balsamic. I also added sugar, juniper berries and black peppercorns and I think the resulting half jar of pickle is good and I will definitely make some more with the bigger fruit and cider vinegar.
Although most pickle recipes say to leave for three months to let the vinegar mellow this one can be used immediately. It has a kick from the vinegar but this is mellowed somewhat by the flavour of the quince.
I then started on the quince jelly. This is much easier as you cook the quince in their entirety - no peeling or coring. I halved them and washed them, then put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover them and simmered for about 40 minutes until the fruit had completely disintegrated; all that was left were the skins and seed pods.

Then came the fun bit where you strain the juice from the fruit. I used a (new) square muslin cloth left over from when Justin was a baby and tied string to the corners then strung it up over one of the kids chairs on top of their craft table! I placed a large pan underneath and carefully spooned the cooked quince into the bag. I then left this overnight to drip, resisting the urge to squeeze the juices through so that I only got juice and no pulp.
The next morning, I measured the quince juice and added the same amount in sugar (mine was about two and three quarter cups) and stirred until the sugar had dissolved. Then I heated it all up and although the recipe I was following said to simmer once brought to the boil, I found after about 15 minutes that it just wasn't getting up to temperature (it needed to be about 105C) so I increased it to a boil and left it for another ten minutes or so.
It turned from a pale cloudy yellow to a rich golden colour.


I then tested if it had reached setting point by dropping a teaspoon full onto a plate I had previously put in the freezer. After about 10 seconds, the jelly had formed a skin and wrinkled when I ran my finger through it so I knew it was ready.

I let it cool for about 5 minutes then carefully poured it into four jars, two big and two mini, and there was just enough left over to pour into a pot for immediate testing!
And the verdict? In honesty, I don't remember what my Grandad's quince jelly used to taste like but the jelly I made yesterday is good.  It is still an acquired taste but I love the sharpness that comes through every mouthful. 

So now I have to decide what to do with the remaining ripening quince I have - more pickle or jelly or both?

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Saved from the compost heap

I don't know about you, but I seem to struggle a lot with house plants! They start off looking beautiful but never seem to stay that way. It might be something to do with the fact that I often forget them so any plant needs to be very sturdy to survive in our house.

I also get annoyed with flowering plants that are in full bloom when you get them and then never seem to flower again. How long do you keep them? Two years, three, even four in the vain hope that they will suddenly delight you with their original glory?

I have a couple such plants - orchids to be precise. I don't know much about orchids but I do think they seem to like bathrooms as that seems to be where most people keep theirs. I have had one particular orchid for very many years now and I am beginning to work out that it seems to flower every other year. And this year I am in luck. What a stunning display it has put on for me. There are three stems heaving with flowers and it delights me every time I go into the bathroom.
I also have another orchid that I was given when Justin was born and it has never flowered since; I am giving it one last chance but if there are no signs of any flowers by the time Justin is four in January then it really is for the compost heap! I might resort to buying a fake plant as I really like the pot it is in!!
© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

I feel like a real runner now!


I did my last run today before the big race on Sunday, the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon (see here for more info). Today was a mere 20 minutes run - I didn't even feel as if I had warmed up before it was time to stop. I really never thought I would say that a 2 miles/20 minute run was too short!!

The last few weeks of training have gone well, culminating with a training run of the full half marathon distance of 13.1 miles run in a credible time of just over 2:24 hours. And more surprisingly, I enjoyed the whole run; I even smiled for most of it! It was a fantastic route, right through the middle of Bushy Park from Hampton Hill to Kingston, then a few more miles along the river Thames almost to Hampton Court and back again. And even the rain that started just before half way and got increasingly heavier couldn't put a dampener on it (pun intended!)

Now, all I have to do is put my feet up and eat lots ... lots of pasta that is. I am excited but nervous for race day - I am running with my now long term running buddy Lorna who has trained with me for last year and this year's races and we hope to enjoy the race as much as we can through some of the great London sights: Buckingham Palace, the Mall, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster bridge, the London Eye, Hyde Park, Green Park, St James Park ...

I am running on behalf of Parkinson's UK. If anyone out there would like to sponsor me, you can do so here. Many thanks in advance and wish me luck.
© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.