Saturday, August 15, 2015

Heirloom Produce

From my Petaluma Post column, August 2015:

Rhubarb, figs, quince.  If you are like me these fruits make me think of my grandmother.  She had
Rhubarb, black berry and apple mini pies for dessert at a wedding.
rows of canned fruit and preserves lining the back of her garage.  As I grew up I saw less and less of them in the market, but local farmers are bringing more and more of these back to farmers market and restaurants.  Back yard gleaning has become a popular group activity splitting up backyard crops to make jams and jellies.

I remember my mother-in-law not being able to give away rhubarb, and like zucchini it was left on neighbors porches in the dead of night.  But the bright red stalks now call me, there is so much you can do with them if you simply look to the past from some ideas.  We have been making lots of mini pies for weddings and events, and I can say that warm strawberry rhubarb pie is my current favorite (until Gravenstein apples are available).
The recipe is a little bit tricky; you have to judge the freshness of the fruit.  If the rhubarb is under ripe add a bit more sugar and a bit less flour and vice versa to balance the sugar and starch content.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
9” deep pie crust (homemade or store bought)
3 cups chopped strawberries
3 cups chopped rhubarb
¾ to 1 cup sugar
2 Tbl flour
Zest of 1 lemon
Toss together and place in the pie shell.

Streusel Topping
4 oz butter
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
Blend all in a food processor or with a pastry blender until crumbly, then top the pie.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 to 1½ hours.  I recommend placing foil or a cookie sheet to catch the drips.

Figs figs figs!  We all know when figs come in it is a windfall, so what can you do with them?  We don’t do a lot of canning at the catering company but luckily we have a huge freezer.  Our fig honey is a great pairing with cheeses and we make loads of it then freeze it.

Fig Honey
3 lbs figs, stemmed and quartered
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 lemon zest and juice
½ cup water
Place all in a heavy bottom pot on the stove, bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.  If you choose you can puree for a smoother style.  Allow to cool.  It will hold in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks or it freezes well.

We know figs and we know rhubarb, but what exactly is a quince you ask.  It is a member of the apple/pear family. When ripe it is shaped similar to a pear and bright yellow in color.  The texture is quite hard and the flavor is sour; definitely not one to pick and eat!

It is valued for its high level of pectin and is often used as an addition in jelly and jam instead of traditional pectin.  Membrillo is a quince paste that is often served with cheeses in Italy.  With its pectin level it is harder than actual paste, but I love it.  The sweet tart combination is a star with a very rich cheese like gorgonzola.

Quince Paste
4 lbs quince, washed, peeled cored and chopped
1 vanilla bean, split
1 lemon zested
3 Tbl lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Place the quince, vanilla bean and lemon zest in a heavy bottom pot, and cover with 4 to 6 quarts of water.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until fork tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Strain the water and remove vanilla bean.  Next puree the quince pulp, and measure it; you will need a cup of sugar for each cup or puree (3 cups pulp, 3 cups sugar).  Return to stove and add lemon juice and simmer approximately 1 to 1½ hours until very thick.

You can use it as a jam at this time, or you can nine an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper, grease lightly, pour in the puree, and place in a low oven (125 degrees) for half an hours until firm; remove from pan and cut in to bars, slice when ready to serve.  A thin slice on a good cheese just can’t be beat, and the firm texture can make it a lot neater to serve than jam.

It is great to see heirloom produce taking the front seat in modern cuisine. Enjoy!

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