Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sustainable food, superb quinces

There is a part of me that fantasises about donning a big, practical apron each day to cook and run a household. Life would be part Five Quarters of the Orange (a Joanne Harris novel centred around a French provincial woman who opens a creperie using produce from her garden and her mother's recipes) and part Tomorrow, When the War Began (a John Marsden young adult novel about surviving by hunting and looting when a world war hits).

As individuals we are far less self-sufficient than our great grandparents were. While they could have survived a fortnight isolated in their homes, many of us would struggle without a trip to a supermarket for essentials. Times have changed and food production is a huge, global business. If a recipe calls for an ingredient that’s out of season, it rarely stops us, in fact we hardly notice. Imported foods abound and preserving has come a long way, so anything not imported can be found frozen, dried or tinned. This may be called advancement, development and even prosperity, but in some ways there's a disconnect from our food and a loss of basic survival skills. Gardens are full of yukkas and river rocks these days, rather than fruit trees and vegetables to feed our families.

What’s my point? I don’t devote as much time and money as I possibly should to growing my own or buying local food but I love the idea. Creating something from scratch may be harder than a trip to Coles but the rewards are so much greater. The accomplishment is something in itself, but when the ingredients used have very few food miles, it’s even better. Maybe creating something from the dirt in your backyard (or your neighbours or the guy at the farmers market) brings a new appreciation for the food and a sense that we are still capable of honouring traditional methods. I think so anyway.

Last night, I made quince paste with fruit from my nana’s garden (top photo) in central Victoria and some white sugar of the cheap Black and Gold variety (a product of Australia at least). I didn’t wear an apron for the task but having a stockpot of fruit simmering on the stove top for over three hours certainly had me imagining I was some pioneer woman out on the homestead stewing my fruits to feed the brood for the winter ahead! I have already been asked “why not buy it?” but I don’t think that question even warrants a response. I should also mention that I received some appreciative murmurings and thanks from other colleagues so the world is not full of consumerist cynics just yet.
 Here are some of the quinces displayed on our hall table (the one I "won" on ebay as mentioned previously).
The quince paste bounty, beautifully red and glossy, setting in a slice tray, a muffin tray and various pots. I used plastic wrap to line the trays, making it easier to lift out and wrap up. 
Turn a piece onto a plate whenever you're ready (it lasts four months) and serve with cheese. Voila!

This weekend I will be devouring this with friends along with a pot of my home-made chicken pate (photo below) that I'll pull from the freezer. Parfait! I haven't attempted cheese making yet so I will be shopping for some additions to the platter, locally of course.
If you would like the recipe for the quince paste or the pate, please leave a comment to encourage me to document the recipe. I read a few recipes for each and then did my own thing, particularly with the quince paste as many recipes had fiddly steps that I bypassed. Simple is sometimes best.

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