Let me just start this by saying, if anyone ever offers you quinces, take them. Say “yes, please.” Grab them, and think later.
These precious autumnal fruits, related to the pear, and the apple, are not all that readily available commercially, and most seem to come from old established trees, dotted around the suburbs and countryside.
The quince has a long gastronomic history. Quite probably originating in Asia Minor, it grew long, long before apples graced the planet.
The quince, and it’s desirability is documented in the cultural history of both the Greeks and Romans.
Okay, so someone gave you a bag of quinces, and you’re a little hesitant about preparing them? Don’t be, they are easy to cook, beautiful to taste, versatile, and freeze well.
When preparing your quince, there’s a couple of things, you want to keep foremost in your mind.
- You will have to add sugar, maybe even a lot of sugar. The beautiful quince is astringent, and lip puckeringly tart. If you are trying to avoid added sugar, for whatever reason, then bad news I’m afraid. The quince, like rhubarb, needs sugar to make it palatable.
- Think pear, or apple, if you’re wondering what to do with your cooked fruit. Any dish, sweet or savoury that uses apple or pear, well, quince will nestle in there beautifully.
- On the flip side, when you think about cooking quinces, think turnip. Old turnip…The quince has quite a hard, woody/spongy texture that requires long, slow cooking to bring out it’s best features.
Think, and cook patiently, and slowly, and you will be rewarded with a special prize, slices of tender fruits, pink, and sweetly fragrant.
First peel and core your fruit. This is best achieved on a board, with a cloth underneath to keep it from slipping around.
Have ready a bowl of cold water, to which you have added the juice of a lemon. The fruit must go into this acidulated water as soon as it is peeled. The quince, like the apple, will go brown if exposed to air.
Gather, and sharpen your favourite knife. As mentioned, this is a tough fruit, and a blunt, or flimsy knife just makes for frustrating, potentially dangerous preparation.
They can be peeled using a vegetable peeler. See what suits you best. Paring knife or swivel peeler.
Cut into segments, peel and core. Pop them into the lemon water.
OK, two basic methods of cooking your quince are possible here. The first one involves simply stewing your fruit in a sugar syrup, much as you would for stewed apple. A lid is recommended.
The second option utilises the slow, gentle heat of the oven. Again, a sugar syrup is used and the fruit is covered with foil, or a lid.
In a pan, make a sugar syrup. To around 1 cup of water, add 1/2-1 cup of sugar (sweetness is subjective. You can start with less, and taste as you go)
Add your drained quince pieces.
The fruit is brought to the boil, and then the heat is reduced to a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally if you are using the stove top. The generous amount of sugar used can cause the fruit to stick. Just be gentle so as not to crush or break up the fruit too much.
In my experience, cooking usually takes around 1 and 1/2 hours. The longer you cook the quince, the more she develops the beautiful, characteristic pinkness, that can range the spectrum from rosy blush to claret.
If you like, you can happily gild this fragrant lily. Spices and fruits that complement the quince include:
- star anise
- lemon or orange peel
- Australian bush spices like aniseed myrtle, or strawberry gum
Honey, to replace some, or all of the sugar is also delectable.
Please! Don’t throw away your luscious syrup, when your quinces are cooked. It makes a beautiful addition to mocktails, cocktails, and champagne.
Use your cooked fruit, as you would stewed apple or pear: crumbles, pies, with Greek yoghurt, or on porridge or cereal.
Stewed quince freezes well, and can be stored, in a covered container, in the fridge, for about a week.
If you feel like being more adventurous, find yourself a recipe for quince paste, or quince jelly/jam – very special indeed.
One last thing dear reader. Say, you took those fruits that were offered to you, got them home, and it all seems like just too much hard work…
Get out your prettiest, most favourite bowl and tip the quinces into it.
They look so beautiful, and their musky-sweet, indefinable fragrance will fill your home, and soothe your senses.
’till next time