Question: Can you tell me how to make something called "fruit cheese"? I tasted some at a party but can't find a recipe.
Answer: In "Fancy Pantry" (Workman Publishing, 1986: $11.95) author Helen Witty gives the following recipe for nectarine or plum cheese. She explains the cheese resembles a "not-too-sweet jam that's firm enough to be sliced."
According to Witty, "fruit cheese or fruit pastes are mainly known today as Hispanic or Latin American specialties, although they have a long history in other lands. In Britain, especially, there are old recipes for numberless kinds--cheeses were made (and still can be made) from apricots, gooseberries, cherries, black and red currants, figs, peaches, plums, guavas, raspberries, apples, quinces and even oranges."
Of the following recipe, Witty says: "This is a recipe pattern that can be followed for peaches or apricots as well as nectarines and plums. The fruit should be firm-ripe, not soft.
"Note that there's a bonus of juice from which jelly or syrup can be made. For jelly, follow the directions packed with powdered or liquid pectin; for syrup, add sugar to the juice--about a cup of sugar to each cup of juice--and simmer the mixture for a minute or two. Skim the syrup, then cool and refrigerate it for use in cold drinks or desserts, or over pancakes."
NECTARINE OR PLUM CHEESE
4 pounds firm but flavorful nectarines or red- or purple-skinned plums, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups water
Spices and/or other flavorings, optional
Pit fruit and chop coarsely (may be done in food processor). Combine fruit with water in 6-quart, wide, stainless-steel pot. Bring to boil and simmer, covered, until fruit is very soft, 20 minutes or so for plums, up to 45 minutes for nectarines. If fruit begins to stick to pot, add small amount water.
Pour fruit and liquid into food mill fitted with fine disc or food processor and puree. Spoon mixture into sieve lined with 2 layers of fine cheesecloth and set over bowl. Let drain until drip of juice slows, then tie corners of cloth together and hang to drip into bowl at least 6 hours or overnight. Reserve juice for jelly or syrup.
Measure pulp and return to cooking pot. Add spices, if desired. Cook pulp, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring often, until very thick, up to 1 hour.
Add 2/3 cup sugar for each original cup of pulp and continue to cook mixture, uncovered, over low heat, stirring almost constantly with wooden spoon or nylon spatula, until very thick, 1 to 2 hours. When cooked enough, mixture will be so stiff that wide path remains open when spoon is drawn across bottom of pan.
Pack fruit cheese into hot, clean half-pint canning jars that have been oiled lightly, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal jars with 2-piece canning lids according to manufacturer's directions and process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.
Cool, label and store in cool place. To serve, unmold cheese from jar and slice. Makes about 2 cups fruit cheese.
Note: Suggested spices: for plums, add dash ground cinnamon and either grated zest of 1 orange or 2 to 3 large pieces dried orange or tangerine peel. Remove dried peel after 1 hour of cooking; for nectarines, add dash ground cloves and generous dash of ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and mace.
To verify consistency, remove pan from heat, drop mound of mixture onto chilled saucer and place in refrigerator. When cold, mixture should be almost thick enough to slice (cheese will stiffen more after being packed into jars).
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About . . ., Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.