Preserving Autumn

I have a snapshot memory from my childhood of walking across a field on my way for a swim, with my swimsuit under my clothes and knickers rolled up in the towel, thinking about life and what it was all about. I can pinpoint the exact spot, just past the tin shed, as I wondered if we were merely like dolls and farmyard toys, being played with by some unseen hand and if there was more to life than being born, getting told what to do and then dying.

trug filled with autumn fruit

As we lurch from one set of arbitrary rules to another in this Covic-19 crisis, I get a fleeting reminder of that childhood impotence and crave a little control. Nothing major. Not world domination. It’s enough to gather up some fruit or vegetables, to fill the kitchen with the smell of boiling sugar or gently simmering vinegar and make a batch of jam or chutney. To carefully fill the jars and screw on the lids, label them and line them up on the shelf. A ritual that celebrates the late summer and autumnal abundance of the garden and hedgerows with nobody whispering Hands Face Space, Keep Your Distance, Cover Your Face, Stay Home, Eat Out or whatever the latest slogan may be.

I rarely make the same preserves on consecutive years because I often forget which recipe I used the previous year or there may still be a jar or two left on the shelf, so it seems pointless to make yet more. Also, there’s rarely an excess of the same things every year or I realise too late that everything is past its peak.

quince

The quince tree, while not as burdened with fruit as it has been some years, is having a prolific year and we have an overabundance of quince. The knobbly fruit are pressed (from a suitable distance) into the hands of anyone who happens to call in along with boxes of walnuts, of which there are far too many for us this year, even when shared with the squirrels. We swap with friends: walnuts and quince for their surplus pumpkins and chillies, a jar of chutney for one of pickled onions.

quince poached in syrup

The problem with quince is that they are inedible unless cooked, unlike an apple or plum that you can pick from the tree and pop straight into your mouth. A fruit for the cook. My quince repertoire doesn’t usually extend beyond poached quince, which we eat several days running with lemon ice-cream, Greek yoghurt or custard and, new for this year, Walnut Biscuits.

Quince and Orange Marmalade

For the first time, I’ve also made Quince and Orange Marmalade. It’s funny how I can have a recipe book and use some recipes over and over again, yet completely ignore others. Then, I see something looking delicious in a magazine or on a blog and instantly want to make it, only to realise that I’ve had the recipe for years but, for whatever reason, have never been tempted. Quince and Orange Marmalade is one such recipe. The original recipe is in The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook,  my copy of which is well used and food spattered, but I’ve never lingered on that page. Last week, the photos and descriptions on Fenland Lottie inspired me to find the original recipe and make it. It’s delicious and I wish I’d discovered it years ago. Annie has given a slightly shortened version of the recipe, so try it for yourself if you can get hold of some quince.

It only takes minutes to walk to the nearest shop, so I do all this preserving through choice, not necessity. It seems a little absurd and far-fetched to say it, but having a store of jewel coloured jams and wire clipped jars of chutney gives a feeling of permanence, of laying down stores for the future and being prepared.  If nothing else, should there be another lockdown we’ll be able to dine on jam and slices of quince, which (obviously) we’ll eat with a runcible spoon.

14 thoughts on “Preserving Autumn

  1. I know exactly what you mean about having control within your life, and baking and preserving certainly does that, along with the satisfaction of having that wonderful row of glowing jars! I have an ancient copy of the Farmers Weekly cook book, recipes collected from readers, and there are several I use over and over again. A particular favourite is mincemeat recipe that doesn’t use suet. I only make it every two or three years because it keeps so well. That’s another one that scents the house!

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  2. J

    I suffer from anxiety and sometimes feel that life gets to much and I need to shut down for a while whilst I get some control over my mind and life again. I too used to wonder what happens when we die. Mum said we become stars and every star is someone who’s died. Obviously as I got older the thoughts became deeper and I used to lie in bed, heart thumping with that awful feeling of total awareness of knowing that one day I will die. Now I embrace that total awareness and I’m no longer afraid. Enough of that! I too make jams and chutneys. We used to have a huge garden and grew all our own veg and fruit before we moved into retirement housing, I do miss it though. I do love autumn and get out and about as much as we are able to. We’re lucky we live on the edge of the countryside. J x

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  3. How I envy your bowls of quinces and walnuts. I’ve not seen a quince since we moved north 12 years ago, but I can still smell the wonderful perfume of quinces sitting in bowl on an Edwardian hexagonal table in the bay window of my last house.

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  4. Quince jelly is gorgeous in the centre of a sweet omelette; a very quick pudding. My mother used to make a kind of quince roulade with chopped quince, nuts and other fruits. I must remember to ask her for the recipe!

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      • I do apologise for taking so long to reply to you, Anne!
        The roulade isn’t a proper roulade so neither sponge nor meringue. The name is just used because it is a sweetmeat made into a roll and then sliced. It is an old recipe (Tudor I think) and used to be called Suckets of Quince. It is also called Quince Salami! Here is the recipe.
        2-2.25 lbs large quinces, thinly peeled
        1.25 lb castor sugar
        Juice of 1 lemon
        6 oz mixed crystalised fruit, chopped if large
        8 oz blanched almonds roughly chopped
        Put quinces in large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and boil covered until fruit is soft. Remove saucepan from the heat and place fruit in colander to drain, reserving the liquid. While still hot, core the quinces and puree them in a food processor. Measure 8 fluid oz of liquid into a saucepan. Reserving 2 oz of sugar, put the rest of the sugar into the liquid and over a very low heat, stir the liquid until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear. Bring to the boil and boil for a minute or two without stirring until the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Add the pureed quince and then keep stirring until the mixture leaves the side of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice, crystalised fruit and nuts and stir until perfectly distributed. Turn the mixture out onto a smooth surface lined with clingfilm or similar. Using the clingfilm as a container, work the mixture into a sausage shape as soon as it is cool enough to handle. Roll the ‘sausage’ in the 2 oz reserved sugar and chill well. Slice thinly and store.
        It keeps very well and is ideal as a sweetmeat at Christmas or can be given as a gift, nicely wrapped.
        I had to wait for my mother to find her recipe and then read it over the phone to me. It all sounds complicated but isn’t really though it does take some time to do.

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        • Thank you! It sounds very much like Quince Cheese with extra deliciousness. I think I’ll cook the peelings with the quince so that I can use the cooking water not used for the roulade to make Quince & Chilli Jelly. Two for one might make the effort more worthwhile. Please say thank you to your mother for the recipe. Are you going to make it?

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        • Thank you, Anne. I have passed on your thanks to my mother. No, I won’t be making any quince suckets/salami/roulade this year; I have committed myself to so many different projects this autumn I don’t think I will have the time. My eldest daughter loves them but I don’t think we will be seeing her this Christmas because of the dreaded Covid-19 so perhaps I’ll make them next year as a special celebration.

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