October 2009 Archives

Lamb and quince tagine

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If you possess a quince tree, or know someone who does, you are a lucky person.  This year I joined that group of blessed souls when I discovered a man with a large fruit-laden specimen, or maybe he discovered me. 

smquinces0003.JPGMy wooden crate of beautiful yellow, fuzzy fruit, looking a bit like misshapen fat pears, is rapidly emptying as I work my way through the quince wish list I’ve been compiling for several years...

Ayva tatlısı

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Reaching Turkey last April, after two months of meandering through France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria to get there, was cause for celebration.  So we scoured guide books to find a suitably smart restaurant in the old quarter of İstanbul, where we had just managed to navigate our chunky Land Rover through minuscule cobbled streets packed with pedestrians. 

Smbluemosquesunset0001.jpgBalıkçı Sabahattin, a fish restaurant frequented by wealthy locals, proved perfect.  The fish börek, marinated bass and scorpion fish soup were delicious, but the highlight came after - ayva tatlısı - half a quince, candied to a translucent deep crimson, topped with the thickest, lushest cream imaginable and ground walnuts, and surrounded by a moat of spicy syrup.  It was divine, and thankfully cropped up again several times on our journey through Turkey.  The cream turned out to be kaymak - clotted cream made from buffalo milk.

smayvatatlisi0002.JPG  Many people poach the quince in a syrup on the hob.  But this slow-roasted method comes from Őzge Samancı, a food historian in İstanbul we were lucky enough to meet.  If you roast them for an hour they will be perfectly tender and delicious, but still yellow.  If you continue another couple, they will turn a beautiful pink.  And I’ve found that if you continue another three or so after that, they will almost candy themselves and reach the desired depth of colour.  If you can’t get buffalo clotted cream, cow’s will of course do, as will any thick cream or yoghurt.

Quince jelly

romania, uk
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Of course, you could use whole quinces for this, but it works just fine with skins and cores left over from other quince recipes, a tip I picked up from our jam-making friend Eduard Dumitrescu in Romania.  (After all, that’s where all the pectin is.)  In fact, our jam and jelly discussions with Eduard and his wife Anca lasted long into the night, as we traced the etymology of Romanian’s many words for ‘jam’

smquincejelly0001.JPGThis is a standard jelly recipe, so you could use cooking or crab apples instead, or half apples and half hedgerow berries - rowans, rosehips, sloes, blackberries, elderberries and haws all work well.  It helps to squish the simmering fruit with a potato masher once or twice, to ensure all the flavour comes out.  You can also flavour such jellies with a little spice or herb, by adding these to the simmering fruit at the first stage.

The secret to a good quince jelly, I think, is to simmer the fruit a long time so it reaches a beautiful pink colour.  Like crab apples, quinces turn pink as they cook, but they take a lot longer to do so.  Your jelly will be delicious with roast pork, lamb or duck, or just on toast or rice pudding.


Culinary Anthropologist