Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quincalicious! It's Membrillo!

This recipe began around July when Adam's quince tree showed me that it definitely had some fruit this year. Adam owns and operates Adam's Berry Farm and is our neighbor down in the Intervale. Quinces must be harvested before a frost, and then put in cold storage for about a month before they can be used. I asked Adam if he could part with a few quinces and he gave me the green light to go for it! There was a frost forecasted for October 14, a Wednesday, and I knew this was my day to acquire those amazingly fragrant fruits! I merrily approached the tree only to find that it was completely stripped of fruit! No fruit in sight! I was completely crestfallen - what had happened? I found Adam, who told me that he had his crew take the fruits off since he knew there was a frost coming - they were all safely stored in the cooler. Terrific! All I had to do was wait a month and come up with a recipe for my quinces. I am a big fan of Spanish cuisine, and am always looking for an excuse to make something Spanish - here was a unique opportunity to make one of my favorite Spanish treats - membrillo, quince paste! This is a super-delicious paste made only with sugar and quinces, that gels on its own because of its naturally high pectin content. You slice it into cubes, and then into triangles (tradition alone dictates the shape), and you eat slices with manchego cheese as a tapas dish, dessert, or simply an intermezzo, or in my case a regular snack! A quick search online revealed several identical recipes (pretty clear that there is one way to make it), plus some knowledge about the paste - in Portuguese it's called marmelada, and in fact their word for quince fruit is marmelo - I could hardly wait to see if membrillo tasted remotely like marmelade - one of my favorite sweet spreads. I gathered my equipment and got to it - here's the process:

Peel and chop the quinces. Place in a large pot - 6-8 quarts. I had about 4 pounds of quinces - that was 12 of them.

Add two 2-inch peels of lemon rind - try not to get too much of the white pith.

I added a split vanilla bean, but this is optional. Add water and boil until quinces are fork-tender. This took about 30 minutes for my batch.

Strain the quinces off the liquid. Discard the liquid. Remove the vanilla bean, if using, and scrape out the seeds into the quinces. Leave lemon rind pieces in with the quinces.

Puree the quinces and lemons and vanilla bean seeds together in a food processor until smooth. Measure how many cups of puree you now have. In my case, I had 4 cups. Return to a smaller pot - 3 quart will do nicely, and add the sugar...

The amount of sugar you use depends entirely on the amount of puree you have - they are equal. In my case, I had 4 cups puree - that means I added 4 cups of sugar. Quinces are VERY tart - don't skimp on the sugar - you'll regret it!

Slowly cook the puree over a very low heat for 1 to 1.5 hours. On my electric range, that was on the lowest setting, and with the lid off - seemed to cook it slowly enough. You don't even really want it to bubble. Because of the high sugar content, it could burn easily - slow and low is the key here. Stir often to prevent sticking.

Slowly you will see the magic that is cooking quinces - they turn this lovely rosy deep orange-red color! It a process that, for me, lumps quinces into this category of alchemical cookery; wherin a magical transformation takes place that happens because of the intrinsic nature of the food - sort of like when a natural emulsion occurs between garlic and oil - call me geeky, but food science is fun and provides me with lots of joy!

When your paste is super thick, deep rich in color, you are ready to mold it! Prepare an 8x8 cake pan with pieces of parchment - lightly butter the parchment for ease of removal. In my case, I had some larger pieces in my puree that I wanted to strain out, so I passed it through a mesh sieve before pouring it into my mold so that it was a homogenous consistency. Place in a 250 degree oven for 30 minutes to encourage more drying out, then place on counter until completely cool or overnight.

Et voila! You have made membrillo! Un mold the paste from your pan by lifting out the paste on the parchment sling-like. Cut up and enjoy!

It spreads nicely - and don't forget the manchego for a traditional touch! By the way - it does taste remarkably like a fragrant good marmelade. Makes you wonder if the use of oranges to make marmelade was just trying to mimic the quince paste... sooooo delicious!

For storage, cut up the remaining pieces and layer in an container between parchment. Should keep for several weeks in the fridge. Enjoy!!!!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Haygrove Brit Tour - Day 4

Our last day of touring with Haygrove. We saw an incredibly huge strawberry operation with the picking tractors being used that day. That's 56 tunnels in a row - simply stunning! The picking machine was very slow moving, and seemed slightly awkward for the pickers, but they said that it helped tremendously when they had labor shortages last year. Essentially, the picking machines make a bad picker average, which was worth it to the growers when they could hardly get any labor at all. Each picker is laying on an independently articulating bed that they can control with pedals to move forward or backwards to keep up with the picking. This machine cost $90K. Wow. Then we went to another farm that grows a lot of asparagus and potatoes for the local potato chip company. He had some really neat tunnels with great doors that are good for
high-wind areas. The asparagus operation was fascinating - they are able to extend the season and grow out of season - keeping more asparagus in the stores from England rather than Peru - their largest competitors. There's one farm in Peru that has 25,000 acres of asparagus!
Boggles the mind. We really enjoyed this farm - pretty much our first farm with any non-fruit, non-tree produce. Got some ideas for growing smaller, better potatoes - and we were definitely intrigued with the asparagus potential... In the afternoon, we went off to another cherry farm, that was neat and tidy and full of Haygroves! Very picturesque -
made us almost think about growing tree-fruits for a second.... but just for a second! This afternoon we also were treated to a trip to one of the most famous farm shops in the area - Oakchurch started as just a little farmstand and has grown over the years to be this enormous farm store with a very
diversified inventory - everything from house butchered lamb to diamonds. Not joking. They
actually had jewelry, too. Interesting. We were really fascinated and impressed by the great selection of ales, ciders and country wines - not to mention the tons of frozen entrees they make in
house - then there was the pretty cool cheese
counter, too. We were just thrown off by the section with the diamonds - funny inclusion! All in all a terrific trip over the pond - we really enjoyed seeing the Haygrove farm, all of the different structures that were in use - especially the trellis house; very neat! FYI, Haygrove is coming out with a new mini solo tunnel for backyard
gardening use! Keep your eyes peeled for that one - should be a winner! Our drive back to Haygrove and eventually to the airport hotel was complete with a sighting of a caravan of gypsies! They were lining the highway with their caravan - just living there for now. I've always looked at inter-highway greenbelts and thought they should be used for something useful - nice to see them making use! Back home now, preparing to put our farm to bed for the winter, we are hashing over our trip to England and looking forward to another season of growing in our Haygrove tunnel - it's been crucial to our success this year, and know that we'll enjoy growing in it for years to come! Thanks, Haygrove!

Haygrove Brit Tour - Day 3

Today we headed out to Haygrove’s main farm site where they have all the models of their tunnels on display, different crop trials, and their Halo line of poultry structures. We met up with Haygrove’s head agronomist, Graham Moore, who took us all around all day. We started at the cherry trials first, then moved on to more in-ground strawberries, where we learned of the telescoping tunnels, which looked to be a gigantic hassle to us, but was apparently a good deal for others wanting to control the temperature closer to the ground at some stages of a season, then later on, raise the tunnel to cool it off, or give the crop

more head space. Then we moved on to the raspberry trials in the Series 4, or multi-bay tunnels (these are the ones we have). They were incredible! What a neat system! They can get this much growth on these canes in one season – they were the Driscoll’s variety Maravilla, they were huge berries, extremely delicious, and they expected to get another crop off of them the following Spring! It was way cool, though the canes were grown in bags with substrate mix in them, drip irrigated, etc. This allows the tunnel to be used for other things years later, and gives the grower more control with feeding, etc. Very

interesting, and a complete pleasure to walk through that tunnel! We also got so see some pretty cool ways to create the doors on these tunnels, and found the automatic rolling doors to be pretty neat and super convenient – this was also used for the sides. There’s basically any configuration you can do. They have these really great new tunnels called their trellising tunnels that we were completely in love with - they are a bit stronger, and have cross beams that can support a trellising system - it was really neat to see how they did that - it's all tension systems with wires and chains. These tunnels were filled with raspberries too, but they have been used for

tomatoes as well. Intriguing, for sure! The last thing we saw today was the blueberry operation as well as the new super solo structures and the halo chicken structures. A full day capped off with a nice dinner at a local Italian restaurant with the Haygrove crew - a great evening!