Membrillo glazed ham

We have been working hard at getting the quince crop in for the season and after three weeks of intense work are finally there, with the trees picked and the freezers packed. Today, to thank my friends and helpers, I cooked up a Sunday roast. This also gave me the opportunity to try a new recipe!

Many people know that fruit cheese makes a great accompaniment to cheese, but fewer that it also pairs well with charcuterie or roast meats and can make a delicious addition to sauces or glazes. This recipe, adapted from the BBC Good Food website, is ideal for Christmas. I found the vinegar of the original recipe a bit overwhelming so have adjusted accordingly and you can also miss out the spices if you wish to make it a bit less festive.

Serves 10-12.

3.5kg boneless, higher welfare* gammon joint
1 onion, halved 
2 leeks, chopped into large chunks
2 carrots, chopped into large chunks
2 sticks of celery, chopped into large chunks
2 bay leaves
approx. 20 peppercorns

For the glaze:
100g membrillo (quince cheese)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 

Large saucepan for gammon
Small saucepan for glaze
Roasting tin
Stirring spoon/spatula
Weighing scales


1. Weigh the gammon joint to calculate cooking times. Put into the large pan with the chopped vegetables, bay leaves and peppercorns and add enough water to cover and simmer gently for 30 mins for every 450g weight. Don’t raise the temperature too high or you risk toughening the meat.



2. Heat the oven to 190C. Remove the joint from the cooking water and pat dry with kitchen towel, then score a criss-cross pattern into the fat and stud the centre of each resulting diamond with a clove if you wish. Place in a roasting tin.

3. Put the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and cook for a couple of mins to blend them together and dissolve the membrillo. Brush half the mixture over the gammon, then roast for 15 mins. Brush on another layer and roast for another 15 mins until golden and sticky. Rest for 15 mins before carving.

*Look for meat labelled as outdoor reared, free-range, organic or ‘RSPCA Approved’  (a scheme dedicated to high standards of farm animal welfare: )


And the winner is…..

So, last night was the big night – the naming of the winners in the Urban Food Awards at a ceremony at Borough Market. The judging of the food products had taken place some weeks previously by acclaimed chefs and food writers Oliver Rowe, Tom Hunt, Olia Hercules and Rowley Leigh. The winners had been picked and the finalists could but wait nervously for news.

The Urban Food Awards are a “celebration of the best enterprises, products and people in the capital’s good food and drink scene” run by the Mayor of London, London Food Link and Borough Market. They are open to London businesses with a workforce of 50 or fewer which operate in a demonstrably ethical or sustainable way and bring social benefit to their communities.

The event was opened by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, newly returned from his trip to the US, who delighted the (unsurprisingly) highly partisan audience by telling us that London had the most innovative food scene on the planet. When the cheering had died down he went on to tell us of his support for initiatives tackling food waste in the capital, singling out a charity newly-established by the London Evening Standard to supply surplus food to other charities feeding the hungry, and to announce a new award for Best Surplus Food Initiative. At this stage I was still taking in the atmosphere, knowing that the winner in my category was some way from being announced, and so was completely taken aback to hear him list Fruit Magpie as one of the nominees. What?? My friend was nudging me whispering “that’s you, that’s you!” while I tried not to choke on my complimentary G&T.  Wow, what an honour.

I did not win the mayor’s award (and quite rightly so) but I am thrilled to say that I DID win my category of “proper preserves”. The judges had found my quince cheese to be “aromatic in flavour with great acidity, clear apricot colour and a good shine”. Absolutely delighted, I stepped up to receive my award from Oliver Rowe.

For someone relatively new to the food industry, to business and most certainly to award ceremonies, I found myself a little stunned to be there. One of the unexpected joys of the evening was experiencing the camaraderie between fellow businesses, seemingly genuinely pleased that I had done well. I feel the same about their enterprises though: we largely share objectives and passions which can only be improved by supporting one another.

And the icing on the cake? Meeting Jenny Dawson of Rubies in the Rubble – one of my food heroes!



Vivien Lloyd, jam mistress

One of the things I quickly found about fruit cheese is that, in the UK at least, it is a very quiet backwater off the river that is jam.  Information about making this type of preserve is hard to come by and recipes few and far between (reliable ones even rarer!)  Although I have learnt a great deal from reading and experiment, I have always hankered after learning from people more experienced than myself. And, since few people can call themselves more experienced in the realm of preserves than Vivien Lloyd, I was very excited when I discovered that she offers consultations.

Vivien comes with impeccable credentials: rigorously trained by the Women’s Institute and 30 years as a preserves-maker, judge, writer, trainer and determined campaigner for the maintenance of traditional preserving methods. When our initial phone conversation established that she thought it best to visit my kitchen in Tottenham to see how I work, I confess to being more than a little nervous. Her standards are clearly exacting – could my home-grown methods really pass muster with such a doyenne?

My anxiety was misplaced. The moment she arrived in my kitchen it was clear that we had such a shared passion that any thought of being found wanting was replaced by my desire to ask every one of the hundred burning questions that I had been saving up. And what a pleasure to talk with someone so knowledgeable. (I realised, not for the first time, that my long-suffering friends might not find the topic quite as fascinating as I do.) By the time we came to making a fruit cheese together I had relaxed completely and fell easily into my familiar cooking routine.

The ‘cheese’ we tackled was gooseberry as it is the one I’ve found trickiest to master. Although customers have been complimentary I have never been 100% happy with the results as I feel the delicate flavour of the fruit tends to get lost. To my great interest Vivien felt that that the fruit was not ideally suited for fruit cheese for that very reason. However she was very complimentary about my quince, apple chilli, medlar and Morello cherry cheeses; in fact in a tasting test (with a few competitor’s products lined up for comparison!) I am very proud to report that my quince cheese came out on top. This has given me a huge boost of confidence that I am doing the right thing.

Apple and Chilli: “Perfect texture and glossy exterior. Flavour excellent balance of fruit and heat. I could not stop eating it”

Medlar: “Lovely rich even colour and well spiced”

Morello Cherry “True fruit flavour with good hint of spice, rich bright colour and clean cut texture” “Outstanding” Vivien Lloyd

Read more about Vivien and find invaluable advice about making preserves on her website


The Food Rush

Where social media is concerned I freely admit that I am not one of life’s early adopters. When I first heard about Twitter I wondered why on earth anyone would want to be part of an unending stream of sound-bite consciousness and was in no doubt I would not be joining the flow. Anyway, when I launched Fruit Magpie I was persuaded that I really had  to get an account – so essential for business, blah de blah. That was a year ago. Now of course I use it all the time and have connected with so many interesting people and organisations that I might never come across otherwise that I can’t imagine doing without it.

It was through Twitter that I started learning more about other businesses with a food waste reduction ethos – in fact I was delighted to find how much of a live issue this was with many brilliant innovative businesses, charities and social enterprises all putting their shoulder to the wheel. This was how I came across The Food Rush: “a future of food magazine focusing on the intersection of food, technology, innovation and sustainability” and how they came to write this lovely article about me.


Urban Food Awards update


A huge ‘thank you’ to those of you who voted for me – I’ve had tremendous support for which I am humbly grateful. As well as my stockists, where I have been running sampling events and chatting to customers, I also have to thank my friends who allowed me to hi-jack not one but three NGS open garden events to offer fruit cheese tasting and to cajole their visitors into voting Fruit Magpie!

The Urban Food Award entrants have now been whittled down to the three with the most votes in each category. In the next (and final) round the products will be taste-judged by an expert panel of chefs and food writers and the winner announced at an event at Borough Market in September. Whatever happens you can be sure I will be blogging about it here!


Urban Food Awards

The 2016 Urban Food Awards are “London’s third annual celebration of the best enterprises, products and people in the capital’s good food and drink scene.” And I’m super-excited as I’m up for an award! So, cutting straight to the chase, I’m asking anyone who supports what I do to vote for Fruit Magpie in the category ‘Proper Preserves’ HERE before the deadline on 8th July 2016.

Still reading? Good!  Now let me tell you why I’m asking you to vote for me. Many awards are based purely on taste but the Urban Food Awards were created to celebrate “good food practices and people behind the products.” I try to make good food as well as possible by:

  • using high quality garden or allotment fruit that would otherwise waste
  • sourcing it locally (the majority comes from within a 5 mile radius of my house!)
  • sourcing other ingredients locally too if I can (the sugar is UK grown)
  • only using fruit grown without chemicals
  • reducing packaging and using recycled/recycleable materials wherever possible
  • home composting the parts of the fruit I can’t use
  • making a product which is vegan
  • selling it locally
  • employing locals when I need extra help (and paying them properly)

In early July the entrants with the most votes in each category will be shortlisted, following which the judging panel choose the winners. As the business is still small and new I am working doubly hard to get through this first round, so PLEASE VOTE FOR FRUIT MAGPIE! Thank you.

The Urban Food Awards are run by the Mayor of London, London Food Link and Borough Market


pâte de Fruit

I was at a friend’s place yesterday, helping her with her National Gardens Scheme open garden by selling plants and generally giving horticultural help. Kindly she allowed me to bring along some fruit cheese for her visitors to try. As I set up a little corner with a plate of quince cheese and pieces of cracker, one of the other helpers was intrigued: what was this? As I explained her face lit up: “Ah, pâte de fruit!”

Anne was French and had been brought up with these little fruit jellies, rolled in sugar, as treats to be relished often but particularly at special occasions. She reminisced fondly that they had appeared without fail every Christmastime in her family. We Googled “quince” and found it translated as “coing”. So: Pâte de Coing.

I was fascinated by this new knowledge which drew together some references I’d come across previously about fruit cheese being cut into small squares, rolled in sugar and served as little jewel-coloured sweet treats. In fact a friend had recently sent me an article on just this so of course I am now on a mission to find out more…. and to make some! The picture shows my first effort: “pâte de rhubarbe”



Plunkett Foundation

Towards the end of last year (yes, I’m still catching up on my posts!) I had a phone call which left me jumping around the kitchen in delight: I had been selected as one of a handful of businesses to receive financial support and mentoring via the Plunkett Foundation’s Urban Food Routes programme.

Here is what Plunkett say about their programme:

“Urban Food Routes is an initiative which gives expert advice and funding to help small food enterprises in London thrive and benefit their local communities.  Urban Food Routes provides business advice to small enterprises that work in all aspects of food, from those that grow and produce it, to those that sell it.  The programme aims to help enterprises to become more confident about their sustainability and the impact they can have on their local community, the environment and the contribution they make to the capital’s economy. ”

The timing couldn’t have been better – not only was I in dire need of some equipment and wondering how to raise funds but I was also facing some challenges which I knew would benefit greatly from some expert input. Above all, though, I felt it a real honour that I had been selected and a vote of confidence in the business, particularly my obsession with tackling food waste and determination to make the business as sustainable as possible. As the Urban Food Routes programme is strongly committed to sustainable food and helping businesses to benefit their local community we were on the same page from the start when it came to talking about how to develop the business.

So for the last few months I have been receiving some amazing support for which I am truly grateful. With the help of the grant I have bought an automatic sieve to help deal with the larger quantities of fruit I am now using (the medlar cheese would most certainly not have happened this year without it!) and with the help of the business mentoring I have gone from selling just at farmer’s markets in blocks to now also supplying delicatessens in jars and attracting an increasing number of customers. The support has recently come to a close and I can genuinely say it has been invaluable.

Urban Food Routes is co-ordinated and delivered by the Plunkett Foundation, helped by London Food Link, and funded by Seeds of Change and the Mayor of London



A bit off the top

It has been a beautiful day here this Easter Friday so I took the opportunity to get out my secateurs and do a little maintenance pruning on the quince tree.

Quinces seem to have a naturally untidy habit of growth so there is often some general pruning to do. Like most fruit trees (with the exception of stone fruits such as plums and cherries), this is best done in the dormant season so I was just in time as the leaf buds were nearly ready to burst.

Pruning has a bit of mystique around it but is really not that difficult when you know why you are doing it. In this case I was trying to keep the tree healthy and fruiting well by cutting out dead wood, crossing growths and weak shoots growing inside the crown (general good husbandry) and then ‘tipping back’ (lightly pruning) some of the longer growths. As quince fruits mainly on the ends of the growth made the previous year and less on side spurs, this shortening of branches will probably reduce the number of fruits a little but this will hopefully mean that the remaining fruit will be bigger. I’m also hoping (vainly, no doubt!) that shortening branch tips will help keep the tree more compact: it is currently 6 metres tall and still growing lustily!

A few years ago I noticed that the bark on the trunk was starting to peel low down. This worried me as I had lost some plants to honey fungus and this can be an early sign. However several years on the tree is obviously still happy and the bark has now peeled well up into the crown. Some trees shed some bark naturally and although I couldn’t find any references to quinces being one of these it seems that perhaps they can be.