Forgotten Quinces & Edible Locusts

 

Virgil Evetts

Having a young baby has given me cause to wander the side streets and back roads of my neighbourhood every other day. Whenever she gets bored and grizzly, or when La Madre needs a break, we hit the pavement.  Other people would probably be perving at the architecture: the ramshackle villas, the transitional bungalows, even the odd gothic-revival mansion, but that’s really just so much wallpaper to me. I’m just prowling for things I can eat. 

Being an older part of town, Devonport is home to a good many antiquated fruit trees.  Just the other day in a neglected corner of the suburb I found what I suspect was once a grafted pear tree. The pear scion had long since died and rotted out, but the quince rootstock has revelled in its freedom, forming a dense bush, now groaning under the weight of small but powerfully fragrant fruit. A few streets over we found an ancient and beautifully contorted mulberry tree. Judging by its height and girth trunk it must be at least 50 years old, and possibly much older.  Back in summer the tree was covered in large and richly flavoured fruit and the pavement underneath was stained blood red from crushed windfalls.

But our most exciting find to date happened only last week and just a street away from where we live: three large and productive carob trees. I must have passed these tree hundreds of times over the years without paying them any attention at all.  Carobs produce bunches of sugar-sweet, chewy pods, which can be dried and ground to make a delicious and highly nutritious chocolate or cocoa substitute. Although carob doesn’t really taste much like chocolate the suggestion is certainly there, and it has a wonderful, almost honeyed flavour and fragrance all of its own. My mother used to make carob cakes and drinks for me when I was little, and the fragrance of the fresh pods slapped me with a warm nostalgia straight away. As a point of interest, carob pods were the ‘locusts’ consumed by John the Baptist whilst camping out in the wilderness (as opposed to the ill-mannered grasshoppers I used to imagine he favoured).

In many Mediterranean countries fresh carob pods are a popular sweet snack, and I can certainly see why. Although little past their best the pods I found were still very tasty, and as the trees are flowering right now, I’ll be checking up on them regularly over the coming months so I can catch the next crop at its peak.

As I usually do with exciting, rare and potentially threatened food plant I find (they are on council land, so who knows how safe they are) I took seeds from the carob pods, which have already germinated. I still regret not taking seeds and cuttings from a huge and very productive pomegranate tree, reputed to be over 100 years old that was felled in Devonport not so long ago. These days I take no chances.

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10 thoughts on “Forgotten Quinces & Edible Locusts

  1. Hi, I’m 83 this year and my wife has been blind for about 7 years so I’m chief cook now I am looking for an answer to problem I have with some red pepper jelly i have just made. The recipe I used was by Robyn Martin. My problem is that instead of setting on a cold plate my mix was like golden syrup
    so i boiled it a bit longer, till about 105 deg.c. and it was like thick syrup so i decided to cut my losses at that point a bottled it. Its still cooling down but i don’t think i’ll bev able to get it out of the jars because what is left in the pot has gone like a boiled lolly!! I realise that this is not the right place to ask but i’m hoping someone will feel sorry for me and tell me if it’s possible to retrieve the situation. My wife suggests that I should disolve the jars in hot water then add the syrup to the red pepper dregs in the jelly bag and call it relish. Has anybody got any better ideas??

  2. Just recently I have been introduced to quinces. Now my whole family love them. We just cant get enough down here as people just chop down the trees.
    Im hoping to plant a couple myself.

  3. how about using quince as an accompaniment with chicken and meat dishes.take 2 quince either grate or mash in a food processer.add lemon juice to prevent browning.grate i small piece of ginger and 1tsp of ground cummin powder.i small chili chopped .salt to taste mix well together. absolutely tasty .
    ps . 1 grated granny smith apple can also be added .
    enjoy

    kamla

  4. Ahh, I also enjoy finding (foraging) old and new fruits on the side of the road. Travelling between Carterton and Martinborough gives you, plums, crabapples,peaches, apples and japonicas. I am trying to make a map of where they are, and will have it available this Spring. The whole of the Wairarapa is full of free tucker as you travel from one place to the other.

  5. I am always on the look out for food bearing plants and trees that are out in the public domain. A few years ago, I discovered 10 chestnut trees in a couple of our local parks. We now go chestnut hunting every year although the kids still complain about the prickles.

    I recently bought a 10kg box of rather munted quinces for a $1 from a person who usually sells pears from their property. I made up some quince jelly by just chopping the quinces up into 1-2cm pieces(don’t bother peeling or coring)and then putting in a pot with enough water to barely cover. You cook it up until the quinces fall apart (like an apple sauce) and then stain all the seeds & peels out. With the quince sauce I measure 1 cup sugar to every cup of quince sauce and boiled that in a pot until it turns slight pink brown. Because I had a party I was going to, I then poured it into a greased jelly mold(secondhand treasure)and let it cool before un-molding. The quince jelly is very firm and holds it’s shape well. The remainder I chucked into sterilized jam jars for storage.

    The quince jelly was a big hit at the party as it is not something people make any more. Works great on crackers with some fantastic brie cheese. Yum!

  6. No, years of looking after the locust display at the Museum has ensured I will never think of them as food. However, I do remember a Thai family who used to visited regularly telling me they eat them all the time back home. Their little boy even asked if he could eat some of our display locusts.

  7. Oh phew, I really was thinking you were going to convert us into eating locusts!
    I too would love to see what carob looks like as I am sure I would blindly walk past it.

  8. I’ll take some tomorrow Lynley. They are pretty rare in suburbia but used to be common grown as stock fodder trees. Must be plenty lurking in the rural back blocks. Incidentally I once visted someone Waiheke who had a huge medlar tree in their garden. I’m convinced I’ll enjoy these one day…

  9. Do you have any photos Virgil? – would love to see what a carob actually looks like in case I too have dismissed one on my wanderings!

    I love carob for carobs sake, not as a cocoa substitute – I used to torture my children with it years ago – an d recently bought some from Summerfield foods to add to bliss balls I was making – yum