brew and bees–not really, but close enough!

Future site of Burgh Bees' apiary and demonstration garden

As a fan of the East End Brewery and beekeeping, I thought this was great news. I can’t wait until the East End Brewery makes a honey beer with honey from accross the street.

From the January 2010 Burgh Bees newsletter:

The City of Pittsburgh has granted a lease to Burgh Bees for a block-long lot on Susquehanna Street in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The currently vacant lot, which sits across the street from the East End Brewery, will host a dozen honey bee hives as well as a demonstration pollinator garden and will serve as Burgh Bees’ outdoor beekeeping classroom. The site will be open to the public for tours several times during the spring and summer seasons.

yinzer torte — linzer torte made with local quince

This variation on the classic linzer torte recipe was made with local--"yinzer"--quince!

This is my second winter in Pittsburgh, and like many new comers to the ‘Burgh, I quickly fell in love with the beauty of the changing seasons that you can so distinctly observe in the city. Fall is perhaps my favorite season–it’s not so warm anymore and my vegetable garden is at its peak. Nice memories for these colder winter days.

Between gardening and work, my wife and I find time to take our dog on walks around the city. We have walked through neighborhoods, like Oakland, that were home to many immigrant Italian families. These people might no longer be here but you can still get a glimpse of what once was when you come across the many fig, chestnut, and even quince trees left behind.

quince fruit
unripe fruit on the quince tree (cydonia oblonga) in Pittsburgh in May

Quince trees are loved by Italians and many others, especially Mediterranean cultures, and they are a big part of Spanish culture and cuisine. Membrillo–quince paste–is most popular in Spain and is commonly enjoyed with cheeses like Manchego or used in savory sauces.

So, needless to say, finding a quince tree in the ‘Burgh made it feel even more like home to me. I kept an eye on that quince tree all fall. I quickly realized that the quince fruit was just rolling all over the street and going to waste. The Italian family that once lived there was now replaced by college students with no knowledge of what they had in their yard, and probably no desire to take the time to do anything with it.

I felt I needed to do something with this fruit, I couldn’t let it go to waste! So, I took advantage of this situation and after an almost effortless urban gleaning I had a sack full of quince fruit.

I laid the quince on cardboard in the cool basement to "blett" them

This was a special treat for me, and I decided I didn’t want to just make membrillo (quince paste). I felt the best way to preserve it and use it, not only as a sweet addition but as a savory ingredient, would be to make a quince butter. For this I basically went about it the same way as you would to make the paste, but I used only half the sugar and I reduced the cooking time.

The butter had a bitter, sour citrus quality and could be a great addition to a sweet desert or a chutney.

Everyone was making their cookies and nut rolls for the holidays and I really wanted to use my quince butter for some sort of cookie. Linzer tortes came to mind. They are nothing but a large cookie with some kind of fruit jelly, jam on them–maybe even a fruit butter? I had to try it.

quince in the pressure cooker
I halved the quince and put it in the pressure cooker

And this is how the Yinzer Torte came to be. “Yinzer” is what some people call Pittsburghers, because locals often say “yinz” instead of the plural “you.” (Pittsburghers say “yinz” the way Southerners might say “y’all.”) The German/Austrian immigrants brought the tradition of this torte to the Burgh, the Italians brought the quince. I combined them.

The sweetness of the dough and the tart finish of the fruit makes this a simple and delicious dessert. Only in Pittsburgh–Yinzer Torte.

Below are a few more photos showing how I processed the quince fruit into the quince butter that I used in my torte recipe.

quince in the food mill
I put the quince through the food mill to mash it up and remove the seeds and skin

I only used about half the sugar that you would use to make a traditional membrillo (quince paste) recipe
The quince butter took so long to cook that the dog became bored. ūüėČ You can see how thick the mixture is; the spoon is standing on its own!

cooking paella on a parilla (outdoor grill)

This summer I had the opportunity to cook paella on an outdoor parrilla. Check it out!

Chef Daniel Cooks Paella with a Parrilla from Brian Staszel on Vimeo

My friend Paige had told me all about the new outdoor parrilla that she and her family had built in their backyard.

Paige’s brother had the whole family involved in the construction of this outdoor barbecue. He had learned about parrillas in Uruguay, where this barbecue method is so popular. Upon returning from this country he had to have his own parrilla.

After hearing about it, I immediately wanted to try it out. I decided that a paella would be a great dish to test the parrilla’s cooking abilities.¬†Cooking over hot coals can be tricky, but in this case it worked out great. I had heat intense enough from the¬†coals¬†to brown the chicken and then I was able to spread the coals around to maintain the even heat needed for a perfect paella. Our friends marvelled at the sight of the stock gently boiling.¬†Amazing how a few coals can pack so much heat.

I had a great time cooking on the parrilla, and everyone enjoyed the paella.