My neighbour has a beautiful quince tree in her garden that delivers a bumper harvest most years, and this one is no exception. Over time, we’ve developed quite a repertoire of recipes for them: quince infused brandy, ‘quincemeat’, quince and salted lemon chutney and quince and apple sorbet. Oven roasted, they are great with pork dishes. Cooked down with sugar and strained to a jelly, they are the basis of the popular Spanish accompaniment for cheese, membrillo. Anyway, if you can get your hands on them, you can perform plenty of culinary magic with them.
Raw quinces look like giant pears covered with peach fuzz. They have a wonderful aroma if you keep them in a fruit bowl in the kitchen but they have to be cooked before they give up their delicious flavour. Cooked quince tastes something like a cross between an apple, a peach and a pear with a hint of honey. Once peeled, they will brown quickly so pop the peeled fruit into a large bowl of water dosed with a few drops of lemon juice. Once cooked, the flesh will go from white to pink.
Baked quinces: Peel and core the quinces, cut them into generous chunks and place them in a large, shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of golden caster sugar, one of soft brown sugar and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Dot with butter and bake at 180°C for about an hour until soft. Served with whipped cream.
You could also purée the roasted fruit and use it as the base for an apple tart or in place of apple sauce with roast pork.
Quince sorbet: Make a sugar syrup with 350g golden caster sugar and 350ml of boiling water. Add the flesh of 600g of quinces (peeled and cored) to the syrup in a large non-stick saucepan. Bring to the boil and allow the mixture to simmer for about 20 minutes until the quince is cooked. Liquidise the quince and syrup whilst still warm and then pass it through a fine sieve. You should end up with about 800ml of silky purée. Add the juice of a lemon and then chill in the fridge. Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Quince brandy: Rinse, dry and coarsely chop 4-6 quinces (no need to peel or core) and place them in a 5 litre Mason jar. Cover with inexpensive brandy (keep the bottles) and add 2 small cinnamon sticks and 2 pieces of star anise. Leave to infuse for 6 weeks before drinking. Decant the brandy back into the original bottles, discard the spices, retain some of the fruit to make ‘quincemeat’. I use the brandy to flavour my Christmas cake and a drop in the bottom of a fluted glass topped up with Prosecco makes a lovely and unusual Christmas cocktail.
‘Quincemeat’: Use your favourite mincemeat recipe for making your Christmas mince pies (I’m a Delia Smith fan in this regard) and substitute some of the brandy infused quince (chopped into small pieces) in place of some of the chopped apple you’d normally use. It will add a sublime twist to homemade mince pies, you could even cheat and add a little to a good quality shop-bought variety.
Quince and salted lemon chutney (makes about 1 litre): This is a perfect accompaniment to curries and tanginess.
- 4 quinces, 1 unwaxed lemon, sea salt, 5cm piece of fresh ginger, 2 cloves of garlic, 350ml cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of groundnut oil, 1/2 tsp of Nigella seeds (kalonji), 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp fennel seeds, 325g golden caster sugar.
- Cut the lemon, including the skin but without the pips, into 5mm dice and put in a glass jar. Add a teaspoon of salt, shake to mix. Cover the jar and leave on a sunny windowsill for two or three days. Shake the jar every day.
- Peel the garlic and ginger. Blend to a smooth paste with half of the vinegar. Pour the remaining vinegar into a non-metallic bowl. Peel and core the quinces, cut into 6 to 8 pieces and then into 3mm slices. Drop them into the vinegar.
- Add the oil to a preserving pan on a medium heat. Drop in the fennel seeds, allow to sizzle for a few seconds. Add the ginger and garlic paste, stir and then add the quince, vinegar, sugar, fennel and cayenne pepper. Bring to the boil, stir gently.
- Reduce the heat to low, allow the chutney to simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the lemon pieces. Add and stir into the chutney.
- Allow it to cool and then bottle in sterilised jars.
Membrillo (quince paste): This copper coloured slab of quince heaven is the perfect accompaniment to mature and salty cheeses. You will need 800g of caster sugar for every kilo of prepared fruit. Wash, peel, core and cube the raw quince fruit. Add the fruit and sugar to a large saucepan, place over a gentle heat and keep stirring. Once it’s cooking, cover to prevent evaporation and stir every 10 minutes. After about 30 minutes the fruit should look sloppy. Uncover and allow to reduce to a light syrup which will take about an hour. Use a hand blender to purée until smooth. Store in sterilised jars or a large shallow plastic container so you can cut it into slabs. It will keep in the fridge for six months.
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