How To Stew Quince In Syrup; and how to roast or bake them
“Quinces play it cool. They are the opposite of a wanton supermarket strawberry: exotic, complex and, like most inappropriate love objects, horribly elusive. If one is lucky enough to live near one of those corner shops with mysteriously year-round supplies, for a pound one can buy an almost-quince: freakishly unblemished, barely fragrant. This is how my grandmother bought them before, in her windowless galley kitchen, peeling and slicing them, probably with a sabre, then poaching them with vanilla until they were soft and silkily rosy and her flat smelled like Samarkand. We could each have a quarter, maybe two; there is no such thing as too much quince. At least, so I thought.”Charlotte Mendelson, Rhapsody in Green
What exactly is a quince?
A quince is a particular fruit in its own right. It is the only member of its particular genus (Cydonia) but it is part of the Rosaceae family which includes apples and pears. It looks a bit like a plump, bumpy, pear. Rumour has it that it wasn’t an apple which tempted Adam and Eve, but a quince.
In the Balkan they plant quince trees on the birth of a child, to represent fertility, love and life.
So, if you are looking for a christening present, or if you want to give a firm friend a very special, long-living gift, you could do worse that sending them a quince tree, with some quince jelly packaged up in a wooden crate, from The Glutonous Gardener.
What do quinces smell and taste like?
“Quince is famous for its heavy, sensual perfume, which at autumn farmers’ markets hangs as thickly in the air as Dior’s Poison on the platforms of London underground stations circa 1987. Quince’s aroma is a combination of apple, pear, rose and honey, with a musky, tropical depth.”Niki Segnit, The Flavour Thesaurus
The flavour is very similar to the aroma.
Stewing quinces in syrup – what to do with them, how long will they keep?
Forget eating them, it’s worth just stewing these quinces for the heavenly smell which will pervade the whole house. Unless that is you are using the Pineapple variety from California which are less exciting.
Once made these stewed quinces will keep for a month or two in the fridge.
Do not, on any account, throw away the poaching liquor. Instead boil it down until thick and syrupy, and use it as a cordial, to make a quince whisky cocktail, a quince Bellini (mix with prosecco), or simply to pour over vanilla ice cream along with some of the poached quinces.
The Turks eat quinces in syrup with kaymak – buffalo cream, very similar to clotted cream.
This is how to cook quinces in syrup.
Recipe for quinces in their own syrup
- about four quinces
- 1.75 lt/7 cups water (or 5 cups pomegranate juice and 2 cups of water, in which case reduce the sugar a little)
- 210 g/1 cup sugar
- 150g/½ cup honey (this makes it rather Roman)
- a little fresh lemon juice, and some lemon peel which you will need to fish out at the end
- vanilla pod, split lengthwise (optional)
- Gently wash off the down and slice off both ends, retaining them and putting them in large, heavy bottomed saucepan.
- Peel the quinces using a sturdy potato peeler, again retain the peel and put it in the saucepan
- With a strong, sharp knife which you don’t care too much about cut vertically down as close to the core as you can without touching the core, four cuts down, and then chop off the bottom and top, also as close to the core as you can. Put the remaining core in the saucepan (it’s the core that turns the syrup a beautiful rose colour). Add a couple of bits of lemon peel if you have them. Add the vanilla pod.
- Pour the water into the saucepan and bring it to the boil, reduce to a very gentle simmer (don’t cover, you want it to reduce) and continue to cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Meanwhile excavate any bits of core which have strayed into the flesh – they will have the texture of bits of chipped bone!
- Sprinkle the quince flesh with a little lemon juice to stop it going brown while the cooking proceeds.
- It’s at this stage that you’ll start to really smell this aromatic fruit (it’s quite sensous!) and the water will turn a beautiful rose colour.
- Ten minutes before the end of the simmering time slice the quince flesh thinly.
- Take the core, peel etc out with a slotted spoon and discard
- Add the flesh and the sugar to the saucepan.
- Continue to simmer for at least an hour, until the flesh is tender and has begun to blush profusely. Now TASTE! Too sweet, add more lemon juice; too bitter, add more sugar
- Pour into sterilised jars (go here to find out how to do that) making sure that all the quince flesh is covered by the syrup.
You can also roast quinces, as an accompaniment for a main course
You can also very successfully roast quinces. Simply cut them into wedges and roast (210°C) in hot olive oil or duck fat for about half an hour, then turning and returning to the oven for another quarter of an hour. When they’re done they will be tender. You can even roast them alongside a roasting duck. You don’t need to peel the quinces. Sprinkle over sea salt flakes and black pepper.
And you can roast them ahead of time and reheat in a hot oven for about a quarter of an hour.
They are good in stews
Try adding them to a tagine; or a stifado. If fresh quince are not available add a little quince cheese aka membrillo.
And you can bake them, and serve them as a pud
You can bake quinces in the oven – the result is similar to the quinces in syrup, above.
Allow about four hours. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C. If you have two quinces, make a syrup with 300ml/1¼ cups water, 5 tbsps honey, about 80g/¼ cup golden caster sugar, and the zest of a lemon, taken off in strips, minus the white pith. You can also experiment with adding a vanilla pod and/or a cinnamon stick, star anis, juniper berries….
While the syrup is bubbling away, cut the quinces into quarters and rub the cut surfaces with lemon juice to stop them going brown. Remove seeds from the core with a spoon. Don’t bother peeling. Put the quinces into a roasting tin into which they fit snuggly. Pour over the syrup. Cover the whole tin with baking paper, and foil, pressing down and around to ensure it fits tightly. Bake for about three hours. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C. Take the cover off, baste the quinces in their own syrup. Return to oven, minus cover, for another 20-30 minutes. Baste again and serve.
A very old recipe uses both syrup and baking. ‘Clarry’ was a sweet, spiced wine; ‘wast pouders’ were crushed spices.
“To bake quinces take iii or iiii quinces and payre them pyke out their cores and fill them full of good syrup made of clarry or of wast pouders and sugre then lette them in coffins and hyle them and back them and serve them.”Unknown author, This Boke of Cokery, written around 1500
“Main course would be fresh local crayfish, served with vats of aioli, followed by baked quinces from my grandmother’s garden and a pot of thick cream.”Pilita Clark’s Fantasy Dinner Party in The Financial Times
Quince jelly, or quince cheese (aka in Spain, membrillo)
You can make quince jelly by boiling the cut up fruit in water (with the skin on) for a few hours, and optional extras are to add a little elderflower cordial, or infuse some thyme. On the other hand, Wilkin & Sons makes a good jelly, sold in a jar; or you can buy quince (or damson) cheese from Neals Yard. Fruit cheeses have become all the rage over the last decade in the UK, but in Spain quince cheese, known as membrillo, has been served with cheese for centuries, rather along the same lines that they eat stilton and strawberry jam on toast in Lancashire, and cheddar with fruit cake in Yorkshire.
Here are some ideas of what you can do with both quince jelly or membrillo
- add to a tarte Tatin
- add to a tagine
- add to gravies
- add to stews
- add to a berry crumble
- use to glaze roasted root vegetables…. especially parsnips and carrots
- add to the stuffing for quail
- serve instead of pomegranate jelly with venison
- add a teaspoon or so to mulled wine
- add to chicken cooked in mulled wine
The season for quinces
The season for quinces is November and December.
How quinces develop
Unripe quinces have a downy blush – see the image below which I took in Italy in Tonino Guerra’s delightful Orto dei Frutti Dimenticati [The Garden of Forgotten Fruits] in Pennabilli, about 40 Km inland from Rimini in the north of Italy. They lose their down, and their greenness as they mature.
Tonino Guerra was a writer and poet. He wrote the script for Fellini’s film, Amarcord, which captures a year in the life of the director’s home town, Rimini, in the rise-of-fascism thirties. The film is really a random, surreal collection of nostalgic vignettes, but with beautiful cinematography and a haunting score an excerpt of which I include below to listen to as you make this syrup.
Guerra conceived of this garden as a “museo dei sapori utile a farci toccare il passato” – a place of flavours to help one touch the past. It certainly is an interesting, slightly bizarre, tranquil and largely undiscovered gem in which to pass an hour or so.