Since I began writing about foraging over five years ago, I have learned that there are more than just wild plants which are usually overlooked for their culinary uses. Sometimes decorative plants which we have deliberately planted solely for their aesthetic appeal can also provide sustenance and flavour, and are as interesting to use as their wild cousins. Lately I have learned to use some of these landscaping plants such as solomon seel, hostas and roses to name just a few.
My Japanese quince bushes (chaenomeles) which I planted from seed a few years ago are just such a plant, and if you happen to have any of these in your garden, there is no need to just let the fruit drop and leave an unsightly mess. And this is the best time of year to harvest them, even after a few light frosts. If you have access to real quinces, (cydonia oblonga), they can be used in this or any of the recipes I have previously written, Japanese quince paste, jelly and chutney.
This recipe is for a simple condiment, not so much a recipe as a method. Quantities, spices and sweetness can vary according to your preferences, but I will describe the process and ingredients I used as a start.
I had about two dozen small fruit, most of them still green. I placed the entire fruits in a pot, covered them with water, and cooked them gently until they were completely soft. I also added one red chili pepper to the pot, even though I wasn’t sure at that moment what I was making. Other spices, such as anis, cinnamon or ginger would also be good. Once the fruit was soft, I strained it and returned everything to the pot. At this point, it is very liquid.
Continue to cook until it thickens, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. When it is almost at the desired thickness, add some sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a little salt. At this point I measured two cups of fruit to which I added 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. It then only needs to be cooked until it reaches the desired consistency. And that’s it!
This makes a fairly tart ketchup, although the level of sweetness is entirely up to you. If using as a glaze, for example, some extra sugar could be added. It can be used anywhere you would the tomato version, and with its intense, exotic flavour, you may find this a preferable alternative.