In a Vase on Monday: Quinces and Valerians

This week’s Monday vase is inspired by The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge. First published in 1964 as Linnets and Valerians, it’s an adventure story with dollops of magical realism all skilfully woven together with wonderful descriptions of the characters, the rooms and landscape they inhabit and the food they eat. It had me entranced and I loved every minute of reading this delightful, comfort blanket of a book. It is a children’s book but do not, for one minute, let that put you off. If you haven’t yet read it and you’re in need of a reassuring and satisfying read, I highly recommend it.

The valerians in my jug are red valerian aka Centranthus ruber. This is an incredibly hardy plant which some people view as a weed but I admire its tough constitution and ability to keep on flowering for months and months. There are no linnets, obvs, but there are sprigs of rosemary – “…But you must each have a sprig of rosemary in your pockets. Ezra says rosemary is a holy herb and not much harm can come to you if you have it in your pocket.” That’s good to know 🙂 Joining the valerian and rosemary are white and pink Japanese anemones, because they’re prolific here at this time of year, and some stems of guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) which are starting to show their gorgeous  autumnal hues.

There are no quinces mentioned in The Runaways but I feel sure that wise Ezra would definitely bake them for supper or include them in a steaming apple pie. Just look at their fluffy skins! They’re rock hard and seem incredibly dry when you peel, core and chop them but bake or stew them with brown sugar and they turn into the most deliciously fragrant fruit you’ll ever taste. Culinary magic.

We were lucky enough to be given a bucketful by a friend who has loads this year and I put a few in a ‘windfall cake’ yesterday. We ate half of it for pudding with lashings of custard and it was heavenly. I adapted a recipe from Sarah Raven’s  Garden Cookbook (she originally got her recipe from Monty and Sarah Don). This is a much simplified version:

2–3 medium-small quinces (or 1–2 large ones)
2 cooking apples
zest and juice of 1 lemon
200g brown sugar
150g butter
2 eggs
85g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground almonds

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (fan oven). Peel, core and chop the quinces and apples and pop them into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the lemon zest and juice and 50g of the brown sugar and bake for about 20 minutes, until softened. Grease a deep 20-cm cake round cake tin.

Wait until the fruit comes out of the oven before you make the cake batter so that the fruit can cool a little. (You could bake the fruit well ahead.) Cream the butter with the remaining sugar and add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Fold in the flour, baking powder and ground almonds.

Lift the fruit out of dish with a slotted spoon (there will be juice) and fold into the cake batter. Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30–40 minutes. Put a piece of baking parchment or foil on top if it’s browning too much. Eat hot, warm or cold with custard, cream, ice-cream or yogurt or all of them at the same time. Close your eyes and feel the love.

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I’m joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her usual Monday vase gathering, so do hop over to her blog to see her dahlias and what other bloggers from around the world have put in their vases today.

Wishing you a good week.

PS Thank you very much for the lovely comments on my previous post. I’m sorry I haven’t replied yet. I will get round to it.

16 thoughts on “In a Vase on Monday: Quinces and Valerians

  1. ‘A little white horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge was my favourite ever book as a child. I re-read it dozens of times. I never came across ‘linnets and valerians’ – I’ll keep an eye out!

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  2. I wonder why they gave chanted the name – surely a title is part of the novel? I am trying tov emember if I have my own copy and must go and check ASAP. I like to re-read my early favourites too – all the Narnia books and E Nesbit especially. Your blooms look so clean and fresh in that jug so thanks for sharing them and your lovely recipe – sadly no-one gas offered me spare quinces yet…

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  3. I love the arrangement and its well-coordinated vase, Sam. Centranthus is indeed a weed here but one I’ve encouraged in the driest, toughest areas of my garden because it thrives there. My plants are at their best in spring, though, following our winter rains, which I’m hoping we’ll get in spades this year as last year was dismally dry. In need of a “comfort blanket” of a book as an escape from our toxic political atmosphere, I’ll definitely take a look at that book too.

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  4. We enjoyed a small portion of the quinces from the very same bucket this evening in a quince and apple pie. it was delicious!

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  5. Ah, another article featuring quince! I remember quinces from last year. They are so uncommon here. Mine are copies from a tree that I grew up with. It was in the garden of a family of Portuguese descent. Quinces should be more popular here.

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  6. The anemones look so pretty in your vase Sam – my few remaining ones are rather tatty and windswept! I love the smell of quinces, but have never actually tried cooking them. Next time I see some I shall have to give them a try. Wasn’t it E. Goudge who wrote The Little White Horse? Loved that as a child!

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  7. Beautiful! I love the photos of the quinces and cake. I will look out for The Runaways. I have really enjoyed a lot of books that are sort of for children who are adults!

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  8. A most delightful fresh looking vase Sam. I read a few Elizabeth Goudge books as a teenager many moons ago but only read ‘The Runaways’ recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. A friend dropped off some quinces this afternoon. I was going to poach them but that cake sounds good 🙂

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