My lucky dip turned up Maggie Beer's beautiful and fairly massive tome Maggie's Harvest, which in true saleswoman style she has republished in four separate volumes - for the book is divided into seasons and then into her favourite ingredients for that season. I confess I find Maggie Beer herself somewhat irritating, and I do think one of her primary focuses is making money, but I have to admit that I like her recipes. They fit into my 'little bit different' mode. And I should be kinder as I believe her beloved daughter recently died. And I guess she is a bit of a crusader for new things and for local producers, so - go Maggie. She has done a lot for Australian producers.
The book, as I said, is beautiful. It has a really luxurious feel that comes from the textured cover - it's almost embroidered. There are not many photographs inside of the dishes she presents but there are plenty of lavish and stunning photographs of her home in the Barossa valley, the countryside, the ingredients she talks about and, yes, the occasional recipe. I confess I tend to forget about it when searching for something new to cook, but I really should use it more often. What I have tried has usually been a great success.
The business side of Maggie has built a mini empire, but to be fair to her it has also meant that she has been a bit of a game changer in introducing Australia to verjuice and quince paste in particular. Doubtless there will be more to come from the same place.
Anyway, as luck would have it, the 'lucky' page I turned to was actually her recipe for quince paste. No really it was. It was a bit of a coincidence was it not? That the page I should choose should be about what she is most famous for. She was the first to produce quince paste on a commercial scale, and since then has ventured out into a whole range of fruit (and wine) pastes. And others have copied her. They come in small pots and are pretty expensive, and such is her success that you can find them easily on your supermarket shelves. She has lots of other products too as you all will know.
Quince and other similar pastes, are actually a product that I am prepared to spend the money on. Whilst it is a very simple thing to make your own pesto for example, it really isn't easy to make quince paste. Believe me I have tried. I did it once and will never do it again. Now I just watch for when her pastes, or, indeed others, come on a special and I buy a few. After all it's one of those things that if you are not careful lurks around in the back of your pantry. But don't worry it won't go off. Well not for a long time anyway. There's a lot of sugar in there.
I did try to make my own once because we actually have a couple of not very prolific quince trees on our block of land. They have not grown much in the over 30 years we have been here and are no higher than I. In fact, if anything they seem to have shrunk. Such is my gardening charisma - it has to be charisma because I have not really touched them at all in the over 30 years. Anyway, one year we actually had a few quinces and I picked them and decided to make quince paste. It's not a fun experience.
First of all you have to cut up your fruit.
"A quince takes some chopping. They can be hard to slice in half and even worse to core. A heavy kitchen knife is probably best. Even then, caution is needed. And the peel has an annoying habit of sticking to the fruit as you pare it." Nigel Slater
And you need to be very quick to put it in acidulated water or it will discolour. Almost immediately I have to say. The first part of the cooking process is comparatively easy - cooking it all down to a purée and sieving out the tough bits. But after you have then combined the result with your sugar you have to cook it for literally hours. Maggie says up to four! Stirring all the time! This is what she says of this part of the process.
"Place the purée and an equal weight of sugar in a very deep, heavy-based saucepan. Add the lemon juice and cook over a low heat, stirring almost continuously for up to 4 hours or until the mixture thickens. (At this stage it is advisable to wrap a tea towel around your arm to protect it, and to use as long a wooden spoon as possible. The mixture will explode and pop and turn a dark red. and only by constant stirring will you prevent it from burning.) Cook until you can hardly push the spoon through the paste."
Nowadays she has machines that do all of this. I doubt she makes it herself anymore. I have glimpsed recipes that use slow cookers and thermomixes and even the oven, so it may well be possible to avoid the trauma of it all. But unless you have a lazy Sunday (as Nigel Slater suggests) I reckon that it's just as simple to buy some in the supermarket. My lovely foodie friend Monika still perseveres though I think. She is more patient than I.
So now you have your quince paste what do you do with it? I always forget to put it out with a cheese platter I confess, or if I do I end up with a somewhat unattractive looking piece that can't really be put on a cheese platter. And coincidence of coincidences tomorrow I have to make some nibble things for the local wine group which is meeting outside somebody's gate tomorrow - at appropriate distances from each other and trying to be no more than 10 people at a time. Because I had one of those unattractive lumps in my fridge I had decided to make some lovely little tartlets that I found in delicious some time back, which are very simple and very tasty. They are called Quince paste and vintage cheddar tarts.
So this is the first thing you can do with quince (or any other kind) paste. They're a bit like a mini quiche I suppose. Mind you, first I have to get some puff pastry. I may have to settle for ordinary puff pastry, not the butter one, which seems to have completely disappeared from the supermarket. I'm certainly not making my own. If all else fails I guess I can use my home-made shortcrust.
Glazes are another common thing that you will find to do with quince paste, and Maggie herself demonstrates one in this little video in which she talks about quinces and quince paste.
In a similar vein you can also add them to sauces - either as you cook or as you deglaze.
In her book there is also a recipe for Quince allioli - which I cannot find on the net. In brief you melt 100g of quince paste with 2 tablespoons of verjuice and leave to cool. Crush a clove of garlic with salt, mix with 1 dessertspoon finely chopped rosemary and transfer to a food processor. Then with the motor running slowly add about 1/2 cup olive oil until you have a mayonnaise. You can add lemon juice to taste at the end. Personally I think you would do better to add the oil by hand, whisking as you go. Well if your food processor is like mine anyway. It's too big to handle small quantities like this very satisfactorily. Interesting although I'm not quite sure what you would use it for. A salad dressing, a dip ... ? She suggests as a sauce for barbecued pork, chicken or lamb.
She also has another simple and intriguing little recipe:
"Roll half teaspoonfuls of quince paste in melted bitter couverture chocolate. Dust all over with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, then serve with coffee."
Then I found a recipe for a cake called Membrillo, buttermilk and poppy seed cake - which looked rather more like a slice than a cake, but anyway you could give that a go. Membrillo by the way is the Spanish name for it.
The most beautiful looking thing I found was from delicious magazine and was this Savoury cheeseboard cheesecake with honey-roast grapes. It looks amazingly impressive. I guess you could swap the cheeses you use around to suit your own taste.
They also suggest a sort of quiche in which you spread the quince paste over a cooked tart case, and cover this with a standard quiche mixture of 3 eggs and 300ml cream, plus grated cheese. They don't specify the cheese, but there's your opportunity to be creative. Maybe some thyme as well, as in my mini tartlets. Because I guess, when I think about it this is basically the same recipe but in a full-size version.
And here's one last suggestion - again from delicious.
"Stir 1/2 cup paste, zest and juice of 1/2 orange and 1 tbsp water over low heat until smooth. Cool, then fold through mascarpone and serve with poached fruit."
Of course there are lots of other things you can do with quinces. Tomorrow perhaps.