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Apple Paste

One of the recipes in Markham’s book is for ‘Paste of Genoa.’ The recipe is found on pg 116 of Michael Best’s edited version of the text:

To make a paste of genoa, or any other paste.

To make paste of Genoa, you shall take quinces after they have been boiled soft, and beat them in a mortar with refined sugar, cinnamon, and ginger finely searced, and damask rose-water  till it come to a stiff paste; and then roll it forth and print it, and so bake it in a stove; and in this sort you may make paste of pears, apples, wardens, plums of all kinds, cherries, barberries, or what other fruit you please.

To see some beautiful examples of what these pastes look like, spend some time on Historic Food. Unfortunately, I am having a really tough time sourcing quinces, although I finally found a place that sells them here. It’s good news for the quince marmalade I want to make in the future! Quinces are related to pears, and so I considered using pears in this recipe to try to emulate the texture, etc. I may do that at some point, but I decided instead to use apples (which Markham also says will work in this recipe) because our local orchards produce some great varieties that I’m looking to add into more of the food I prepare.

If you looked at the Historic Food site, you will see that these pastes were put in molds before baking to create elaborate shapes. I actually have a pan I got at a second hand store that will be absolutely perfect for this, and I am really excited to use it.

 

Apple paste pan

My copper pan, complete with camel

 

The process of creating the paste itself is one that I feel warrants a couple side notes. First of all, it suggests beating the boiled apples in a mortar with the remaining ingredients. Unfortunately, my mortar and pestle are rather small, which means that I will either have to work in 5 or 6 very small batches, or I will have to improvise using a larger bowl. I do have some bowls that will work, so perhaps I can use my small pestle with them. Best’s endnotes also bear mentioning here–the first says that Markham’s writing, as well as that of his contemporary, Hugh Platt, recommend using 1/2 pound of sugar for each pound of ‘quince pap.’ Platt’s book, The Ladies Companion, gives a much better description of the technique than Markham: “Set your [paste spread on a] pie plate in a warm oven or stove (upon two billets of wood for to keep it from the bottom of the oven) all night; then on the morrow turn it, and so do it every day until it be dry.” (Best, 266, quoting from Platt, pg 46). To try and emulate this in a modern oven, I’ll set it to the lowest setting (‘warm’ or about 200 degrees). Then I can leave it on today while I’m up so that I can keep an eye on it and make adjustments as needed before letting it continue to dry tonight while I sleep. ┬áMore updates to come as the day continues!

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So the first step is to boil the apples. Since Markham gives no special instructions about boiling them with sugar or anything, I just chucked them in a pot with some water. I’m using Rome apples because they are cultivated more for cooking than for eating raw (although they are delicious raw as well!) from Apple Cart Orchard in Vinton, IA. I am using five medium-sized apples (not the giant ones in the supermarket), chopped and boiled.

In order to get the correct amount of sugar, I had to use a 2:1 ratio of apples to sugar. This time, my kitchen scale is out and usable! I had about 720 grams (~1.5 lbs) of cooked apples, so I figured I would need to use about 3/4 lb. of sugar to mash with the fruit. Unfortunately, my estimate was wrong (very wrong indeed). I think the big secret with this recipe, were I to make it again, is to not only strain the apples but to mash them and strain the mashed apples before adding the sugar. I made the mistake of adding the 2 1/4 c sugar prior to straining, only to discover that it looked like applesauce. After straining that mixture, I kept adding more and more sugar to make this elusive ‘paste’ Markham was aiming for (I added another 3 1/4 cups) but I actually ran out of sugar before I got to a paste that could be rolled out. The recipe might not be salvageable (we’ll see), but I’m cooking it in the oven at 200 right now to see if I can slowly dehydrate it, and perhaps end up with the same end product that just takes longer to make!

The flavorings I added were definitely on the mark, though, so if nothing else I will have an *incredibly* sweet and delicious mixture. As per Markham’s recipe, I added rosewater (1/8 c), cinnamon (1 tsp), and freshly grated ginger (1 tsp). You can buy rosewater at specialty markets, or you can make it by infusing water with roses by gently simmering. The flavor is deep and complex, which is one of my favorite parts of using these kinds of spices and waters. I left it in the oven for several hours, only to discover that it (not surprisingly) was not going to dehydrate to the paste I needed it to be. So, now I have a pie filling, and I’m en route to the store to get more apples to make it a second time!

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So I made the paste a second time! I’ve decided that the problem might be the fruit I’m using: even after squishing all the water out of the apples after mashing them, I still couldn’t get a paste once I added the sugar. So, now I have two batches of pie filling! I’ll have to give it a shot with pears later on.

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