There’s an ancient quince tree in the far corner of my mother-in-law’s garden that, every winter as it sheds peeling bark from its gnarled and twisted branches and drops dead wood onto the lawn below, looks like it won’t make it through to another spring.
But yet again it has burst into fruit with such a good crop that Mr V took some to the farmers’ market only to find other stall holders selling off their surplus quinces.
These “golden apples” of Greek mythology were once given to new brides as fertility symbols. Not that my mother-in-law-to-be gave me any – although having now provided her with four grandchildren I don’t think I needed them!
As well as being full of symbolism, quinces are also bursting with pectin and so make very firm preserves and hence the term “cheese” which has nothing to do with dairy products but refers to the texture of the finished product.
Quince cheese is delicious eaten with cold meats, pate and strong cheeses and can be made using damsons instead of the quinces.
Conveniently located next to the quinces in that garden is a Bramley apple tree of similar vintage but not as abundant this year though still productive enough to supply apples to make herb jelly. As well as making the jelly with herbs, you could add finely sliced red chillies, garlic and ginger or star anise.
If your courgettes have gotten away and swollen into marrows with lots of water but very little goodness, then turn them into this delicious marrow chutney using this recipe which was given to me by a friend’s mother, Iris. There is turmeric and curry powder in the recipe so it’s a bit spicy, but it goes fabulously with cheese on toast. This recipe can also be made with pumpkin in which case there is no need for the overnight salting, just add two teaspoons of salt to the recipe and not the quantity as with the marrow.
It is so satisfying making all these wonderful preserves in the autumn, seeing them all lined up in the larder, just ready for giving away as presents.
2.7kg (6lbs) prepared marrow (peeled and deseeded)
175g (6oz) salt
225g (8oz) chopped onion
1 level tablespoon turmeric
4 level tablespoons curry powder
3 level tablespoons mustard powder
600ml (1 pint) white wine or cider vinegar
675g (1½ lbs) granulated sugar
Cut the marrow into half-inch cubes, place in a dish and sprinkle over the salt. Leave overnight for the salt to draw a lot of the moisture out of the marrow. Rinse the marrow well and then drain well. Place the onion, vinegar, sugar and spices in a saucepan large enough to take all the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the marrow, stir well and simmer for about an hour until the marrow is tender and the chutney is of a thick consistency. Spoon into warmed sterilised jars and seal.
1.5kg (3lbs) quinces
Water to cover
Wash quinces and cut up small; there is no need to peel or core them. Cover with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until all the fruit is very soft. Puree the mixture in a blender then pass it through a sieve (this is hard work but worth it). For each 100g of puree weigh out 100g of sugar and place both in a pan together. Over a low heat stir until the sugar is dissolved then cook gently until the mix is really thick. Pour or spoon into warm, wide-necked, sterilised jars.
1.5kg (3lbs) Bramley apples
275ml (½ pint) cider
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
570ml (1 pint) water
10g (½ oz) finely chopped herbs of your choice – such as rosemary, mint, sage, tarragon or thyme
Wash the apples and cut them up. Place them in a pan with the cider, water and vinegar. Bring to the boil then simmer to soft pulp. Strain through a jelly bag over night. Weigh out a pound of sugar to each pint of juice and place in a saucepan. Boil the sugar and juice rapidly until it reaches setting point. Skim and add your chosen herbs. Pour into warmed sterilised jars and seal.