If you’ve not yet met a quince, you’ve a treat in store. These fragrant, downy, golden globes, distant relatives of the apple family, are not so much forbidden fruits as forgotten fruits. Mine are ripening now on the tree and I’m also beginning to sight some in the shops and markets here in Alsace and over the border in Switzerland (in French they’re coings, in German Quitten).
If you should happen upon some of these fragrant fruits, swoop on them and set them on a beautiful plate in the kitchen while you consider what to do with them. As you deliberate, the air will be filled with their delicate, faintly lemony scent, likened by the 10th-century Arab-Andalusian poet Shafer ben Utman al-Mushafi to the perfume of a loved woman.
One idea is to peel and core them and bake them whole in the oven, bathed in a syrup of honey, sugar, lemon juice and water. Done this way, they turn magically from a brilliant daffodil yellow to a burnished coppery color. They’re disgracefully good served warm, with honey ice cream. Or chop them up and turn them into chutney, mixed with oranges, raisins, white wine vinegar, sugar and loads of ginger. For an original apple tart, try substituting a quince for one of the apples, peel and grate all the fruit together, mix with cream, eggs and sugar and bake in a fragile pastry case.
Best of all, turn them into a shimmering jelly, which makes a delightful gift. Pour into pretty pots, cut fabric hats for the tops and label the jars with pride. Append a little note to each jar explaining to the lucky recipient that quince jelly is magic on toast, or melted and brushed over an apple tart to give a glossy, totally professional French pastry shop finish.
QUINCE JELLY – makes about 8 x 450g/1 lb jars
- Take 8 fine, ripe, yellow quinces, scrub them well to remove any down and cut away any brown bits
- Cut the fruit in quarters and chop roughly (no need to remove peel or cores) – they’re very hard so a good stout knife will be necessary
- Put the chopped flesh in a preserving pan
- Add enough water to cover the chopped quinces (about 2 litres/8 cups, depending on your pan and the size of the quinces)
- Simmer quince very gently for about 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a knife
- Tip the quince into a colander (I use the strainer that sits inside my huge IKEA pasta pan) lined with a muslin or other fine cloth set over a large bowl
- Leave overnight to let the juice seep gently out – it’s permissible to give it a bit of a squeeze at the end to extract maximum juice, but don’t overdo this or the juice will be cloudy
- Resist the temptation to use the pulp to make quince cheese (it’s a nightmare task, trust me), and discard it
- Pour juice into a measuring jug and for every 1 litre/4 cups of liquid, allow 750g/1½ pounds sugar
- Put juice and sugar, plus the juice of 1 lemon, in a preserving pan
- Bring to a rolling boil, then boil for 20-30 minutes
- Start testing for a good set after about 25 minutes: Place a saucer in the freezer, spoon a little jelly onto it, leave for a few seconds, then pull your finger through it – the jelly should wrinkle and form a distinct channel
- Pour jelly into sterilized jars and cover while still warm
- Eat with a runcible spoon