Posts Tagged five spice

Quite the quince

I admit I’m somewhat addicted to the concept of quinces, even if they are bastards to peel and the jams and jellies don’t always live up to their promise. It reminds me of childhood – we had a quince tree in the back yard which offered pretty pink flowers in spring and rock hard yellow fruit in fall. But they are hard to find over here, and the season is so short that I buy them when I see them, and work out what to do afterward.

This year’s I managed to snag a series of quinces from four different shopping ventures, but of course I had no clue what to cook. I made quince chutney a couple of  years ago, so wanted to try something sweet this year. Quince jelly was the event of the moment, although it was amber rather than deep, deep red, possibly because I didn’t boil the quinces for the length of time suggested in one of several internet recipes. It’s sweet rather than quince-like too. Almost too subtle.

Next up was poached quinces, and I admit it took me three attempts to get this one right. My first recipe said to pressure-cook the quinces for 30 minutes, which turned the yellow-beige fruit into a glorious shade of garnet red. But it also removed even the faintest hint of bite, which wasn’t really what was ordered. The taste was good — I threw in a generous couple of tablespoons of grated ginger for bite and the last couple of inches of a bottle of white wine. Texture sort of blah. Nothing like the pale pink chunky, grainy things my mother used to make.

From there I moved on to try a notch harder to recreate her sweet-sour taste,  although I used the pressure cook method (for 20 minutes). I added a cup of white vinegar to the poaching liquid and threw in five-spice for flavor and (too little) chilli powder for heat. But I should have upped the sugar to offset the vinegar, and used (milder) cider vinegar rather than white vinegar. It’s pleasant, and it’s working with the farro too, but it isn’t quite so nice.

Third attempt was the charm, simmered on the stove for about two hours until soft but not soggy. What it lacks in dark pinkness, it makes up for with taste.

Poached quince with vanilla and cider vinegar
6 quinces, peeled (with a potato peeler), cored and sliced into wedges
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle to remove the seeds
1 cup cider vinegar

Use a sharp knife and plenty of patience to chop the quince, and weigh the chopped up fruit to work out how much sugar to use. I had just over a kilo of fruit, so I used 150 grams of sugar. (Counting in metric makes it far easier to work out the percentages)

Add vinegar and sugar to a saucepan, and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Then add the quince, the vanilla (seeds and pod) and  water to almost cover.

Bring up to a simmer and simmer until the fruit is soft. The longer you cook it the pinker it gets, but also the mushier.

It’s glorious, served with farro, my breakfast of the moment.

As for the farro, I flirted with it earlier this year, and then forgot about it. But I’ve cooked up four batches so far this fall, two with varying amounts of coconut milk, one with three parts water to one of milk and one of milk and water in equal parts, and (mixed with the quince). It’s a wonderful start to the day.

Breakfast farro
1 cup farro (a wheat like grain that’s supposed to be high in protein)
4 cups liquid (all water, or water and coconut milk, or water and milk)
A little salt

If I remember I soak this overnight (or longer) before I start cooking it, and then I boil this up 2 or three times, allowing it to simmer for a few minutes before switching off the stove and putting a lid on the pan to keep the heat in. It’s cooked once the moisture is mostly absorbed and the grains have cracked — you can’t really overcook this one. Store in the fridge in a closed container and use as needed. A cup of cooked-up farro seems to do 5-6 portions of breakfast, depending on how hungry I feel when I wake up.

I’m serving this one with a generous portion of poached quinces, or stewed fruit (or maybe jam), microwaved for a minute or two to heat it up. The addition of a splash of milk, cream or buttermilk is optional but rather nice. Bananas go well with it too.

Enjoy the fact that you won’t be hungry until almost lunchtime.

Edit: to speed up the cooking time, you can presoak the grain and then whiz them up in the food processor for a few seconds to crack them a little, before you start the boiling/cooling process. They still take a while to cook, but they become a little bit more like porridge and a little bit less like grain. It’s all a question of taste.

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Chutney with a kick

For three years in a row we’ve made a curried apple date chutney from one of my favorite recipe books and it seems to vary each year depending on the apples, the vinegar and maybe the mood of the chefs. One year we used empire apples, which didn’t break down properly, and one year we used curry powder instead of curry paste and I complained that the finished product was a notch too bland and a notch and a half too sweet.

This year I dared buy the “hot” curry paste from the market, and used a very generous three tablespoons when canning buddy wasn’t looking. We cut the sugar a little, cut the Macintosh apples up nice and small and used a mix of cider vinegar and white vinegar because it’s all I had in the house.

And this is a chutney to die for. The dates and most of the apples melt away into a dark amber paste, with hunks of buttery soft white apple to add to the color and the texture. Even fresh from the pan it was glorious, with a beautiful lingering afterburn. I had the stuff that wouldn’t fit in our 14 jars it in a lunchtime sandwich, with brown rice bread and 7-year old cheddar, and it was so good that I had a second sandwich almost immediately after. And there are seven jars apiece to look forward to.

Serious yummm.

Chutneys always taste better after a while, but the provisional rating has to be high. 4-1/2 (out of 5) perhaps.

Recipe to follow, when I get the recipe book back from canning buddy.

From there we moved on to a pear-apple-ginger preserve from the same book, because it’s the pear-apple season, and it’s never the wrong season for ginger. We upped the ginger (of course) and added a teaspoon of five-spice because that’s my spice of the moment after the stunning successes of a few plum jams.

The results are good, but not as good as the chutney. The pears were not quite ripe, and the apples didn’t melt away to anything particular at all, leaving a well-set jam that’s actually a little lumpier than I would have liked, with a linger of crunch from a fruit that might be either apple or pear. It’s super-sweet as well, but works like a charm on plain, unsweetened yogurt.

Provisional rating. Probably a 3 (out of 5)

But this one has potential. I want to try it again, with a handful of cranberries for a sourish bite.

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Plums, plums and plums

I admit I’m getting bolder in the jams I make this year as I learn more about what works and what doesn’t and get a better idea of what sort of jam might set. Things like strawberries, rhubarb and peaches need a lot of help to turn into a jam, which seems to mean macerating the fruit with sugar overnight, fishing the fruit out of the sugar syrup that emerges and boiling that down a bit before throwing the fruit back in and cooking it anew. Plums and on the other hand set like  nobody’s business, but have a tendency to get a little chewy for my taste. (Cherry jam is just chewy, and unless the spouse asks really nicely, I’m not planning to make it again.)

But the other thing is that I’m daring to mix and match a little, taking a bit of one recipe and squirting in a bit of another, or abandoning recipes entirely with a guess at the appropriate proportion of fruit sugar and lemon juice, which are my ingredients for just about any jam. I’ve not had any total failures, although there are a couple of jams that I’m not quite sure about, for one reason or another.

My latest ventures are probably just about the last of the season (unless I try something with pears), and after yellow plum jam and red plum jam (edit: I am starting to wonder if the red plums are actually something called pluots, which are a plum/apricot hybrid), I switched to blue plums this month. It worked, although I admit to tentative reservations, as listed below.

First off came what the farmers market here seems to call prune plums, although I know them by their wonderful tongue-twister German name of Zwetschken. They are a medium small, purple-blue plum with a dusty finish, which are tart when unripe and amazingly sweet and juicy on the rare occasion that the farmers leave them on the trees long enough to ripen properly. My mother used these for Zwetschkenkuchen, with cinammon-sprinkled fruit atop a semi-sweet yeast  dough that was baked so the plums melted into the dough. I used them for a not-quite-regular jam, adding a couple of spoons of Chinese five-spice for a bit of a kick.

My inspiration was the excellent Food in Jars web site, which raved about a plum-star anise jam recipe. But the local Chinese supermarket looked at me blankly when I asked for star anise, so I switched to five-spice.

Vaguely following the Food in Jars recipe, I let 5 cups of fruit, three of sugar, the juice of two lemons and the two teaspoons of five-spice sit around for a day or so before boiling them all up together to the gel point, which went scary fast. It has a lovely set, and a lovely taste, but the plums are a little bit chewy, and I could have cut the sugar. Three out of five, perhaps.

From there I switched to damsons, the tiny, dusty-blue plums that bind the flesh to the stone in an almost impossible way. A couple of British recipes (one was from the BBC) suggested simmering the fruit in a little water first to soften the skin (and prevent the skins getting chewy), and they insisted that a good simmer would let the stones separate out and float to the top, so you could fish them out before you add the sugar and boil it up to jam.

This jam was also pretty easy, and this time I did throw in the star anise, which was available downtown if not at the Chinese supermarket. Tragically it exactly filled four jars, so I can’t offer a taste test yet, beyond saying that the stuff I licked out of the pan was pretty awesome. But there are bound to be stones I missed, so we’ll have to eat it carefully.

Damson jam with star anise

Simmer 5 cups of damsons with a cup and a bit of water and three star anise stars until the stones of the damsons separate out fairly easily, and remove as many stones as you can find without spraying dark, red damson juice all over the kitchen. (I only had three cups of damsons, but I had enough of the other plums to make up five cups of fruit. I may have to make this jam again with damsons only, for taste-test comparison purposes)

Add a scant 3 cups of sugar, simmer until the sugar dissolves and then boil at a rolling boil until you think it’s set nicely. It took less than five minutes.

Remove the star anise stars, and bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes to meet tough U.S. waterbathing standards.

My reservation: Surely there has to be an easier way to remove the stones.

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If at first you don’t succeed…

Well, it’s not that we didn’t succeed last week, with a quince-focused canning bonanza. But bringing four jars back to Canada from New Jersey really didn’t quite seem like the winter jamming session I was looking for. So two of us took advantage of the California quinces in Toronto shops to try two recipes again. The quince ones, of course.

Quinces really are curious fruit, like an apple/pear cross with a fuzzy peach like coating that rubs off to reveal a shiny golden skin. The fruit itself is almost inedible raw,  and hard as hell to peel and core. Recommendations are a potato peeler to get the skin off, a large and heavy knife to quarter them and a melon baller to remove the stone-hard cores. Two people help as well. You can get quite a quince production line going.

After a quick taste test of last week’s adventure, we started with a variant of the quince juniper chutney, although we speeded things up by chopping everything in the food processor, and then using kitchen scissors to snip the large bits of onion that got left behind.  We added ginger for an extra kick, and I managed to screw up the measurements by forgetting how much I had weighed and then adding more vinegar by mistake. Here’s a guesstimate of what we did, adapted from “My Mum’s Quince Chutney”.

Quince juniper chutney (makes 8-9 250-gram jars)

2 kg quinces, peeled and cored, and grated in food processor
2 large onions, grated in food processor
2-1/2 cups of sugar
2 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of cider vinegar
3-teaspoons of juniper berries lightly crushed
1-1/2-teaspoon salt
A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
Lots of fresh ground black pepper

Put all ingredients in a preserving kettle and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about two hours until it’s golden and almost boiled into a puree. (The recipe says deep pink and loose jam. I guess I used a different type of quince.) Stir regularly, to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

It tastes pretty good right now. I think it will be even better in a couple of weeks, after the flavors meld together.

From there we moved on to the quince cranberry concoction from last week, again with a few tweaks, including a a shift toward more quince and less cranberry, more ginger and a notch less sugar. We added a spoonful of Chinese five-spice (which turned out to be a seriously inspired choice) and cooked it a lot less.

Quince cranberry jam (12 jars)

2 pounds fresh cranberries
2 pounds quince, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
8 ounces candied ginger, sliced very thin
1 tsp Chinese five-spice
4-1/2 cups sugar
5 cups water

Place sugar and water in a non-reactive pan and heat on low until sugar is dissolved, turn up heat and bring to the boil.
Add quince and five-spice and bring to the boil again. lower heat and simmer for a good hour until quince darkens and gets soft and syrup begins to thicken a little.

Add ginger slices and cranberries, bring back to the boil, continue boiling on medium-high until the cranberries pop and soften. Cook until it’s set — it took about 10 minutes.

Fill sterilized jars and water bath for 10 minutes.

The color is glorious, even more red than in the picture, with golden chunks of quince showing through the red. Canning buddy (and photographer) took half the jars, absent canning buddy gets half of the other half, which leaves one to give away and two for me. I can hardly wait.

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Pears ‘n ginger

Access to a well-endowed pear tree does require a certain creativity, and while last week’s five-spice pear chutney is getting a medium-high rating after a far-too-early taste test, it seemed sensible to ring the changes a little rather than making the same untried recipe twice.

But the recipes for pear-ginger jam, my want-to-do recipe for this weekend, were just all over the map. There was a preserve that called for seven cups of pear and one of sugar (how is that one going to set?), and there was one calling for four cups of pears and seven of sugar, which seemed like a recipe for sugar overload to me — the pears are ripe and they are already very sweet.

So I decided to improvise.

First ingredient was a bowl of somewhat small crabapples we gleaned from a Toronto roadside tree a week or so ago. They were not really red enough (or big enough) to make crabapple jelly, but I figured I could boil them with water and use that liquid to add a little kick and a crabapple pectin set. The rest of the recipe were based on the Bernadin cook book, but the changes were beyond a tweak.

Pear ginger jam sauce
1 cup crabapple liquid (which was what remained after simmering those babies with water for 40 minutes or so and then letting them drip in a jelly bag for a couple of hours.)
5 cups pears, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup of finely chopped ginger root
4 cups sugar (I think it was a little less than that in the end)

Cook pears with crabapple liquid and lemon juice for 10 minutes until they are pretty soft. Add sugar and bring to rolling boil until it sets. That took about another 10 minutes. Bottle in clean, sterilized jars. Seal and water bath for 10 minutes.

The result. Four jars of a golden jam sauce with chunks of paler pear. It’s sweet, with a strong pear taste and a definite ginger kick.

Did I ever say how much I like ginger?

But it’s also several notches notch too runny, almost a syrup rather than a jam. Maybe I didn’t boil the crabapples long enough, or let them drip all the pectin out of the pulp before I got bored and started cooking the jam. Or maybe the set I thought I got when I drizzled some onto a cool saucer wasn’t really a set at all.

Let’s call this a pear, ginger sauce, all ready for pancakes or ice cream.

Pear ginger jam sauce: 3 (out of 5). It gets five out of five for taste, loses two for being a sauce rather than a jam.

Pear five-spice chutney: 3-1/2 (out of five). Points for taste, color and texture, but this one is a couple of notches too sweet.

Anyone want a jar of pear ginger syrup/sauce?

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Pears, pickles and an (old) new stove

Is it logical to get really, really excited about a second-hand stove?

But after cursing madly for a year about the pathetic inability of a new ceramic topped stove to hold a rolling boil, and hence create a jam that actually sets, we took the gas-powered route this week, swapping the almost new stove out for a far older one from the spouse’s old home and getting ready for the instant responsiveness that goes with gas. And after a single burst of making things, I am proud to say that it works. The stove top is big enough to fit both a preserving kettle and a canning saucepan, which is always a good thing, and the ingredients went from boil to simmer in a tiny twist of a dial.

The recipe — a surprisingly simple pear chutney with chinese five-spice as its only seasoning, was an effort to use up the treeload of pears that’s filling up the basement and the fridge right now. It ended up a gentle tawny brown, with white flecks from the garlic and red flecks from the chile. And while it tastes a little over sweet right now, I’m assuming it will mellow with age.

From that Costco find, The Complete Guide to Pickling

8 cups chopped peeled pears (we sort of lost count of this one, it might have been eight, or seven, or perhaps nine)
1-1/2 cups finely chopped onions
4 cloves minced garlic (they were very small cloves, so we used eight)
1 hot pepper, seeded and minced (very large pepper, so we used half)
1-1/2 cups sugar (will cut the sugar next time)
1-1/2 tsp salt (recipe said pickling salt, used regular. What’s the difference?)
1-1/2 tsp five spice powder (fresh from the Asian supermarket, smelled yummy)
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup rice vinegar

Simmer ingredients together in a large saucepan until the mix is thick enough to mound on a spoon. Bottle in sterilized jars, making sure to remove the air pockets and wipe down the rims before you seal it. Simmer in a water bath for 10 minutes if you want to be really sure that there won’t be nasty bugs.

Anyone got any clues what to do with the next dozen pounds of pears?

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