Wild quinces and a frenzy of jams.
We have a few 'rituals' whenever we are away on vacation. Because we always summer at the same spot, we kind of know that area maybe even better than we know the surroundings of where we live in the rest of the year - if you're on vacation, it's far easier for you to go and explore, contrary to when you're back home chained to the daily routines and chores of normal life, and we have been exploring that region for nigh on fifteen years, now. - and so by now we know every nook and crany of our favourite locations. We know where to buy the best produce, we know where there's a couple of wineries we haven't yet tried, we know where to go to the beach if you really want to bathe or where to stay to avoid certain types, we know where to picnic and when to go to Obidos and avoid the swarms of tourists. W also know where to pick wild fruit.
We used to have a certain spot for picking blackberries, we knew, amidst the canebrake, where we could find the best bushes, with the juiciest, plumpest and ripest blackberries of them all. Well, last year we kind of realised that suddenly a lot more people know where to find those bushes and we had a bit of a hard time picking berries. This year we didn't even try. But whilst last Summer we were driving around trying to find new berry bushes, we came across scattered quince trees all over country roads. Wild quince, at that. We spotted them, remarked on them, but did not stop to pick except on our last day, where we parked the car on a nearby driveway and gathered a couple of quinces so we could try them for flavour.
When we returned from our holidays we made a tiny batch of quince marmalade, to see if those wild fruits were any good, and by heavens, they were!! They were tart and acidic, yellow fleshed, fragrant, and they steamed into a thick, syrupy puree that made a wonderful marmaled once it solidified. We realised we had come across something really good, so when we went back on my birthday, we made it a point of picking up some more wild quinces so we could make a really good batch of marmalade, that we kept using like you can see here and here.
With our minds set on it, we weren't quite ready to run into a certain kind of problem: most of the spots where we had seen the wild quinces now presented only bare trees! It was mid October, and they had either already been picked by others who, like us, were eager to try something wild and foraged, or they had rotted and fallen off the trees. We saw a lot of the latter. But we managed to find some that were still hard and yellow and fragrant, and we even came across a brand new spot where a deserted terrain was surrounded on the roadside with wild quince trees, forming some sort of fence that kept the terrain hidded from view. We picked all we could salvage and used them to good effect, vowing ourselves to go back next Summer and pick our lot.
So this year, that was just what we did, we drove down there one morning and both husband and son took their time picking wild quince from trees that were ladden with bright golden fruit dropping from branches heavy with their load. They were fragrant and firm, perfect to bring home and then turn into all sorts of good things. We could hardly wait to start busying ourselves with them in the kitchen, but as you all know by now, we encountered a few hitches when we returned that prevented us from settling down to a normal pace of life before we had them sorted.
Still, life returns to its hinges as it always tends to, and the past weekend we managed to go back to our normal routines, what with going to the market for fresh produce and being able to putter around the kitchen and finally deal with those quinces. Quince is really an amazing fruit, as you can do all sorts with it. You can bake them, you can boil them, make jam, marmalade, puree, and we even used their rinds and the peels to make quince jelly! Over the nex week I'll be posting a few recipes for compotes and jams, which keep well in the fridge and make for pretty gifts. If you're in need of a quick recipe, here's one I do every year if I happen to have red berries around the house, it's perfect for those early Autumn mornings when you want some sweetness to start your day with!