Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Quince and Mince - Lifestyle!


Cro has just mentioned that his quince is in flower, and although there is a few months to go before any fruit appears, it has thrown me back to the quintessential Autumn smell of a bowl of quince - as good at perfuming a room as they are for any other purpose to justify picking them or the hard work it entails to prepare them.

People have almost stopped using quince for the same reason that they have stopped making their own horseradish - both are a pain to peel and prepare in the days of ready-meals, and we are supposed to be working so hard now, that we don't have the energy to do either. Shop-bought horseradish is usually disgusting and glutinous, and all factory bottled apple sauce is virtually inedible. I have never seen bottled quince sauce, and most quince jam is tasteless.

If I had only worked a bit harder, then I would have been able to afford the kitchen staff to do all this stuff for me. The Polish are so good at preparing and bottling fruit.

I bought a flimsy little book by English Heritage recently, called Tudor Cookery - Recipes and History. Nowhere does it mention quince, which must be a colossal omission. The smell of quince is so evocative of the 16th century to me, that it almost makes me believe in reincarnation. I don't have the legs for tights though, so maybe it is best I don't remember. I don't even have the legs for trousers.

The one thing that this book has done for me is inspire me to cook a proper mince pie this Christmas. Ok, I know we have the Summer to go through yet - let alone the Autumn - but I promise that I am not trying to break any records for the first person to mention Christmas 2013. Well, not really, but if you want to blame someone, blame me.

A real and original mince pie used to contain the following: Minced lamb or beef; suet; ground cloves; ground mace; black pepper; saffron; raisins; currents; chopped prunes, and the pastry was glazed with sugar and rosewater.

This recipe for a sweet and savoury pie had to have been brought back from the Arabs during the Crusades. It is so similar to a sweet pigeon pie which you can buy (with 24 hours notice, so they can catch a few pigeons) in Moroccan restaurants. It makes you wonder why they leave the meat out of the horribly sweet, modern mince pies, but maybe we have inherited the recipe from poor people who couldn't afford it.

Another explanation for no meat is probably contained in the Victorian 'joke' which says that the Devil stays away at Christmas time for fear of being put into a mince pie - meaning that any old junk was thrown into mince pies by commercial pie-makers in the 19th century. The 1800s were the absolute worst times for food adulteration, making the odd bit of bute-contaminated horse-meat in our lasagne seem utterly insignificant.

The original recipe for 'Gentleman's Relish', for instance, contained red-lead to add a bit of rosy colour to the otherwise grey-looking anchovies. Quite a few years ago, I went to visit a British woman living in Holland, and she asked me to bring several pounds of Seville oranges. She wanted them because - at that time - you could not buy marmalade in Holland and she missed it more than anything else in her exile. She said that she would have made her own, but the fruit-sellers used to dust the skins of oranges in red-lead to make them look more... well... orange.

The Dutch have had a thing about the colour orange for quite some time now, and I heard that today in Amsterdam, the streets are awash with orange flags - Queen Beatrice abdicates in favour of her son, who will be the first King of the Netherlands since everyone used red-lead as a food colouring.

Hooray!

9 comments:

  1. And the Pithiviers tart...nowadays with an almond filling....was, according to Jane Grigson, originally made with pig kidney...
    I had a quince tree in the garden in France...and horseradish in the ground. Couldn't see the problem in processing the fruit and root - and preferable by far to doing the ironing.

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    1. Kidneys seem to have gone out of fashion in the last 50 years or so. People don't soak them, I know, but I suppose they are used to filter toxins from urine, so I can see why.

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    2. Oh, and I make my own creamed horseradish sauce, but I get Mr Epicure to freshly grate it for me.

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  2. reference Daily Telegraph:
    "Quince trees were first recorded in Britain in 1275, when Edward I planted four at the Tower of London. They may have arrived earlier, as 13th- and 14th-century English recipes include piecrusts filled with whole quinces coated in honey and sprinkled with ginger. In 1611, John Tradescant brought the 'Portugal' quince to Britain, and the fruits were popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, but apples and pears seem gradually to have edged them out of both kitchen and orchard. By the 20th century they had slipped firmly from favour."

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    1. Interesting. According to my little cook book, it was Henry the Eighth who got a bit fed up with standard British fruit, and imported a load of French and other varieties which caught on quickly. So it was him we can blame for the bloody 'Golden Delicious' which must be the most inapt name for an apple there ever was. It's not even golden.

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  3. I forgot to mention those delightful creatures who attractively mince as they walk :)

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    1. I'll let you discuss that with others more qualified than me to have an opinion (sound of a wooden spoon being stirred around).

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  4. I've always been rather wary of the Moroccan Pastilla. Pigeon, Cinnamon, icing sugar, and puff pastry..... doesn't sound quite right to me. However, I shall instruct Lady M to make her mincemeat likewise; one can but experiment.

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    1. Yes, it could be a diabetic's downfall.

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