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Remember how I mentioned the perfumed fragrance of Quince? Well, guavas are even more intense – more heady and intoxicating…just like the tropics.

About a month after we moved into this house, I had noticed a tree at one end of the car park that had an abundance of yellow round fruit on the tree as well as fallen and squished ones on the ground under it. It seemed as if every car that drove by this tree squished one on its way past. Upon closer examination, I must have gasped quietly when I realized that it was a guava tree and not just any old guava tree, it was the variety that I grew up with as a child in Hawaii – yellow on the outside and pink flesh on the inside. What other types of guavas are out there? One website, www.tropicalfruitworld.com.au on the Gold Coast in Australia has a great explanation on the different types of guavas (they list a total of 11) and I didn’t even know that there was one actually called “Hawaiian” which happens to be a green skinned, pink fleshed variety. Last year, the tree produced so much that I had enough to give away to people, to puree them and enough to make two batches of guava jelly. I don’t know what’s wrong this year but either the drought caused less fruit or perhaps it rained during flowering but there are very few on the tree and I am actually quite saddened by this. Ah well, this is nature and every year can’t be the same – I will just have to cherish the few that I do get this year. One of my favorite ways of eating guavas? Waiting until ripe and very fragrant, slicing in half and devouring it with just a tiny sprinkle of sugar.

A memorable childhood memory involving fresh guavas was going to my friend Sharyl’s house and making guava milkshakes:

Peel and puree guavas and pass through a mesh sieve to remove seeds. Add desired sugar to the guava puree and set aside. Then proceed to make a vanilla milkshake with a few scoops of good-quality vanilla ice cream, a splash of milk and add 2 to 4 Tbsp. of guava puree to taste. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, I’ve added some pictures of the bumper crop of guavas I had last year (since I didn’t have a food blog then). In bakeries throughout Hawaii, a regular feature is guava chiffon cake or liliko’i (passion fruit) chiffon cake. The chiffon cake is very airy and light and the sweet thickened guava puree on top and between the layers tastes amazing. My only complaint about commercial bakeries today is that to cut corners (in cost), so many use that “fake” cream that didn’t even get remotely close to a cow! I think so many people have forgotten what real whipped cream tastes like…and I digress (more on that topic another time). Anyway…I actually replicated the cake at home with REAL cream. The recipe I used was a basic chiffon recipe from The Joy of Cooking and the guava puree was thickened with corn starch (or arrowroot works too) and sugar, cooled and used to fill and top the cake – simple! Fabulous!

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Quince Paste Recipe

Quince Paste Recipe:

There are so many variations on this recipe as with anything else. Here is one that I know is foolproof and the pictures show the finished product:

Ripe Quince

Sugar

Water

Lemon Juice (optional but recommended)

Method: Peel and core quince, like you would an apple (some recipes tell you to reserve the skins and core and place into muslin bag while cooking the quince but I don’t find that this is necessary for paste). Cut quince into large chunks and cover with enough water to cook through until soft enough to pierce. Drain water and puree the fruit through a sieve, with a masher or in a food processor.  Weigh the puree and add equal amounts of sugar in weight as the puree in a pan and cook (while stirring constantly) until the mixture starts to get very thick. If you want a thick quince paste that can be sliced, cook until the mixture starts to pull away from the pan. Be careful, when fully boiling, it can be very hot and spurt out and stick to your skin so try to cook it on the lowest heat possible to avoid being scalded.  The best test is, if the paste does not come together again when you create a line through the mixture with a spoon, then it is done.  Pour paste it into a non-stick pan to cool or a pan lined with good parchment paper or even in individual muffin pans.

I have read recipes that say to place into a very low oven for 12 to 24 hours.  We tried the oven and stovetop method and the oven produces a much darker paste.  We opted for putting it on a higher oven setting (about 150C) and stirred it occasionally and it took roughly about 5 to 6 hours and honestly, although I had reservations about doing it this way, I find that it is easier in the oven.

A few tablespoons of lemon juice can be added to brighten the flavour.

Cooking the Quince Paste

The Finished Product

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Quince

Have you ever seen Quince blossoms? The beautiful salmon coloured flowers with its cluster of bright yellow stamens can brighten up any wet spring day and make wonderful cut flowers that lasts for a couple of weeks. I can barely resist buying a bunch if I see them at a florist.

The fruit is equally seductive – especially when they start to ripen and the perfume wafts throughout the room its in. The aroma is a cross between pineapple, guava, apple and pear and is an almost candy-like scent, sweet and floral at the same time. I could honestly sniff the fruit for hours as a form of aromatherapy!

Here in Australia, Barossa food icon Maggie Beer (http://www.maggiebeer.com.au/) is the queen of quince and has definitely brought the fruit back into fashion with her quince paste and a willingness to teach Australians to take advantage of the wonderful fruit that grows practically wild all over temperate areas of Australia. Quince are high in pectin so are great for jelly and fruit cheese. Most commercial varieties are yellow, slightly fuzzy and are too tannic (astringent) to eat raw and must be cooked. What’s amazing is that once cooked, Quince take on the most amazing transformation to a dark rose hue.

Quince picked green and less ripe are good for jelly but if you want to make quince paste or stew them, leave the in the fruit bowl to perfume up the house and ripen – just make sure the skin isn’t starting to wrinkle but if they are, you may still be able to salvage them for pureed quince. When I have an abundance of quince, I always make *quince paste and then with the remainder, I quarter the fruit and cook until tender and preserve them in a light syrup (with vanilla bean) made from the poaching liquid. Poached quince is gorgeous as an accompaniment to roast duck and pork and makes a change from the apples, cherries and plums used to go along with meat. Quince slices can also be added to apple pie and I once made a BBQ sauce for ribs with quince paste and it was lovely (if only I had written down the recipe!)

About three weeks ago, my chef friend from Hawaii (who now lives in Australia) came to visit and we took her to the Adelaide Hills wine region famous for their Sauvignon Blancs and also for their abundant produce and quaint little towns. We were on our way to a winery when I spotted at least three large quince trees by the side of the road (next to a huge vacant lot) right off the highway exit! I yelled out to my husband to turn around and go back. He is so used to me finding food growing wild by the side of the road that he doesn’t even question when I tell him to turn the car around. When we pulled up to the trees, the side that was easily accessible by passersby was a bit bare but my friend and husband climbed over the fence to get my loot of quince! I am very clumsy (and decided that it wasn’t worth a trip to hospital) so I stayed over the safe side and held out a bag for collection and took the photos. My friend had never seen quinces growing on a tree before (it doesn’t grow in the tropics) and when she grabbed her first one, she yelled out in surprise, “It’s fuzzy!” I guess since they look like apples, the fuzziness was a bit of a surprise.

*Quince paste is not as common in the USA (yet) but here in South Australia, you will find a small chunk of it on cheese platters and makes a very good accompaniment to many different cheeses. My favourite would probably be goat or blue cheese with quince paste.

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Summer Heaven

Ah summer…while many of my friends and family are bracing the winter chills, I am grateful for the warm weather and blissfully happy about the produce that it brings! After spending the last four months in a tropical climate, it is nice to see such varied fruit available for sale at the markets. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good mango, papaya and pineapple but I would feel torn if I had to pick between tropical fruits and stone fruit.

So I went crazy one day at the local produce market and bought five different stone fruit in one shopping expedition! What came home with me were: yellow nectarines, white nectarines, white peach, donut peach and peacherines. I have to admit, I am not that familiar with peacherines but these ones were highly acidic and although very flavourful, I was stunned by the bracing acidity it gave me.

The “donut” (USA) or “saucer” (AUS) peach is a curiously flat-shaped heirloom variety that is a direct descendant of the original Chinese flat peach. Although fairly “new” in markets, it was originally thought to have been cultivated in America in the 1800s but because Americans preferred their peaches bright yellow, the flat peach was not popular due to its white flesh. It is interesting that white peaches are the norm in Asia, while the yellow peach is the norm in the west. In Japan, white peaches are huge and flawless and can set you back around $5USD or more for one, depending on the quality.

If you happen to get a good deal on white peaches that are ripe but not bruised, can them in gorgeous glass jars. I always use a medium-bodied syrup with real vanilla beans because the aromatic vanilla really compliments the fragrant white peaches. When left to infuse for a few months and chilled, it makes for a great dessert during winter to wipe away the seasonal blues.

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