Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but all eyes see beauty differently. For the past few years I have had the great pleasure of working with Earl Carter, the man whose vision is behind The Saturday Paper’s food page photographs. Our shoot days are ones of wonder for me.
We start by discussing the upcoming recipes. At times I dread telling Earl what they are, as the processes behind them may seem boring, or they may be a variation on a well-photographed theme. But at other times I am jumping out of my skin, as there may be a recipe that visually ticks a lot of boxes.
After the initial discussion, the scout begins. Earl has a unique way of seeing things. He shuffles through my baking trays, looking at the patina on both the back and the front of the trays; he unfolds my floury, flax bread cloths and smiles with satisfaction. Wooden chopping boards, wooden tables, marble tables, book covers – all come into play. And then there is the occasional resplendent still life. These works are placed together quickly and effortlessly, but with such precision that they almost make me weep with their beauty. Earl cases the restaurant once more and arranges a bit of this and a bit of that, creating an amazing tableau. It’s astounding how he can create something resembling a still life painted by one of the art world’s grand masters.
Then there is his fascination with capturing the important parts of the process, to visually prompt the home cook. His knowledge of photography is a little like mine of food – after all these years we at times can forget that some things that are second nature to us may be new and daunting to others. We pull the recipes apart and then I go through the processes, with him stopping me when he sees an informative shot. I have learnt never to write the pieces until after the shoot, as the questions Earl asks often make me see the recipe differently, or realise I may be making a huge assumption about the readers.
And so to this week’s recipe: quince jelly. This was not on my most recent list of recipes to shoot. It was meant to be my yearly dive into potatoes, but Earl got distracted. Under a kitchen bench was a box containing a couple of pretty battered-looking quinces. He pulled the box out and wondered aloud what I was going to do with them, exclaiming that they looked pretty rough and ugly. I showed him a jar of perfectly clear, radiant quince jelly, the complete antithesis of the gnarly quinces in the box. The potato recipe was shelved, the muslin for the jelly bags found, and off we went, in a completely different direction.
Quince jelly is easy and incredibly satisfying to make, especially as it uses some of the less beautiful fruit. The process is to cook the fruit and leave it hanging in a muslin bag overnight (no squeezing means no clouding of the liquid), then bring the liquid to the boil before adding the same volume of sugar. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves and then boil until it reaches setting point. This process works for quinces, apples and the red, black and white currant families. It also can work with medlars, but they can refuse at times to set.
There is a funny little process you can go through to test the setting capacity of your cooked liquid before you start to make the jelly. Place three dessertspoons of the liquid in a bowl and add a dessertspoon of methylated spirits. If the liquid becomes mucilaginous, you know you will have a good “set”.
- 2kg quinces
- sugar, about 1kg
- Chop the quinces coarsely. Place in a saucepan and cover with about 1.75 litres of cold water (the quinces need to be just covered). Bring to the boil and cook for about an hour, until the fruit is soft.
- Line a colander with a large square of muslin, strain the liquid off, tie the corners of the muslin together and hang suspended over the liquid. Leave in a cool place overnight.
- Measure the liquid into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the same volume of sugar and stir until dissolved. Boil rapidly until the jelly reaches 104°C. Alternatively, chill a saucer in the refrigerator and when the bubbles are looking quite large and viscous, put a little on the cold saucer and see if it sets and puckers. The boiling process should take about 20-25 minutes, depending on the heat source. Pour into sterilised jars.
- If you wish, the fruit left in the muslin bag can be passed through a mouli and turned into quince paste.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 22, 2021 as "Fit for a quince".
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