Well, quince. You wouldn't call it a 'typical' fruit, autumnal or otherwise, not in Japan at least. In fact, I suspect many people don't know much about it here, and most have probably never seen it.
Incidentally, there is this other fruit that looks (and is) very similar to quince, called karin in Japanese (Chinese quince), which is also common here in Nagano.
|marumero and karin - which is which?|
There is a great deal of confusion about these two fruits around here, and they often get mixed up with one another, even at the market. One simple and easy way to tell them apart is by the 'fur' - quinces are covered with grayish fur, while karin aren't.
My folks here used to have a quince (not karin) tree at the edge of one of their apple orchards. I had a chance to pick the fruits a few years ago (these pictures come from 2008).
For a fruit that has been fairly common in the area, quince seems to find its way into surprisingly few things. Inedible raw, quince must be cooked or 'treated' in one way or another to be suitable for eating. One of the most common use may be to steep the fruit in grain alcohol to make quince liqueur.
As for me, well, I like to make quince brandy; after all, I'm known to throw any fruit into a jar of alcohol for homemade liqueur.
I found it interesting that this recipe does not call for sugar, when most homemade fruit liqueurs do, and they use it a lot. Nigella says it's ready in six weeks, but I put mine in a dark corner of the liqueur shelf and pretty much forgot about them until recently. So they're one year old.
Now, homemade liqueur making has been pretty much the extent of my doing anything with fresh quince, until this fall. Yes, I'd pick fruits from the tree or buy a bagful from the market, and I'd even make a point of searching for quince recipes on the Internet or in my cookbooks - but I have to admit that I never really got around doing much with them.
But this year, I decided that it needed to change. I'm a still lazy baker, yes, that bit remains the same, but something moved me into actually cook quince and make something with it.
The simplest thing I did with my quince was this: roasting.
here, although the recipe is a bit different from the one in the book (I assume you don't need the salt and pepper, and you do need to use a bit more honey).
I ended up deviating from the recipe, and the biggest difference was that I didn't use verjuice for I can't find it here. The recipe suggests that you use apple juice and a bit of lemon juice as a substitute for verjuice, and I used (hard) apple cider and lemon juice. I also ended up using a lot of it than it is called for in the recipe as the liquid kept drying up during cooking.
So now I cooked a pot of quinces with a bit of sugar, but not to eat them as is, but to puree them and turn into something else...
this recipe showed up in my twitter feed, and I was making the puree the following day. Quince pancakes - doesn't that sound just so good?
My plan was to prepare quince puree in the evening, and whip up the pancake batter on the following morning so I could have fresh, warm pancakes for breakfast. But it so happens that I ended up making the pancakes two days after I'd prepared the puree, but they turned out just fine.
And as I was making quince puree for the pancakes, it occurred to me that this was more or less like applesause - except it was made using quinces rather than apples, obviously. So I decided to make a larger batch of quince puree and use the leftover to bake something, using it in lieu of applesause.
simple recipe for applesauce muffins, and replaced the applesauce with my quince puree.
To my delight, my plan worked out really well (for once!) - the quince puree fit in beautifully, and my quince muffins came out wonderfully.
That said, stewed quinces do taste good, and make an excellent mix-in, as they did in this pound cake.
recipe got a lot of rave reviews, and it did produce a cake that tasted lovely. However, I couldn't help but notice that it doesn't use any leavening agent (such as baking powder), and doesn't even tell you to whip your eggs, which also helps the cake rise. Since the cake came out a bit dense, I'm thinking I might add a bit of baking powder next time I make this cake - oh yes, I stewed more quince than I needed for my batch of cake, so I can bake it again.
And now something a little different...
this book, but apparently it first appeared in The New York Times in 2001 and can be found online here.
As far as recipe goes, what it's called is what you get; these are 'tarts' based on brioche dough, topped with sauteed quince, chopped walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese. It also uses rosemary added to the dough and as a topping. A quick look at the list of ingredients and I knew I'd like them.
recipe, you'll use over ten ounces of butter just to make four servings (i.e. four tarts). Now I wasn't at all into the idea of making (and eating) something that's got over half a stick of butter (or over 70 grams) per serving, so I took the liberty of cutting the amount of butter in half for the dough. I also made only a half of the recipe as I often do with non-Japanese baking recipes (we have small ovens, folks), but made four tarts nonetheless.
This should have made smaller tarts than those described in the original recipe, but I somehow ended up with four tarts that were about as big as what the recipe says. And they weren't that flat - which is why I'd call them 'buns' rather than 'tarts'. And oh, I forgot to dust the tarts with sugar before putting them into the oven (typical...), so I sprinkled them with some sugar halfway through baking. Not quite the same, I know, but hey ho.
By the by, the recipe suggests that you use "quince, pear, apple or persimmon", and since I had all of them, I decided to use all of them; one tart topped with quince, one with apple, one with persimmon, and one with all of the three (reads: leftovers from the other three tarts). They were all fine, but I think I liked the apple one the best; quince, I didn't taste it much again, and persimmon, I never liked them in the first place.
So, well, persimmon.
I've been experimenting with them for the past few years, and now I've learned to enjoy them as long as they're cooked.
But persimmons? Not really. I've never even cared to give them a try but have pretty much ignored the whole existence of the fruit. Sure, the trees laden heavily with the bright orange orbs may be a quintessential view of late autumn in Japan (or maybe anywhere), but I've never so much as stopped and take a look at them, trees or fruits, even though they are practically everywhere.
Now none of us really likes persimmons in this house, and it can be tricky to get rid of persimmons this time of the year, because everyone either has their own persimmon tree and has more fruits than they know what to do with, or has already received a boxful from someone who has a tree - and now has more fruits than they know what to do with. So I was vaguely pondering how to tackle our (small) quota of unwanted fruits, when it happened:
As a matter of fact, I did have some ideas as to what to do with the persimmons: turn them into some cakes. Several years ago when I was in Hawaii, our landlord once brought us a bag of persimmons which we were too polite to turn down, and that was when I found a recipe for persimmon cake. I tried it, and was pleased to find that the cake was pretty decent. In fact, the cake didn't taste of persimmon at all, which was probably why I liked it. So I was secretly game for another stab at baking with a few persimmons.
Shibugaki are extremely astringent and inedible raw unless they are completely ripe, in which case they are really sweet and jammy. Amagaki, meanwhile, are a sweet and crunchy kind that do not need to be overripe before they can be eaten. You may be more familiar with such varieties as hachiya and fuyu; hachiya is a typical shibugaki, and fuyu, an amagaki.
Many baking recipes with persimmons seem to call for hachiya, and very ripe ones they should be. As it turned out, my persimmons were all amagaki kinds, but I just went ahead and used them anyway. And the first thing I made was this:
Kim Boyce, found in her book Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010). They've got a lot of chunky persimmon puree and chopped chocolate in the batter, and happen to use a lot of buckwheat flour.
Then again, they didn't taste much of persimmon (or buckwheat). But they weren't just simple chocolate muffins either; very chocolate-y, moist, with a bit of robust flavor thanks to the buckwheat flour and a lot of fruity jamminess from the persimmons, just not the taste of them.
So if persimmons don't taste like persimmons when they were baked into cakes and muffins, it should make it a whole lot easier for me to get rid of a small heap of persimmons that tend to arrive at our place more often than we ask for.
Cheered by this idea, I dived into a bit of persimmon-baking binge, with this deeply moist and lightly spicy spiced persimmon cake with brown sugar.
recipe (in Japanese) for the cake I'd made with persimmons in Hawaii. Laden with grated persimmon flesh (or puree, if you like) and studded with walnuts and raisins, it turned out rather more puddingy than I remembered it had last time, but it was just tasty - and non-persimmon-y - as I remembered. Particularly good a day or two after it was baked, the cake made a great teatime treat.
Because I liked the cake, I looked for another persimmon cake recipe, and found this persimmon bread, a recipe originally created by James Beard and adapted by David Lebovitz. That can't go wrong, right?
The curious thing is that I thought this would make something similar to the spiced persimmon cake above, judging by the list of ingredients. Both recipes use a lot of persimmon flesh, grated or pureed, in the batter. They both have spices, dried fruits, and nuts. But the first persimmon cake is made by beating butter with (brown) sugar until creamy and whipping an egg white, and using pastry flour. A classic method to make cake, except maybe for the persimmon part.
Now something a bit more different...
I used this recipe (in Japanese) that I'd found after looking for a persimmon scone recipe, and I'm glad I did. It uses pureed persimmon flesh as the wet ingredient in the dough - no milk or cream required. The persimmon puree also doubles as the sweetener, so you don't need to use sugar. I added some raisins as suggested in the recipe, and some chopped white chocolate - not suggested by the recipe, but on a whim.
We all liked these scones very much, so I baked them again just a few days later - this time with a mixture of all-purpose and whole-wheat pastry flours, ground ginger in addition to ground cinnamon, and dried cranberries in addition to raisins. Again, very good.
And you know what happens when you are doing this much of baking with persimmons?
And once again, I found myself with way more persimmons than I knew what to do with. But this time I wasn't at a loss. Now I know I can handle persimmons by baking with them - making something I can enjoy. Not any baking, though; I've tried roasting a few wedges of persimmons when I baked quince, and I didn't particularly enjoy them as they tasted like, well, persimmons. They need to be pureed and incorporated into a dough or batter, for me to be able to enjoy them. Good news is that I now know all this, and that now I have a few good recipes to turn to. I don't think I'd rush out to buy persimmons anytime soon, but I know what to do with an odd bunch of persimmons should they find their way into our place, as they are bound to be.
Now here is one last thing I did with persimmons...
this recipe (in Japanese) because it is very easy to make. It's mostly just fresh persimmons, frozen and pureed with a bit of milk and sweetener.
So even before making it I knew it would taste very much like persimmon and that I wouldn't like it very much (which it did, and I didn't). Yet I still wanted to make it, because there was something I wanted to do with it.
It was November 2009 and I was in Florence, hitting some of the gelato places in town, sometimes on my own and sometimes with a friend of mine who lives there. One of the places I went to with her was Grom, where they had persimmon gelato as a flavor of the month. I had never heard of persimmon gelato (or ice-cream or sorbet) before, and despite my dislike of the particular fruit, I couldn't help but try it, our of pure curiosity.
But I did think of the possibility that I might not enjoy it, so I also ordered candied chestnut (marron glacé) gelato as well. I just thought they seemed to go well together.
|gelati from grom, florence, italy, november 2009.|
And so they did. The persimmon flavor wasn't too strong here, but I still preferred to have it together with the chestnut gelato. This was the first time I enjoyed something persimmon-y, and I promised to myself and my friend that I'd get myself to try and recreate the combination when I'm home.
It has taken me two years to put my word into practice, but here they are. I already had my go-to chestnut ice cream recipe that I made last year (and mentioned about it recently, here). My persimmon gelato tasted a lot more of the fruit than Grom's and my chestnut ice cream creamier and lighter, but they paired beautifully and I definitely loved them together.
+ persimmon gelato
Wash, peel, and core a large, ripe fuyu persimmon or two. Cut them into wedges, and freeze in a bag overnight or until hard. Leave the frozen persimmon wedges at room temperature for a while so they are only slightly thawed. Place the fruit in a blender or a food processor, add 1-2 Tbs. of milk and 1-2 tsp. of rum, and process until smooth. Taste, and add a little more milk if you would like your gelato milkier, and a bit of honey if you want it sweeter. Serve immediately as very soft gelato, or put the pureed mixture back into the freezer until ready to serve. Adapted from this recipe.
+ chestnut ice-cream
Whip 200 ml / a little over 3/4 cup of chilled heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold it into 120 g / a little over 4 oz. of good quality sweetened chestnut paste (preferably no added flavorings), along with 1-2 tsp. of brandy and 1-2 tsp. of milk (optional). (Alternatively, process everything together in the blender until the mixture is lightly whipped and airy.) Taste, and adjust sweetness with more sugar or chestnut paste if needed. Freeze the mixture at least 4-5 hours or until scoopable.
So, this was my month of experimenting with quince and persimmon.
They are both important autumn fruits, but both may be a little underappreciated in some cultures and among some people. I was never really familiar with either of the two, but I'm glad I got to know a bit more about them, even if I still don't care for persimmons themselves.
And for now, I reckon autumn really is over here. We've had a few surprisingly warm days in the past week or so, warm enough for me to actually sit outside for a cup of tea. But not for long now. The long and harsh winter is around the corner here in the deep mountainous countryside. Hope you're all keeping nice and warm! -cx