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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Michael Olivier: Notes from my kitchen table

My kitchen table: Guavas, quinces and old Cape Bredie


Michael Olivier - 2007-06-05

As the guava was planted at the Cape by Van Riebeeck and his successors, there can hardly be a farmstead in the Cape that does not have a guava tree growing somewhere near it.

Ice cold guavas poached in lemon-fragranced sugar syrup and served with warm vanilla custard flavoured with almond-scented peach leaves was almost a staple diet for us in winter when these wonderful pink fruit with their distinctive sweet perfume reminiscent of tropical fruit were in season.

We had one white guava tree in our vegetable garden. The white guavas are Indian, whereas the pink-fleshed variety are originally Hawaiian. Guavas belong to the Myrtle family, which is linked to some of the spices like allspice and clove - and eucalyptus. As unripe fruits they smell like musky wild cats and on ripening give off a rich honeyed perfume. The flavours of the white guavas tend more to banana, whereas the pink is “all fruits”.

The flesh is thickly textured and the guava lives up to its Aztec name of sand plum. When ripe, peeled and sieved the guava renders a delicious thick purée which can easily be frozen or folded into thick custard or whipped vanilla-scented cream to make a Guava Fool. Take 250 g peeled ripe guavas and purée them in a food processor with about 3 Tbs white sugar. Whip a 125 ml carton of well chilled cream and fold it into the purée. Delicious! Try spreading it on hot toasted raisin bread. The purée dries beautifully and you can easily buy rolls of guava leather in the dried fruits sections of most stores.

Quinces - another of my favourite fruit currently gracing the shelves of supermarkets and fruit and veg dealers - were planted and mentioned in his diary by Jan van Riebeeck’ s gardeners in the Company Gardens in Cape Town shortly after the settlement at the Cape by the Dutch. Quinces were popular right up to the turn of the 20th century, but with the urbanisation of rural peoples they have become less and less known.

However, there is - as with the guava - hardly a farm which does not have its quince and pomegranate or Cape gooseberry hedges - all of which have been at the Cape since the early Dutch settlement.

Quinces are a most nostalgic fruit for me, as we ate them each year as they came into season. They were also turned into jelly, which cooked slowly on the Aga stove in our kitchen producing a ruby red clear jelly which we ate with roast leg of lamb instead of the ubiquitous mint sauce.

Quinces look a bit like large, fluffy, knobbly, yellow-skinned apples and are firm-fleshed. The core and the area around it are particularly hard. There is a variety which Leipoldt called the borrie quince which was more yellow-fleshed than the better known white-fleshed quince and he suggested they were better for a bredie. When cooked (they can be poached in a sugar syrup or baked in the oven) the quince turns a most beautiful ruby pink colour.

Quinces are never eaten raw, except in a sambal usually served with tripe by the Malay peoples of the Cape. The quince is peeled and grated and mixed with grated onion, lemon juice, salt and chopped chili.

As children we used to take quinces to our beach house and take them into the sea, wash the fuzz off them and eat them, dipping them into the sea water.

Leipoldt also talks of a quince bredie, though his recipe is quaintly very basic and gives little direction in terms of quantities, and in my opinion the ratio of quince to lamb is too high.

Here is my reconstructed version of a quince bredie:

Michael's quince & lamb knuckle bredie

You’ll need

3 kg lamb knuckles, flour (seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, sweet smoked paprika, ground ginger, pinch ground cloves), extra virgin olive oil (Morgenster or Vesuvio are my favourites), 3 onions - finely chopped, 3 fat cloves of fresh garlic - finely chopped, 2 large carrots, - diced, 2 sticks celery - diced, 3 bird’s eye chilis - finely chopped (leave out seeds and membranes if you want a milder taste; there is a lot of heat in the membranes), 3 large quinces – peeled and cut into eighths, seeded and cored and kept in acidulated water to prevent oxidation, 250 ml fruity dry red wine, 100 ml brandy, generous sprig thyme, 4 bay leaves, 4 blades mace, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 1 litre beef stock, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Method

Season the lamb knuckles well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dip them into the seasoned flour and slow fry them in a little oil a large pan over medium heat until they are well browned on the outside. Do not do them all at once, otherwise the meat will stew rather than brown; rather do them in three batches. When done, transfer them to an ovenproof casserole. Wipe out the pan and pour in a little oil, slow fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until it is just starting to colour, add the carrot celery and chilis and cook together for a short while. Pour in the red wine and cook over low heat until the wine is almost completely reduced. Heat the brandy, ignite it and pour it over the lamb, shaking until the flames die out. Place the quinces on top of the lamb. Tuck in the thyme, bay leaves and mace. Mix the tomato paste with the beef stock and pour over the mixture. Cook in a 180°C oven for two hours. Remove from the oven and season for taste. Good thing to leave it overnight at this point for the flavours to mature. If you are not able to, cook for a further 30 minutes or until the meat is tender. If you are able to keep it overnight and allow it to mature, next day remove any of the solidified fat which has risen to the top, add a little more stock if necessary and reheat gently for about 30 minutes, and stir the quinces through the meat.

Serves 8 with plain steamed Basmati rice. Basmati rice was the chosen rice of the Malay peoples of the Cape.

Wines

A good fruity, rustic red wine like Lindhorst Strategy, just released, a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend, and the Morgenhof Summer House is a deeply delicious Bordeaux blend with some intense flavours sucked up from the earth. An excellent choice would also be the Groot Constantia Pinotage 2005, which recently won the London International Wine Challenge Gold Medal in London - leaning towards its Pinot Noir parent; it is full-bodied with lovely red berries and strawberries and has the turned forest floor earth smells which I find so appealing in Pinot Noir.

Another choice would be a wine from Oudtshoorn which recently took a gold medal at the Swiss International Air Line Wine Awards in Cape Town. It’s the Kango Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Shiraz blend of Flip Smith. I tasted this wine recently with Flip and Caren Smith. So yummy and already drinking amazingly well - lots of rustic berries and fruit like blood plum. Swiss International Air Lines has bought the bulk of Flip’s production of this wine for its short-haul international flights, but do contact them on 044 272 6065. It’s steal at R33 a bottle - such over-delivering at this price is almost criminal – it’s a R60 to R80 bottle for sure. If you are ordering some from the winery, ask them to throw in a bottle of their red and white Rijkshof Muscadel - this is Muscadel country and Flip's are thick and unctuous, aromatic and spicy and given away at R30 a pop. They’re good people too if you’re passing through Oudtshoorn - they’re in Van der Riet Street.

A range of wines - newly released - from Franschhoek is Joey and Angie Diamond’s Klein Genot range of reds. Klein Genot means "small pleasure" - we had great pleasure drinking them. Mark Carmichael Green has concentrated on quality not quantity, and to this end only 26 000 bottles of wines were made for the 2005 vintage. Says Angie, "The aim is to make young, modern wines." There are four highly drinkable wines all made from grapes grown on the estate: a Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and our best a superlative Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon called Black Swan Reserve.

Spit or Swallow - A Guide for the Wine Virgin, written for those wishing to know a little bit more about wine in order for them to enjoy it a lot more, was recently published by Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright under the Double Storey banner. Jenny focuses more on the good life of food, wine and pleasure than it does on technical jargon contained in winespeak. After all, it is not the intricacies and technicalities which interest us, but rather the enjoyment of drinking and sharing wine - the passion of it all! Spit or Swallow is here to give a fresh approach and make the whole wine thing less scary. It’s a great guide to living with wine as a healthy and integral part of your daily life and focuses on good wine, good food, good friends, good laughs and good times. Nice birthday present for your wine geek friends to bring them down to earth!