The weekend passed without fanfare. I didn’t have much time to cook and even if I had been granted an extra 12 hours tagged onto Saturday for good behaviour, my husband was wielding over the kitchen with a power drill and saw as he replaced the saggy old ceiling.
As I choked back plaster dust, I did, however, manage to make a jar of Quince Brandy. It wasn’t much of a stretch of the skills to prepare: cut the quince into eighths without peeling or coring, poke into a sterilised jar alongside a stick of cinnamon and some star anise and bathe generously in brandy (i.e. fill to the top). It does look lovely, I must admit, but waiting 6 months before consumption will be a test of my patience. Quinces are a magical fruit, rare enough that I had never seen one in the flesh until a few weeks ago but their popularity is on the increase. If you have a Quince tree in your garden, consider yourself blessed. These golden skinned fruits, regarded by the Romans as a symbol of love and happiness, are extremely versatile. They cannot be eaten raw but once cooked they add a lovely scented charm to a stew, make a delicious tangy jam and are an unusual filling for fruit pies. In some supermarkets you can currently buy Quinces, but they are much larger than the English ones: they are generally imported from the Middle East where Quince is a much-revered fruit. I have two spare ones at home (at £1.49 each, I only buy one a week whilst they are in season, they ripen quite slowly and fragrantly in a warm living room, I’m drying the seeds from the inebriated Quince in the hope that I can germinate at least one tree from them!), one of which I intend to use in a Russian Beef Stew. It makes an interesting change from the use of prunes and fortunately just one Quince goes a long way. I believe it’s about time that these ancient fruits have a resurgence in popularity. I was chatting to my Grandmother the day and she recalled seeing Quinces growing along the roadside. In those war-time days, they would pick Quince and Mulberrys and Meddlars to take home for their mothers to put into pies or make into preserves. My grandmother said they called it ‘Rubbish food’ because it was free and in those rationed times, roadside fruit was a poor substitute for a bar of nestle chocolate. Nowadays these rarified fruits have been cut back by farmers, killed off by weed killers and removed from all sight. I wonder how long it will be before Blackberries, Elderberries and Rosehips go the same way.
I also made a surprisingly good recipe, Stuffed Cabbage in the Troo Style which I found in Tamasin Day-Lewis’s Good Tempered Food, but is in fact a Jane Grigson recipe. It is layers of blanched savoy cabbage and good quality sausage meat, seasoned and dotted with butter, baked in a moderate oven for two hours. I added my own Irish touch by putting a couple of layers of sliced potatoes on the top which crisped up around the edges. It is a sensational tasting dish for such simple ingredients and it takes no time at all to prepare. I served it with some fresh boiled carrots, tossed in unsalted butter, and some simple green beans. If you omit the sliced potatoes, it is delicious with mashed potato too, with the porky, cabbagy cooking liquor that has congregated at the bottom of the dish poured over the top. Of course, I would keep BOTH types of potatoes!
Cabbage Stuffed in the Troo Style (by Jane Grigson c/o Tamasin Day-Lewis)
Large Savoy Cabbage, shredded thickly
1 Pack (either 6 or 8) GOOD quality All Pork Sausages, skinned
Salt and Pepper
Some unsalted Butter
Preheat the oven to 170c.
Grease the bottom and sides of a round, roughly 8" ovenproof dish, with a lid
Bring a large pan of unsalted water to the boil. Throw in the shredded cabbage and cook until just tender but still bright green.
Drain and plunge into cold water.
Put a third of the cabbage (squeezing out the water first) in the bottom of your dish. Season well and dot with butter.
Add half the sausages, flattened with the palm of your hand, to make a sausage layer.
Repeat, using up all the sausages, remembering the season the layers of cabbage, ending with a layer of cabbage (you can add a layer of sliced potatoes if you want. Dot the final layer of cabbage with butter, cover with greaseproof paper, and replace the lid.
Bake in the oven for at least 2 hours.
Serve with some simple boiled vegetables. The cabbage and sausage will produce a delicious liquer which can be poured over everything else.
Baked Pork Shoulder Curry
An interesting one. I have altered a Nigella Lawson recipe for Keralan Fish Curry by replacing some of the ingredients and slow baking it in the oven, as opposed to the swift simmering of ingredients that her recipe has.
Diced shoulder of pork, placed in a ziplock bag with turmeric, ground cumin and black pepper, tossed until coated. Two large onions cut into thin half moons and fried into vegetable oil until softened (sprinkle salt on them to stop them from burning). Add two red chilis and one green chile (or whatever chillis you have), chopped roughly, seeds intact, plus an inch of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into shards and cook for a couple of minutes more until soft. Add a generous teaspoon of tumeric and ground cumin. Add the pork and colour the meat. Finally, pour over a tin of coconut milk, a shake of fish sauce (Nam Pla), teaspoon of sugar, teaspoon of curry powder (I used Madras but it's really just for an extra curry hit), bring to the boil and pour into an oven proof, lidded dish. Strew with fresh basil leaves, put the lid on and bake on a moderate oven (about 150c) for 2 hours. The curry will scent the kitchen with a lovely coconut, fragrant aroma that gets the taste buds tingling. When you remove it from the oven it should be bubbling, thickened and a golden brown colour. The pork should be tender to the point of collapse. If you like your meat with a bit more bite, then cook for less time. Serve with plain boiled Basmati rice and freshly shredded red chili to taste.