Three large jars of preserved quinces and five small jars of quince jam. Home made

Preserving my sanity

It’s blowing a gale this morning. I live atop a north facing hill surrounded by bush land. I listened to the sound of the wind screaming through the treetops and rattling everything not tied down in the night until I could take it no more and closed the windows against the noise. It’s unseasonal for autumn in Melbourne which is usually characterized by morning fog clearing to fine, sunny days. A good day to stay indoors and deal with that pile of quinces in the fruit bowl.

I provided a commentary on poaching quinces in my Easter post. This time I’m going to move onto preserving. I currently have 22 fruit and nut trees in the garden as well as a sizeable vegetable patch. My mother in-law dusted off and donated her Vacola kit to me when it became evident that my frenetic gardening was going to produce more produce than we could possibly eat.

The Fowler’s Vacola system uses glass jars, rubber sealing rings and metal lids secured by tension clips to vacuum seal the contents. The Australian system was developed in 1915 – and looks like it. Whenever I get it out I feel like I should be wearing a hobble skirt or harem pants a’la Paul Poiret (who made a great contribution to freeing women from corsets). The fashion of the time was heavily influenced by World War I and the women’s suffrage movement and was a pivotal moment in the emergence of modern fashion.

George Fowler was a soldier who served in the British Royal Army Medical Corp as well as the Regular Army.  George clearly didn’t think much of the battle field quzine offerings and invented field cooking stoves and registered new patents for a food bottling and preserving system. His nephew Joseph Fowler came to Australia in 1912 to set up his own bottling business that grew to become the iconic Fowler’s Vacola Pty Ltd.  Fowlers  advertised ‘bring progress to your home by installing a Vacola bottling outfit‘. I can attest that despite feeling like I’ve gone back in time when I wheel out my Vacola, it has actually driven progress. I can now have home grown fruit and vegetables all year round and have almost no waste.

While the wind was blowing I preserved quinces. I used Fowlers preserving jars for this, but you don’t need to have a Vacola itself, just the jars.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large quinces (multiply the recipe if you have more)
  • 300 ml white sugar
  • 300m warm water to dissolve the sugar

Method:

  • Place the whole quinces in an oven dish and bake at 160 C for 2.5-3 hours until the skins blister. Remove from the oven to cool.
  • Wash and sterilize preserving jars and lids
    To make the syrup dissolve the sugar in the water in a large saucepan and boil it until it thickens
  • Cut open the quinces and discard the peel, core and seeds and cut into large slices
  • Add the quince slices to the syrup and simmer for 10-20 minutes
  • Fill the warm sterilized jars with fruit and syrup, seal and keep somewhere cool for a delicious winter dish with porridge or yogurt.

Image: Preserved quinces and quince jam

12 fresh picked quinces arranged in a circle

Old food

Never one to shirk a challenge, I took up surfing aged forty-nine. It all started on a romantic week away to Byron Bay for my partners birthday. We tried hang-gliding but found it a bit boring as we could only be passive passengers.  Then we went for a surf lesson and were hooked. We stumbled across this guy called Rusty Miller who taught surfing at The Pass. Rusty is in his seventies and originally from California. He was a world champion surfer and is a great teacher as well as a politically astute and fascinating man. He runs a surf school with his daughter Taylor who is also a great surf teacher. That trip was the start of an annual winter pilgrimage to the iconic Byron Bay to learn to surf on the long, slow, reliable warm water waves.

Easter weekend is exactly three years since those first surf lessons with Rusty and we took our boards and headed down to Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria with some surfing buddies. Easter brings with it a big moon and king tides which drive large rolling waves. My Liquid Shredder surfboard, fondly referred to by a friends husband as the ‘floating footpath’, is an advanced technology soft hybrid long-board made in Peru. It’s easy to ride and can handle any surf that I can. On those big waves rolling in, I hang on for dear life as the board is caught and rushes forward with the wave, then I get to my feet as it gathers momentum. It’s such a thrill and a great way to play. Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks I say.

Speaking of old, the quince tree in my garden was full of ripe fruit at Easter. Quinces were highly prized by ancient civilizations though I only discovered them fairly recently after I planted a tree in my garden. The tree itself grows like a image in a Dr Seuss book. It produces the most beautiful delicate white-pink flowers in spring followed by giant yellow woolly fruits that have a surface as irregular as a boxers nose. I always preserve some of them, but we were having friends from Torquay over for brunch over Easter so I took a bag of quinces with me. There is nothing quite like the aroma that slow poached quinces infuse throughout the house. They develop a great pink-red color as they cook and are delicious served with Greek yogurt for breakfast.

Ingredients:

  • Six large quinces
  • 1 cup rice malt syrup and six cups of water or equivalent volume of sugar syrup (two parts water to one part sugar)
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1-2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped
  • 12 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 24 black peppercorns

Recipe:

Place all the ingredients except the quinces in a heavy baking dish. Bring slowly to the boil over a medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the syrup. Peel the quinces (keep the peel) and cut each into 6-8 wedges, leaving the core intact. Add the quince to the syrup in the pan. Tie the peel in a piece of muslin and add to the pan, pop the lot in the over on 150 C for three hours until the quinces are soft and a rich red color. Serve the quinces with Greek yogurt and a drizzle of the poaching syrup. Sprinkle with pistachios and cardamon.

What’s your favorite quince recipe?

Image: Quinces from my garden