In Praise of Quince

Two kinds of quince

The poor quince is the underachiever of fruit it seems. I’ve always associated it with all things British, like marmite or black pudding. Indeed, the Q in British alphabet books is very likely to be represented by a fat yellow quince, unlike North American ones where you are more likely to see a quilt. (I once saw one more obscure children’s book for budding scientists that showed Q is for Quark) So given that I have long known that they exist, and that the quince bush or tree is very popular here in Nova Scotia, how is it that I have gotten to be this old without ever having tasted one? Because it is unpopular I suppose.

There are two reasons for its unpopularity that I can surmise. First, it is likely an acquired taste. Cooked quince tastes like a combination of apple and pear, flavoured heavily with rose water. Raw quince is the very definition of astringent but if you do manage to eat it raw you won’t likely eat enough to shrink your eyes back irretrievably into your head or take the enamel off your teeth. That is because a fresh quince has the texture and density of balsa wood.

These quince look like rustic pears.

The second reason is because, although they are as easy to pick as apples or pears, they are insanely tedious to prepare. Yes, the peel is easy to separate but its removal is complicated by the curvaceous nature of the quince – if you wish to minimize wastage you need to hone your carving skills. Perhaps whittle up a few Punch and Judy heads out of balsa wood for practice. Cutting and coring the fruit is a bit like chopping wood. I think I broke my fifth metacarpal on the last few. If I do this next year I’ll use a small axe. The cores of the fruit need to be hacked out indelicately in chunks so for any big pile of ripe quince you are left with a bigger pile of compost or goat fodder (for surely if a goat would eat a tin can it would eat a quince). Anyhow, as I spent the two or three hours it took preparing my fruit for the pot I cogitated on all those little waifs in the corners of cavernous Victorian kitchens working their poor wee fingers to the bone so that the upper crust could enjoy their quince jellies. (Just a reminder that many things have improved in life even if it seems a little bleak at the moment).

Quince paste in the pot looks a lot like pease pudding.

We have our own quince bush in the yard but it only produces five or six fruit every year. My neighbour Gail, however, has a proper quince tree and she was happy enough to part with a big of fruit. Even though I am always up for a new culinary adventure, they languished on the counter for a week before I worked up the nerve to turn them into quince paste and quince chutney.

Pureed sweetened quince ready for the freezer.

What does one do with quince mash? My friend Ruthie mixes it in with applesauce to enhance the flavour. Her partner literally smacked his lips as she was telling this so it must be good. That said, Ruthie also likes Branston pickles, so I dunno. I read that it is yummy stirred into your morning porridge if you can get your kitchen waif to get up early enough to make it for you.

Introducing my very first quince chutney.

It’s hard to gauge the flavour of chutney right out of the pot because it is best aged. I did have a few nibbles just to alleviate my fear that the half dozen jars of freshly sealed quince chutney would be relegated to that category of preserves that work their way to the back of the cupboard where they idle until they become so discoloured as to be unrecognizable and even when you dump them out into the compost because you have to make sacrifices to get a few more jelly jars for your raspberry jam (which never idles) you still aren’t sure what they were when you started. I digress. I tasted and it was good, if not a little immature. The cider vinegar aroma coming off it was strong enough to replace a hair trimmer for your nostrils but it settled a little when smeared thin on a liverwurst sandwich. I liked it enough to put aside a jar to serve with Thanksgiving dinner. It will be one of those conversation piece accompaniments, like digestive bitters or spotted dick pudding.

Ready for the cupboard.

I made some labels for reasons stated above but now I wish that instead of Quince Chutney I had named it Quince Mince because who doesn’t love a good rhyme?

Today’s posting is brought to you by the letter Q.

© Judy Parsons 2020

Late Bloomers

The days may be getting shorter, the nights cooler, and there’s more than just a tinge of colour in the foliage but you can still find a few late bloomers in the garden. There is one lone gladiolus remaining and a smattering of brown eyed Susans but the it’s the dahlias that rule the flower-beds this late in the season.

© Judy Parsons 2020

Pantry Project

In which I present my completed pandemic pantry.

Today’s costume: amateur carpenter. I actually completed this project a few days after I first wrote about it but am only just getting around to posting it.

The pantry work was being done back while we were still self-isolating so the goal was not to purchase anything at all. Thus it is a hodge podge of whatever wood and fastenings I could dredge up from our stores. Given that our kitchen is already a hodge podge it fits in just fine. These coat hooks were salvaged from a previous closet renovation in the bedroom as was some of the pine shelving. The wide boards came from the kitchen wall.

Yes, I know it is a cardinal sin to paint over wallpaper.

I just couldn’t wait to put stuff on the shelves. The peaches look perfect. By the way, for years I thought canned fruit was too uncool to eat because it had been a staple at my childhood Sunday suppers along with tinned cream and homemade bread and a slice of Klik or Kam (Newfoundland Spam). I eventually got over myself and now I prefer them to the disappointing rock hard fresh peaches from the supermarket; the ones that look perfect but taste more like vegetable marrow than peach.

The project was fun and I got a little help from Lance with the cutting (I feel I am too distractible to be operating the table saw.) As usual I learned a few things. You professional woodworkers might want to move along here because you will have already figured this stuff out in your salad days. Here’s just a few of my discoveries:
If: you are consistently coming up with short boards after measuring carefully
Then: you are probably cutting on the wrong side of your mark.
If: you find yourself wishing you could grow a third hand
Then: get a clamp. Or an assistant. One you like because it’s going to be pretty tight in that closet.
If: you can’t get that drill to make a hole for love nor money
Then: you probably have the drill in reverse.
If: your phone chimes mid task and you can’t get it to unlock with the touch ID
Then: you’ve probably sanded off your fingerprints.
If: you can’t get that sander to smooth that board for love nor money
Then: change the sandpaper!! (You’d think that would be obvious but I often seemed oblivious to dull paper)
If: you think that fatigue and strain is making you go blind
Then: wipe the sanding dust off your eyeglasses.
There are an infinite number of ways to go wrong doing carpentry work and I seem to have challenged myself unwittingly to find them all. Why is it that one only drops things when one is on a ladder? Why do you put the hammer down where you won’t be able to reach it after you pick up the next nail? Why does everything you drop roll into the deepest crack? Sigh. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to notice that I had the drill bit inserted arse-first. Another example of why you should not work when you are tired. I made this cryptic note of what I thought sound advice when I was tired: “drive sander following.” I’d do that for sure if I knew what it meant.

My new favourite place

The mat was hand-hooked by Myrtle Corkum. There was a time when all hooked mats were on floors. Nowadays you are more likely to find them on walls in which case they should probably not be called mats but be referred to as “hookings”.

© Judy Parsons 2020

Happy Easter

Easter is so much easier than Christmas, don’t you think? A few eggs, church for those so inclined, four days off if you are civil service, and it always lands on a weekend. The only hard part is figuring out the date it is going to arrive.
And just one big meal to cook. Did you notice that if you mix up the letters in the word Easter you get eaters? And eat we did tho we kept it modest:

Ham and fixin’s.

I love Easter because I get to use the pastel Grindley Petal dishes.
No Jon, those aren’t grits, they’re parsnips. If you like parsnip you will love this recipe for Roasted Parsnip and Pear Pureé from the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Parsnip masquerading as porridge.

I also love Easter because there is always chocolate on the menu. I could say that this year I got lazy and didn’t make dessert, which I didn’t, but I did brave the long lines at Costco to buy it so not lazy so much. Stupid maybe, as it was tricky keeping the 6 foot rule. Hopefully groceries were the only things I picked up there.

Costco tiramisu and you get to keep the glass.

It could only have been better with family or friends to share. Maybe next year.

© Judy Parsons 2020

Mask of the Day

On looking at a picture of my first homemade mask I got to thinking it looked like a big beak. And so inspired I created a new style:

The Puffin Mask
Puffin mask side view

Wonder what I can try next. Seagull? Sock monkey.

© Judy Parsons 2020

What Am I At Now?

…..Making Masks and Pandemic Projects.

I needed a mask so I made one. I made it drab so as not to draw too much attention. It coordinates well with mechanics coveralls or Sashiko jackets. Turns out these masks work extremely well as reusable dust masks if you line them with a piece of blue shop towel.

Howdy Pardner

Nothing better to get my rear in gear than a project. With all this pandemic prepping I found myself in desperate need of storage space for the extra dry goods. And so began the Pandemic Pantry Project.
There is a little room off our kitchen that had three closet rods and a lot of junk. We used the front rod for jackets and the rear ones held shirts that haven’t seen the light of day in ten years or more. We purged.

Before. It doesn’t get much more 1970s reno shabby plaid chic than this folks. Shudder.

The 3′ by 4′ room was an add-on back when the house (built in the mid 1800s) was split up into two units. If you didn’t already know it was a bathroom at one time (there is an old plumbing pipe directly below in the basement leading from there to nowhere), the vintage Barker tile is a dead give-away. I Googled Barker tile to find the name of the pattern. I couldn’t find much about it other than that it lowers the value of your real estate. I’m going for function not beauty here so I will be keeping it for two reasons. One, it will be hidden behind the stuff on the shelves and two, who knows what lurks beneath it. I also found other clues to the room’s prior function.

I was surprised to find the roll holder still there. Such a classy piece of work. I’d gladly trade it for two rolls of decent quality toilet paper. Screws included.

This little door opened to reveal a cute little louvered vent. It is now shingled over on the outside. I think I’ll hide a slim surprise in there for the next renovator. Any suggestions?

No exit.

The old window opening will become my spice shelf. And isn’t that just the best firkin’ wire you’ve ever seen? A real find.

Name that pattern

So if you can identify this pattern and its approximate vintage you might just win one of my super-duper ring bling blog rings.

Pre-pantry

© Judy Parsons 2020

Self Isolation, All Done

….or All Dressed Up and No Place To Go

The fourteen days went pretty fast and we didn’t suffer for having had to stay at home. Anyhow, the premier just told us “Stay the blazes home.” so mostly we will continue to do so. But if we’re going to be hanging out here for the long run we need provisions. Let’s do this safely. I found several patterns for face masks on the internet. This one only requires a hanky and two hair elastics.

But oh, that mask needs an accompanying hat.
But oh, that hat needs a gee-tar.
But oh, that singin’ cowboy needs a horse.
Meet Lyrical Lanny the Lawbidin’ Balladeer and his sidekick Lilly the Filly

In the end it was me who went out to the store. Lilly wanted Lanny to hang out and learn a few new tunes. I had a home-sewn mask of my own but a fat lot of good it did me. The minute I took it off I inadvertently wiped my sleeve across my nose. Yes that sleeve that I’d dragged up and down every aisle and in and out of every cooler. Sigh, there’s a learning curve here for sure. One more trip out and we should be good to hunker down for the duration. I wonder how long it takes to learn to yodel. Do you have to be able to sing first?

© Judy Parsons

Self Isolation, Last Day

.or And Then What?

Lance just pointed out that it is actually 24 hours since we crossed the border so in theory we have been in the country without community contact for fourteen days and therefore are technically done our quarantine. So I suppose I could run out the front door screaming for all to hear “SWEET FREEDOM!!” but I shan’t. Instead I will put a fire in and, like every other evening, settle down in the easy chair to see what the rest of the world is up to.

Have I showed you my Isolation Bread yet? Are you sick to death of looking at pictures of people’s Isolation Bread yet? All those folk out there who have been baking bread on a regular basis all these years are, I’m sure, just a-rolling their eyes. I am not a not a Johnny-come-lately bread baker in the strictest sense but nor am am a regular bread baker. I’d say I’m a sometimes, often enough bread baker, enough of a bread baker to think of bringing back my jar of yeast from Florida.
Ah, what the heck, here’s my obligatory bread picture:

Baking judges would have told me it was under-proved when it went in and that caused the stretching but it had a nice crumb, a good bake and a pleasant flavour. We sampled it both hot and cold to make sure.

Anyhow, I got through the strict isolation unscathed. Lance thankfully kept his whistling and banjo playing to a minimum and once I decided that clutter was a sign of genius I was able to settle down a little. The shabbiness of the house had to be put aside; no point in fixing one or two little things, it would just make the rest look shabbier in comparison. Thank heavens for my Scrabble app.

Yesterday and the day before we saw a wild N’oreaster blow through. I think it must have been a contrivance of the government to keep us all indoors (good thing I’m getting out soon, I’m starting to buy into my own conspiracy theories) The wind lashed the bare trees relentlessly and drove the rain up river sideways. It was, in a word, nasty. This morning saw the wind dropped but there was snow flurries and a noticable absence of spring.

Little Robin Red-Breast

At least until you looked closely or listened. That reliable harbinger of spring, the robin, was skipping about the grass looking for nest bits and I could hear the chickadees and a cardinal in the trees. And with the birds come the cats.

On the hunt.
This kind fellow relieved us of a mouse seconds after I snapped my picture. Lets hope that filling up on mice keeps him away from the birdies. (taken a couple of days before the wind cleared the yard of dead leaves)

And with spring comes the thaw and the river brings us little gifts. This year it was ashtrays and handguns.

You gotta love spring.

© Judy Parsons 2020

Self Isolation, Day WHAT-EVerrrrr

…or Over the Hump

I have four more days of self isolation but I’m not itching to get out. The more I read online, the more I think it is best just to stay put until boating season. (Just watch me change that tune real quick when Saturday comes and I spy the key to the boathouse and think maybe I could do just a little sanding) I am no more productive than I was on day one of isolation but am getting better at some things like lighting a fire with no kindling (my axe is at the boathouse), asking for help when I need it, finding things I didn’t know I had lost, and at using up stuff from the kitchen cupboards. I found a recipe for boiled raisin cake I had forgotten about while I was looking for another a few days ago. It used to be a staple in my Mom’s house in later years.

Dad at dinner.

I never really liked it much back then but Dad loved it, so when I think of boiled raisin cake I always think of him with his cup of tea and his cigarette after dinner* asking “Is there a’r piece o cake?” and Mom coming around the end of the counter with a slice of plain cake, no frosting or garnish, which boggled my mind, how could a person eat cake with no frosting, and Dad locking eyes on it as he rested his smoke on the edge of whatever was handy so that he could tuck in proper.
* what we called dinner is lunch to most people now. It was the main meal of our day

This lily is in serious need of some gilding. No, it’s not fousty, that’s flour from the baking pan. (Fousty is mouldy in Newfinese) I now understand why people started frosting cakes.

I decided to make one. The recipe is for a fancier cake than raisin cake as it has cherries and dates but it is not a Christmas cake because that would have candied peel and citron (shudder). When you look at mine you might see the raisins and apricots I used for the fruit part but don’t be fooled. The raisins are the apricot coloured bits, being golden raisins, and the dark bits are the apricots. They were unsulphered organic ones and black as your boot but still good. Yes I tried one (remember that advertisement “Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything?” that could be me and if I am hesitant I can always get Lance to try something, he’s got an ever bigger Mikey gene than I) This is the recipe for what Mom called boiled raisin cake exactly as my sister gave it to me, copied from Mom’s:

Dark Fruit Cake a.k.a May’s Boiled Cake
3/4 cup butter
1 3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 lb raisins
1 1/2 cups dates
1/2 cup cherries
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 3/4 cups flour
Boil first 10 ingredients for 1 minute. Let cool. Beat in soda. Then stir in flour. Bake in tube pan. Bake 1 hr 45 min at 275 degrees.
* Mom adds a bit of lemon flavouring or maybe a bit of molasses.

So I did add lemon flavouring and molasses. And it was good. The baking time was too long; I start checking it at 70 minutes in and knocked off at least 15 minutes, and I added an egg just because I could. Before I baked it, not after I started checking it.

Get crackin’ on that rum sauce..

And rum sauce. I added rum sauce. If there isn’t to be frosting there must be rum sauce. Oh me hips. There’s still some left if you’d like a slice but I’d have to sterilize it and that would dry it out and I’d have to pass it to you on a six foot stick. Best stay home and make your own.

Plated

© Judy Parsons

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Self Isolation Day 5

…or Loose Ends

Please note the time lag. It is now taking me three days to get around to doing anything. This is what I should be doing but am not:

1. Darning in the loose ends on all the mittens I knit this winter.

Loose ends.

2. Finishing the hand quilting on the 52 weeks/52 blocks quilt I made (a project hosted by the Canadian Quilting Foundation – they published a new block pattern every week. I chose a berry theme) They don’t call them crazy quilts for nothing folks.

Berry busy.

3. Binding the edges of any one of the three hooked rugs I made over the winter. (The rugs will be for sale at Coastal Queen’s Place once the world gets back on its feet)

Plated

But this is what I am really doing:

Curling up in my cozy dormer nook

Roost

With Hilary Mantel’s new book. And snacks.

Retreat treats.

Please note, there is a bit of a time lag in these posts. What? I just said that? Sigh, now I’m repeating myself. Add that to forgetting where I put stuff, not knowing what day it is, and my forgetting to make coffee two mornings in a row and it should add up to a diagnosis. Please don’t be administering any senility tests right now, give me another week to practice spelling ‘world’ backwards. I digress.

What I was going to say was that I have already finished the book, The Mirror and the Light. I’d review it but I’m not sure how. Here are a few notes: It is a long read but it never flags. We all know what happened to Thomas Cromwell in the end but I still couldn’t wait to make my way there, just in case some small crumb of evidence might have surfaced to change the course of history. (Crumb – pun intended if you’ve read the book) That’s what Hilary Mantel is good at: depicting hope. And beheadings, lots of beheading and a scattered burning. I know it sounds gruesome but you can’t write a book about the 1500s without a beheading or two, that’s just the way it is. Besides, it gives us something to compare these trying times to – things could be a lot worse. (Thankfully Mantel did not dwell too much on the plague because that might have put me off right now. )The other thing the author does well, at least for my style of imagination, is put you behind the author’s eyes. Or close. For the entire book I felt like I was standing next to Thomas Cromwell, seeing his nightmares as he saw them, feeling his emotions, and judging the situations. What I took away is that Thomas had a very critical eye and that he was a master of manipulation, that Henry the 8th was a narcissistic user, and that Jane Seymour was a hard act to follow. As were Mantel’s previous books. Indeed, the minute I was finished I ordered Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bones, and The Mirror and the Light as audiobooks. They ought to get me through a lot of sanding and varnishing once I am off self isolation

In other news

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My son is safely back in Halifax and in quarantine. Happy day! All his goods and chattels are still in China and he had to leave his sweetheart behind in Brazil but thank heavens he is back in the land of that old socialized health care. We will find a way to work things out. And remember everyone, self isolation at home is not a prison but a refuge. This too will pass.

© Judy Parsons 2020