Is this the way to Plum-b-rillo?

Trying out a new recipe for the first time is never without a little trepidation. For me, this is usually doubled as I tend to do things on the spur of the moment. I often don’t have exactly the right ingredients so take a gamble with ratios or fill in missing ingredients with my own idea of what might work. Sometimes this is heart-thumpingly successful, and makes the gambling an ongoing addiction, other times it is woefully disastrous, and no amount of continued fiddling will bring the ruined produce back to edible levels.

Earlier in the week I gathered a harvest from the garden, wondered what I could make with it, and immediately thought “crispy duck pancakes”. We happened to have some duck legs in the freezer! You just need strong flour and hot water to make the pancakes. The kale could be steamed and fried like crispy seaweed. The spring onions, green peppers and cucumber, thinly sliced lengthways, create the fresh crunch. And the plums could be made into a plum sauce!

The duck and pancakes were delicious, but the plum sauce a disaster. Tip: You really do need the right ingredients for this one.. Do not use cider vinegar instead of rice vinegar, and make sure you don’t accidentally get the proportions wrong and end up pouring 2lbs of home-grown plum sauce down the toilet! (At least vinegar makes a very good cleaner).

Luckily, a jar of Sharwoods Hoisin sauce was found at the back of the pantry, and the meal was rescued. I stuck to simple stewed plums and cream after that.

Then yesterday, I picked what is probable the last of the plums here (before the wasps devour the rest) and remembered a comment in my last post from Yvette:

“how about plum cheese? Make it like damson cheese, cook it like jam but then keep on simmering and stirring like mad until it thickens to a paste. Lay it on a tray with baking parchment until set and cut it into cubes. It tastes like fruit pastilles, goes well with cheese and biscuits. There are recipes out there on the internet”

I did some research.

Plum “cheese” is the plum version of Membrillo, the “slices of quince” dined on by the Owl and the Pussycat. It perfectly accompanies cheese and biscuits and it can be kept in the fridge for at least six months. Wrapped up in paper and string, it makes great Christmas presents.

All you need are plums and jam sugar (sugar with pectin added, which helps fruits with low pectin levels set). This time I followed this well-rated recipe from the BBC GoodFood website. (I had 6lbs of plums, so made it in 3 batches. As reduction is important to reach the right consistency, which involves a lot of stirring, this is better than trying to make a huge vat all at once). I did add some lemon zest too. One vital ingredient not mentioned in the recipe is time. Allow yourself plenty of time for up to an hour stirring and also sieving all that pulp! I think next time I’ll invest in a mouli 🙂

Rather than put in round jars, I lined two loaf tins with greased wax paper so that I can tip it out and slice it thickly like bread.

Sarah Raven’s recipe for Membrillo, suggests leaving the “cheese” out for a day or two (uncovered) before putting it in the fridge. This helps it dry out a little and firm it up for more decisive slicing.

Update: A few days later, I cut up the plumbrillo into slices and wrapped it in a wax paper-lined foil (I used Bacofoil 2-in-1). Plain waxed paper will do, but as mine are going to be gifts this sparkly version is perfect. I’ll add some coloured string to present. My parcels are now stashed away at the back of the fridge, where they’ll keep for well over 6 months.

Top tips: 1. use a fish slice rather than a knife to cut into slices or cubes as the open grill stops the cheese suctioning to the blade and make it easier to remove and handle.

Top tips: 2. My third batch I impatiently rushed and, although it set, it wasn’t as dark and rich as the first two. With fridge space now limited, I cut it up into jelly cubes and popped them in a couple of jam jars. We had some roast pork on Friday night, and a couple of cubes melted into the gravy made it extra special 🙂 You could even melt some down with a little rice vinegar and have it with crispy duck 🙂 Now why didn’t I think of that before? 


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