Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Much to do with apples, pears and quinces too

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Peter Howard, ARR.News
Peter Howard, ARR.Newshttps://arr.news/lifestyle/peter-howard-am/
Peter Howard AM entertained us, for decades, as a Celeb Chef on TV, radio and through numerous columns. Lots of his content concentrated on the primary producers of Australia – he showed us what makes our food, wine and fish the best in the world. He not only did this at home but also around the world. He promoted Aussie Lamb in the USA with the AMLC for 6 years in the early 90s. Peter maintains his devotion for Aussie producers comes from his rural upbringing in Beaudesert where he learnt to respect our farmers. Now retired he still watches our rural activities with zest and appreciation.

Yesterday, at my indi-butcher, I was talking with a millennial server about old-time rhyming slang – he looked at me like I was possessed.

I braved it out and said, “Cheese and Kisses = missus and Bag of Fruit = suit!” and he still looked blankly at me; an older bloke next to me came to my rescue, “oh yeah and Joe Blakes…you know, snakes.” Both he and I laughed as the bemused millennial just looked at us and smiled patiently – two old blokes…I didn’t dare try “fair dinkum.”

“Apples and Pears = stairs.”

These two super winter fruits are the stairway to heavenly eating now. Gosh I love these versatile fruits. Way back when, there were so many different varieties of apples, however lots of them have disappeared because they were not suitable for packing and travelling. So, we have morphed into red and green apples basically. In Tasmania you will see some of these gorgeous older apples growing.

There are two apple museums where you can see many of these redundant varieties. They are well worth a visit.

I know of two – the Huon Apple and Heritage Museum, Grove, Tasmania is one and the other is in Templestowe, Melbourne; Petty’s Apple Orchard grows 217 varieties of organic heritage apples; the site includes an antique apple orchard. I did a segment for the Today Show decades ago but it is still going strong…good for you Petty’s.

As far as apples go, there are a squillion recipes and none can beat the famous Apple Pie – my fav and there are many variations for the ubiquitous internationally-famous pie.

I have stewed apples all through winter – cored, peeled and chopped into even-sized wedges and tipped into simmering acidulated water steeped with white sugar and cloves – let them poach until they are soft. Cool and refrigerate, they are wonderful strewn over morning porridge and smothered with cream for dessert. Or used as a base for a smoothie – I did see the puree of stewed apples used as a base for a martini…I did not try; that stretched the versatility factor way too far. Still, stewed apples are versatile.

Green apples are best for apple sauce which pork and chicken do love it. I do like them sliced and pan fried to go with barbecued pork cutlets – slice and slide into a buttered hot pan immediately. Sure, you can barbecue the slices of apple too. Barbecued chicken breast slices love these apple slices as well.

Apple sauce is usually hit with a few whole cloves, and I like to substitute them with Star Anise and a dash fresh ginger if you have it…otherwise use powdered ginger like I used to and so did my Mum. The sauce is ideally made and used, but it will keep refrigerated for a few days.

I have used whole green apples, baked (do core them first and stuff with fresh herbs like mint or parsley, salt and pepper) for roasted chicken. Put them into the oven later than the vegies as they will cook quickly and collapse if over-cooked.

Parsnip loves green apples especially when used to make a creamy soup – delicious and very seasonal and use a dusting of nutmeg powder with the pouring cream to finish the soup. Loads of buttered crusty bread is the ideal partner for the soup.

Mum would generally use green apples to bake and serve these squished-soft browned beauties with fresh homemade custard (eggs from the chooks in the back yard) however I prefer to use red apples for this appealing apple dessert because they ‘hold up’ better than their green cousins.

Core any red apple and stuff with currants and a drizzle of honey in with them, top with a knob of butter and bake until they start to split and ooze cooking juices – take them from the oven and serve with custard or runny cream.

If you’d like to use Nutmeg, it is best sprinkled over the butter on the pre-cooked apples. Just a cheeky kiss of this brown spice before they meet the oven.

If you’re out to impress (or to just indulge yourself in glorious food), make the famous Tart Tatin. I love this dessert where sweetness meets acidity so beautifully, however, I have to get precious with this stunning dessert: you must use a sweet short crust pastry, not puff pastry as so many of the modern website recipes suggest. For me, the puff pastry does not have the structure when the tart is flipped over and the pastry, that was once the top, now becomes the base. The sweet short crust pastry is easy enough (see pastry recipe in the Pear Frangipane Tart below) to make or to buy frozen.

I make the Tart Tatin on the afternoon of having guests and I make sure it is in sight as a tease – I serve it when the craving for the rich dessert consumes the guests. Add lashings of whipped cream. Scrumptious! Decadent!

Apples are wonderful in dessert and salads. Apple Snow is a beauty, Apple Charlotte is tempting and a showstopper and who will not eat Apple Fritters? Topped with vanilla ice cream that the youngsters will love. Hold back on the sprinkled sugar when you serve them – there’s enough sugar in the ice cream.

And as far as salads go, the famous Waldorf (named after the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC) – I was taught to use peeled green apples but now use cored red apples that I dice and douse with a little lemon juice (to stop the browning) before combining with diced celery and walnuts and mayo dressing. Hey if you want to take the string from the celery stalks do, but I like to leave it on for fibre and pecans are a good change to walnuts. If you don’t want the lemon taste, cover the apple dices with mayo which will also stop the browning.

An Asian take on this salad is to use the apple, celery and crushed nuts or salt-free roasted cashew with a freshly grated ginger, palm sugar, fish sauce, peanut oil and soy sauce dressing with lots of chopped coriander leaves. Toss it all together and adjust the flavours to suit yourself…why not add some finely chopped chilli to the dressing?

Apples and all food can be the source of literary enjoyment with numerous books written the stuff to eat. Mary Lou Stephens has written a best seller called The Last of the Apple Blossom…it’s a stunning read.

Now it is true confession time…who remembers Tom Jones the movie in the 60s? Albert Finney and the pear eating seduction scene in the inn? OMG it was so sexy. Come on – that was very sexy in those days. Check out You Tube for confirmation.

Back to pears – they beg to be eaten as they are. Sooo inviting in taste and granular texture and then there is the juice from a ripe pear…so delicious. Right now, I am eating Packham pears that start green and firm and go golden as they ripen. Try them with cheese – in this case Meredith Dairy Marinated Goats Cheese. The seeds have been removed from the pear halves with a melon baller. A very useful little chefie gagget.

In the competition of glamour desserts, a Pear Frangipane Tart will give a Tatin a run for its money. I have shown the tart, naked and fresh from the oven, and then dressed with toasted almond flakes. Either way it is sublime.

I had lost my original recipe so when I found this one from the sensational Mary Berry I was leaping around with joy…it is a beauty. Well as much leaping as this 75yo can do in a small kitchen. This is link to the recipe and save it somewhere – the pastry is a ripper, easy to make and versatile – as mentioned in the Tart Tatin idea.

Follow the recipe and you will have an easy-to-handle pastry. Blanch the pear pieces before you use them, or use bottled or canned pear pieces if you prefer.

I cook pears for desserts and the old fav of red wine and spiced pears screams the 60s doesn’t it? Now you can vary the whole idea – these Beurre Bosc pears halves have been poached for a short time in Sweet Vermouth, a little sugar and Cinnamon. These rustic brown fruits are best for cooking this way. Dress them up with cream, ice cream or crème fraiche.

If you’re into preserving, now is the time to get going, Pears are inexpensive and some of you may have trees bearing these beauties. Mum used to do them at the end of Winter and we’d woof them down in Summer with ice cream.

Hands up who’s still got their Vacola going? This preserving system has been around since 1915 and still available – you know the drill and look for Fowlers Vacola in Melbourne.

Apples and pears scream winter to me but that cold season is heavily reinforced with the advent of Quinces. I became aware of them in the early 80s in Spain when I fell on Membrillo, a rich fruity quince paste that was served with a delicious sheep’s milk cheese, Manchego.

Now you can buy quince paste (Membrillo and sometimes called quince cheese) easily, and the queen of quinces, Maggie Beer, showed me how to cook them for a TV segment.

I fell in love again with these confusing fruits – confusing? Well, they are gnarled and ripe when they are green and hard and when poached are a pink to crimson colour – soft and slightly granular. I tried eating them raw – wrong!

There are recipes for quince paste and I have made it a few times, but it is messy and can be a bother to make. Famous friend of mine, Kim Currie of Zen House restaurant in Mudgee (go if you get a chance…it’s splendid) mastered the art of making quince paste in a microwave. I didn’t.

Back to poaching quinces, here are some things that work for me. Again, consult your internet recipes. I wash the whole quinces and do not peel them (if you do have to peel them, save the skins and incorporate in the poaching process) and nor do I remove the seeds once I have quartered the whole fruits.

Make sure the slices covered well with the rich, heavily-sugared poaching liquid. I have found that half white sugar and half brown sugar gives a richer colour. (I used 2 cups white and brown sugar to 6 cups water for my cooking pot.)

Cook for a long time and in a low oven until they colour and then allow to cool in the pot/casserole.

Spicing the cooking liquor is fun and easy – I have shown (from 9 o’clock on the plate) Cinnamon, Saffron strands, dried Mandarin peel, a half Vanilla pod, a bay leaf or two – and in the centre, Star Anise and cardamom pods. I have seen peppercorn and cloves added too.

To serve, gently handle the cooked cooled slices to remove the seed core – serve on the skin as it is edible and good fibre for our gut.

I have shown two lots of served quinces. The one served with cream and almond flakes uses slightly undercooked quince pieces – these can be used for Quince Tart Tatin or Clafoutis; the other image shows well cooked deep crimson slices what are almost candied. Very rich and can be served with thickened cream or as they are.

A wine to go with these two desserts? Try any botrytis wine from Griffith. Say a De Bortoli Noble One – a botrytis Semillon. What a match!

Clafoutis are a delightful way to use cooked Winter fruits and you can also use the cooked slices (but do use slightly undercooked quinces) for a Quince Tart Tatin. Stunning.

This morning, I covered two large pieces of crimson quinces with muesli and plain yoghurt. I spied the stewed apples in the frig at that time and was tempted to use them, but the quince won out. I am going to miss these Winter beauties when the time comes – about the only thing I will miss as it’s been way too cold for this semi-tropical Queenslander.


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