BLACK CATS, YO-YOS AND POACHED BUMTCHOONTH

This is Senor Hernandez, the Patron Saint of Dodgy Deals. Like all saints worth their salt, he glows in the dark. He was bought for me by your Mum many years ago and sits next to my computer, watching over me with his beady black eyes.

This is Senor Hernandez, the Patron Saint of Dodgy Deals. Like all saints worth their salt, he glows in the dark. He was bought for me by your Mum many years ago and sits next to my computer, watching over me with his beady black eyes.

Dear Amelia,
I once read in a Barbara Vine novel – can’t remember which one – that being superstitious means you’re lower class.
I suppose we should take it as read, then, that the Queen never passed one of her newborn children through a rind of cheese to ensure a long and prosperous life.
And it’s probably just as unlikely that Prince Charles hung all his elephant pictures facing the palace doorways, it being unlucky to hang them any other way.
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t done either of these things but I would have if I’d known about them because I’m very lower class.
I’ve knocked on wood so many times in the past 60 years my knuckles are coveted by Ikea for their realistic wood grain patterns.
What I don’t know about black cats, white butterflies, dead bees and seagulls that fly in threes could be engraved on a dog’s toenail, so long as that dog wasn’t howling in the house of a sick person, in which case I’d cack myself.
Your Grandpa isn’t superstitious at all.
Unlike me, who spends a lot of time counting the number of Xs on the palms of my hands, your Grandpa spends a lot of time watching the History Channel.
This is how he knows that Syria banned yo-yos in 1933.
Indeed, Syrian police confiscated all the yo-yos in the land because it was thought they were causing a drought.
Your Grandpa believes that if I had been in Syria in 1933 I would have been a yo-yo confiscator.
He’s probably right. But I would have been a happy yo-yo-confiscator because I would have been in the land of quinces, Syria being fairly prominent in the quince-growing arena.
Syria may have its faults, but enhancing its core competencies quince-wise isn’t one of them (I hope you’re impressed by that phrase – I like to think my time working with local government hasn’t been for nought).

quince
The quince is native to several stans – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan – and also to Kashmir where it’s known as the bumtchoonth.
It’s said that the forbidden fruit Eve bit into in the Garden of Eden was not the apple but the quince.
Personally I can’t see it being true unless Eve had the teeth of a white pointer and/or access to good dental care.
This is because quinces are rock hard when raw.
I love quinces but rarely see them in the shops, so I planted four quince trees down the bottom of the garden a few years back.
Sometimes these trees bear fruit that could best be described as “wormy”, which doesn’t bother me because I just cut out all the manky bits and boil the shit out of what’s left.
I say “boil” but I should say “poach” – and poached quinces are something to behold, turning from hard, yellow chunks into toothsome rosy pieces that are fab with ice cream.

poached quinces
They freeze really well, so you can eat them year-round.
You can also turn them into quince paste, which I’ve never done because why bother when you have a friend called Lizzie who does it so well?
Here is a picture of Lizzie’s latest batch, delivered on Saturday night.

quince paste
Quince paste is delicious with cheddar cheese and is synonymous with Maggie Beer, a TV chef I can’t watch because her silly breathless voice and little-girl mannerisms make me want to slap her and shout, “How old are you for God’s sake?”
Maggie flogs it via Woolies and Coles for about $50 a kilo.
You can make your own quince paste a lot more cheaply using this very good recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly.
The quince-poaching recipe I use is from David Lebovitz and you’ll find it here.
It’s dead easy so I hope you give it a go one day.
Before I go I’d just like to say I hope your Mum hasn’t let a ferret or a weasel jump over her pregnant stomach.
If she has, you need to tell her she can undo the bad luck by putting a spider in a walnut shell and wearing it on a string around her neck (this also wards off the plague so basically we’re killing two birds with one stone).

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HO HO HO AND FIVE JARS OF JAM

Another gratuitous shot of our Christmas tree, taken last night. You'll notice Nanna's toenails could do with a trim.

Another gratuitous shot of our Christmas tree, taken last night. You’ll notice Nanna’s toenails could do with a trim.

Dear Amelia,
I made strawberry jam this morning from some of the bargain strawberries I mentioned in my last letter.
The whole process made me feel like a proper Nanna – the sort who smells of vanilla and wears face powder and big knickers and has a brooch pinned to her frock.
I’ll bring a jar of my strawberry jam when we come to see you at Christmas and we can stuff ourselves with it before everyone else wakes up.
It’s likely I won’t have time to write another blog post before then because it’s odds on I’ll either be busy with work and last-minute shopping or too full of booze and food to be of any real use.
Before I go I’d like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very happy and safe Christmas.
It’s been wonderful this past year to get emails from people from all over the world.
I know the Internet has its downsides but you lot certainly aren’t one of them.
May Santa bring you everything you wished for.

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STRAWBERRY JAM

This recipe is off the back of the JamSetta packet and can be used for any berry fruits

1.5kg strawberries
¼ cup water
4 tbsp lemon juice
1.5kg granulated sugar, warmed
50g packet JamSetta

Preheat the oven to 150C.
Put three saucers or small plates in the freezer for jam-testing later.
Wash drain and hull the strawberries and cut them into halves or quarters if they’re huge.
Put them in a really big pan (I used a pasta pan) with the water and lemon juice and cook gently, uncovered, until the strawberries are soft.
While that’s happening, look at the huge mountain of sugar you’re about to use, think about how it will desecrate the temple that is your body, then put the sugar in a big bowl and warm it in the oven for 6 minutes.
Wash five or six jam jars and their lids in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, drain well and put them on a baking sheet ready to put in the oven.
Don’t touch the inside of the jars and lids when you do this or you may die later.
Add the warmed sugar and JamSetta to the strawberries in the pan and heat gently until dissolved, stirring constantly.
Bring to the boil and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Quite a bit of pink scum (frothy stuff) will rise to the top of the jam while it’s boiling. Remove it with a slotted spoon and dump it in a bowl.
While the jam is boiling, put your tray of jam jars and lids in the oven to complete the sterilisation process.
Test if the jam has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of jam onto one of the cold plates and leaving it for 30 seconds.
It’s ready when you run your finger through it and the jam crinkles.
If this doesn’t happen keep boiling and testing until it does or until you think, ‘I really don’t give a shit anymore,’ which is what happened to me.
Remove the jam from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes.
Ladle it into the hot jars with a ladle that was washed and rinsed along with the jam jars.
Fill the jars right to the top and put the lids on straight away.
You’ll probably have a little bit of jam left in the bottom of the pan that won’t fit into your jars.
Eat it all with a spoon.
Lie down and wish you hadn’t.

Look at all those yummy strawberries. It must be where the expression "jam-packed" comes from.

Look at all those yummy strawberries. It must be where the expression “jam-packed” comes from.

 

 


STRAWBERRIES, ALEC BALDWIN AND SATAY PORK

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Dear Amelia,
I was going to talk to you today about making strawberry jam but I haven’t made it yet so I can’t.
There are five kilos of strawberries in that box in the picture.
Your Great Uncle Gerard was down for a visit last week and asked us if we’d like him to go out to the local strawberry farm and buy them.
What possessed me to say “yes” is anybody’s guess. I must’ve been on drugs without knowing it.
The main reason is that they were only $10 (yes, $10 for 5 kilos) and who could go past a bargain like that, EVEN THOUGH I WASN’T PAYING FOR THEM?
Not your Nanna, that’s for sure (my Mum, aka your Great Grandma, reckons this is because once you’ve been hit with the Kmart stick, it’s a lifelong thing – cheap, cheap, cheap all the way).
These strawberries are seconds. If you look closely you’ll see that some of them have been pre-nibbled by lizards and bugs, others are covered in dirt, and a few (surprisingly few, actually) are turning into alien life forms.
It only took me about 12 hours to wash them, hull them and chop out the dodgy bits.
Then I had to go to Woolies and buy some JamSetta and the equivalent of Alec Baldwin’s body weight in sugar.
The idea is that I will chuck everything into a big saucepan, boil the shit out of it and end up with jars of jam that people will exclaim over at Christmas even though what they really want is a giant Toblerone.
Speaking of Christmas, here are some pictures of our fibre-optic tree, which I love with every fibre of my being.
Your Grandpa and I sit in front of its twinkly-ness every night, grateful that we no longer have to pretend we prefer the real thing and won’t still be vacuuming up pine needles on Australia Day.

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The following pictures are of my spice drawers, which I bought at Ikea years ago and painted with some red paving paint I found in the shed at our old house.
The names are written on the front with white coloured pencil, which is easy to wash off if you want to re-arrange your drawers (so to speak).
We love eating spicy food, your Grandpa and I, and this is a good way to store spices because it keeps them in the dark.

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“Where are you going with this, Nanna?” you are probably asking right now.
Well, I’m trying to segue into a recipe for Satay Pork, which is what we had for dinner last night.
This is one of our favourite meals – perfectly spiced and great to eat with fried rice.
It also freezes and reheats really well.
It’s from a book I got off eBay called Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute: Home Cooking, by Jill Brand and Carrie O’Regan.
I don’t have a picture of the finished dish because it’s one of those brown jobbies that doesn’t photograph well.
Here’s a picture of the spices instead.

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SATAY PORK

Serves 4

700g pork fillet
1-2 tbsp oil for frying

For the marinade:
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil

For the peanut sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup (60 ml) smooth peanut butter
½ – 1 tsp chilli powder (depending how hot you like it – I like ½ tsp)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.
Remove the silvery bits from the pork fillet and slice the meat across the grain into 1cm slices.
Put the pork into the bowl with the marinade and mix well.
Cover with Gladwrap and marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in a small saucepan over low-ish heat then gently cook the onion and garlic until soft and lightly coloured.
Add the peanut butter, chilli powder, brown sugar and lemon juice and cook for two minutes.
The sauce can be made ahead of time if you like. Keep it, covered, in the fridge.
To make the satay, heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok over high heat.
Fry the pork until cooked through (you’ll have to do this in two batches, removing the first batch to a bowl).
Return all pork to the wok, stir in the peanut sauce and heat through for a couple of minutes.
Serve with rice.


JELLY BABY

Dear Amelia,
Here’s how you make Lilly Pilly Jelly.
First you go to the kitchen shop over the road from work and ask for a jelly bag and the woman says, “Pardon?”
It turns out neither of you has a clue what a jelly bag is, but luckily she sells cheesecloth, $6.95, sealed in plastic, just the ticket.
Cheesecloth is a thin, white fabric you can see through.
Lots of people wore tops made out of cheesecloth in the 1970s.
They came into fashion shortly after women followed Germaine Greer’s lead and burned their bras, so it was a very good way to get to know nipples other than your own.
This is why – despite the appalling music, hair and clothes – men of a certain age would go back to the 70s in a heartbeat if given half a chance.
After you’ve bought your cheesecloth, you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies off your bushes.
Well, in an ideal world you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies.
If you live in an un-ideal world, you pick your lilly pillies the weekend before and leave them sitting on the bench in two colanders for a week.


On jelly-making day, you find that half of your lilly pillies are putrid and have to be thrown out.
So you give the remaining lilly pillies a good wash and put them in a big pot with a whole lemon and then you add enough water to only just cover the fruit.
Then you put the pot on a high flame and boil the shit out of them until the lilly pillies are soft and lose most of their colour and the water turns purple.
Then you line a colander with the cheesecloth, which has been folded over and over into a square.
Then you put the colander over your tallest pasta pot and pour in all your purple liquid and fruit (except for the lemon, which you chuck in the bin).
Then you gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it at the top with string.
Then you ask Grandpa to give you a hand suspending the cheesecloth bundle over your tallest pasta pot so that every last drop of the lilly pilly liquid can drip through.
Then you and Grandpa spend the next half hour discussing how you will achieve this feat and just when you’re on the point of punching each other in the throat, Grandpa says, “For God’s sake just let me do it” and 30 seconds later the cheesecloth bundle is suspended over the pot.


Your cheesecloth bundle is supposed to be left suspended overnight but after four hours you think, ‘Bugger this for a joke’ and pour all your purple liquid into a measuring jug.
You do this because the next step in this lengthy process involves measuring sugar.
As in, you need one cup of sugar for each cup of liquid.
You also need to sterilise your jars, which involves washing jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinsing them, drying them with a clean tea towel, putting them upright on an oven tray and sticking them in a 150C oven for half an hour.
While this is happening, you make your Lilly Pilly Jelly by putting the purple liquid and sugar into a big saucepan and boiling the shit out of it again for about 15 minutes.
If you put it into a small-ish saucepan it boils over and goes all over the cooktop and it takes you eight minutes to clean everything up.
You know this because you time yourself.
After 15 minutes of boiling, you put a teaspoon of jelly onto a cold plate and wait 30 seconds to see if it wrinkles on the top.
It doesn’t, so you chuck in some JamSetta and proceed according to packet directions.
Then you pour your hot jelly into your hot jars and put the lids on.
Then you step back and look at your one and a half lousy jars of Lilly Pilly Jelly, which – taking into account the time, effort, petrol, mileage, cheesecloth, JamSetta, Panadol, possible psychiatric intervention etc involved – have cost about 15 bucks each.
Luckily it tastes really nice.


LET’S SCARE GRANDPA

Dear Amelia,
This picture arrived in my inbox yesterday from my mate Martha Stewart.
The accompanying text said, “This Mother’s Day, pamper Mom with a handmade eye mask that includes a message from you.”
I think my message would be, “Wake up, Grandpa! Nanna wants to scare the crap out of you,” but maybe that’s just me.
Here are some more craft suggestions from Martha in case you can’t make it down to the deli today to buy Mom a bunch of flowers.
You will find all of them (and more) at marthastewart.com.
A balloon bouquet.


A bias-binding cake-stand skirt and chandelier (yes, honestly)


Tissue-paper floral pompoms that might fall on those tealights and burn the house down if you drink too much and go to bed without blowing out the candles.


Next is a picture of something your Mum made me at school for Mother’s Day when she was a little girl (it’s Nanna, your Mum and your Uncle Paul made out of honky nuts).


And here is a picture of something your Uncle Paul made me at school for Mother’s Day when he was a little boy.


There’ll be lots of phone calls and chatting today because no one who works full time wants to drive an 832km round trip to say Happy Mother’s Day in person (we’re a sentimental bunch).
After all the chatting I’ll be knackered but I’ll soldier on and make something out of the quinces that I picked off the trees I planted three years ago.
According to Australia’s Homemade Jam and Preserves Book, which is sitting next to me as I type, the ancient Greeks used quinces as an antidote for hangovers, poisons, upsets and fevers.
Who would’ve thought?
My quinces have been ripening in a box for weeks and are covered in scabby bits but they smell beautiful and should be fine for quince paste or jam or something.


If I’m feeling particularly Martha-ish, I might also pick the lillypilly berries that are growing on the hedge at the bottom of the garden and make some lillypilly jam.
As if.
But here’s a recipe anyway.
PS: There’s only one more week left of this latest full-time-work stint at the ABC, thank Christ.
No more getting out of bed at 5.30am.
Plus, Grandpa and I will be able to come and visit everyone. Yay!

LILLY PILLY JAM

500g lillypillies
2 granny smith apples
juice of 1 lemon
300ml water
600g caster sugar

Wash the lilly pillies well. Peel and core the apples, then chop into small pieces.
Put lilly pillies, apples, lemon juice, water and sugar in a small saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
Add more lemon juice if the mixture does not appear to set.
Use a potato masher to break the skin and seed from the fruit.
Strain mixture to remove skin and seeds.
Return pan to heat and, when reduced, use a stick blender to combine.
Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.
To store, pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal when cold.
This recipe is from Better Homes and Garden magazine.
If I make it and it doesn’t set, I’ll use some JamSetta, which you can buy at supermarkets.