Chantal’s Quince and Apple Compote

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Local quince and apples from our trees

 

Nearly every September or October as a kid growing up in New England, I would go apple picking. Sometimes with my parents and sometimes with other kids and their families, we would wait for a crisp fall day to pile into the station wagon and head west to the countryside of Central Massachusetts or occasionally, especially in later years with college friends, to New Hampshire. Hayrides in rickety old farm wagons, warm cider doughnuts, and pickup games of apple baseball were all part of the wholesome, bucolic fun of a day spent in the orchard.

This year in California, I waited and waited for a crisp fall day–the kind that smells of wood burning fires and impending winter–to arrive, but by early November with the temperatures still in the high 80s, I gave up. Despite my nostalgic yearning for New England, always strongest at this time of year, the apples still marched onward, ripening on the trees regardless of the confusing climate. So I did what any good New Englander would do. I went apple picking. But this year I was already in the country, and I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I walked out our front door, through the vines and down to the barn, where Granny Smiths and Fujis awaited.

Though we only have a few, it is a magical experience to pick fruit from your own trees.

Several years ago, during an extended visit with my (soon-to-be at the time) inlaws, my mother-in-law, Chantal, plucked a few fuzzy chartreuse quinces from her pantry for a simple compote. I remembered purchasing a gelée de coing (quince jelly) as a gift from a tiny épicerie fine in Paris during my college years, but I had never tasted the fruit myself.

Quince, which looks like a cross between an apple and a pear, is not a common American household fruit (though it may have been at one time), and if you’ve ever tried to bite into one, you know it’s hard as a rock and far too astringent to be enjoyed raw. But transform it into jelly, candy paste, stewed fruit, or a pie, and you will be surprised at how delicious cooked quince can be.

Chantal likes to add quince to her compote de pommes, or applesauce, to enhance the flavor (and the color, as quince flesh turns a rosy color when cooked). She serves the compote chilled as a simple weeknight dessert, but it’s also delicious with yogurt for breakfast or even to accompany pork chops.

Chantal’s Quince and Apple Compote

1 to 3 ratio of quince to apple (I usually use about 2 quince and 6 apples for a small batch)

3 tbsp sugar (so often I add the sugar as Chantal does, au pif, by eye, and don’t measure, but I air on the scant side, as you don’t want this to be too sweet and you can always add more later if it’s too tart)

Juice and zest of one orange or lemon

1/2 tbsp cinnamon (add more or less to your liking)

Peel, core, and cube quinces and apples into 1 inch chunks. The quince is quite hard to cut through and core, so be careful with your knife. Add fruit, juice, zest, and cinnamon to a large saucepan and cover with 1/2 cup water. Cook covered on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is tender, about 30 minutes. Purée or leave chunky and serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Bon appétit!

Seeds of Change

Oat, wheat, barley and common vetch seeds

Somehow I find it appropriate that we’re seeding a cover crop on election day. Planting the seeds for the future health of our soil. Isn’t that what voting’s all about?

But before I get too political on you, let me explain what we’re doing here. Many of you have asked about what’s happening in the vineyard at different stages in the season, and maybe this blog can help demystify the grape growing process for the wine connoisseurs and the curious among you.

So, what is a cover crop? Well, this year it’s a mix of oat, wheat, barley, and common vetch, which will be seeded in every other row of our 26 acres of vines. Over the course of the winter and next spring, the growth of the crop will help to produce organic matter, increasing the biomass and fertility of the soil and helping to prevent erosion.

Grains in the seeder’s hopper

The vetch, a legume (beans, lentils, and soy are all examples of common legumes) which produces a delicate, purple flower in the springtime, fixes nitrogen from the air into the soil, allowing the root systems of the three grains to grow deep. I just learned from Bastien that one single oat grain can produce 600 kilometers (372.8 miles) of roots. How amazing is that?! As they grow, the oat, wheat, and barley roots break up compacted earth and allow water to penetrate further into the ground. And when it doesn’t rain here from early June until late October, this water retention is really, really important!

Prepare to seed…

Viticulture, or grape growing, is a cyclical process, and if we consider the grape harvest to be the end of that process, seeding a cover crop is more or less the beginning. This year’s harvest, our first on this property, began on September 11 and ended on October 19. These dates will vary year to year, depending on a number of factors, the most significant of which is the weather. Once the grapes are picked, we breathe a big sigh of relief and then begin looking ahead to the winter months of caring for the vines and the soil.

With any luck, we’ll get some much needed rain in a few days, and those seeds will start to germinate. Then we’ll move on to installing the barn owl boxes. But first things first…time to go VOTE!

Action!

P.S. I am not an agrologist, or a biologist, or a horticulturist, or any other -ist for that matter, so if you have questions on the soil science by all means leave a comment and I’ll defer to the master (Bastien) for more information. I’ve tried and will continue to try to keep these explanations basic so that a) you can get the general gist of what’s happening in the vineyard without needing an advanced degree and b) you don’t nod off mid blog post, never to return to this site. Finally, if there are other vineyard topics you think I should cover, let me know!

 

Welcome to Range Top

Hi there!

I’m writing to you from the Central Coast of California, on a beautiful hilltop vineyard and ranch, which I am lucky enough to call home. Really lucky, actually. How I ended up here is still somewhat of a mystery to me.

Well, sort of. It’s just that if you had met me five years ago, you might not have predicted that I’d end up here. And, more to the point, I would definitely not have predicted that I’d end up here. Though if I were to reach way back into the filing cabinet of my dreams, I would probably find “beautiful hilltop vineyard and ranch” filed right in the front section of the drawer.

You see, five years ago, I was toiling away in a windowless office in a Boston museum, wondering what to do with my life, wishing I were somewhere else. Not that my life was so miserable, but I had always been a sort of quiet adventurer, a collector of experiences, and all that fluorescent lighting was making me feel pretty cooped up.

I had studied French poetry in countless Parisian cafés, baked bread in the sands of the Moroccan Sahara, bargained over apple tea in Istanbul, walked across the north of Spain along the Camino de Santiago, and from my basement perch that winter, I was aching to pull another file from that aforementioned cabinet.

So in April of 2008, heeding the advice of one of my dearest friends (keep in mind she is a social worker not an economist), I threw caution to the wind, quit my job, packed up my life, and left shortly thereafter for something I’d been dreaming of since the ripe old age of fifteen: three months of summer organic farm work in the south of France.

Little did I know that wrangling goats and weeding squash patches would change my life forever. Or that I would meet my husband on another hillside vineyard and never return to a Boston office.

Now, five harvests, a handful of transcontinental moves, and several blue moons later, we find ourselves a long way away from my native New England and la belle France. But we’re creating something thrilling and new here on this California hilltop ranch.

These one hundred and thirty acres of forest and fields, hills and vales, fog and sunshine, and grapes and almonds and fruit trees are soothingly quiet and yet humming with life all at once. The land is home to dozens of deer and wild turkeys, eight heifers and their newborn calves, warrens full of jackrabbits, a den of coyotes, soaring red-tailed hawks and white-tailed kites, and more blasted ground squirrels than you can shake a stick at. And now us.

It’s a beautiful spot up on the hill with sweeping views of the Santa Lucia Range, and we are truly lucky and enchanted to be here. There will be wine produced and maybe honey, there will be a garden planted and jams stewed and bright red and yellow cherries plucked from the trees if we can get to them before the birds do. And though a big (BIG) part of me is itching to turn this into an elegant farm-to-table food blog, my gut, forever my inner compass, tells me this will be more of a journal about tromping through the literal and metaphorical dirt (and occasionally, when it rains, the mud) on the farm.

Check back for tales of mushroom foraging, hare hunting, canning and jamming, gardening, harvesting, winemaking, tractor driving, and many more stories of living off the land. And of course you’ll find a few recipes here now and again—honestly, how can I resist?

Thanks for stopping by. Now put on your work boots, and let’s step outside!