How to Cook a Quince
Quince, the Queen of Fruits
The quince has fallen out of favour these days and there are plenty of people who wouldn't recognise a quince if it were served up on a plate in front of them. What a tragedy!
So let's have a look at some luscious recipes for quinces, the beautiful fruit once sacred to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.
A Fragrant, Feminine Fruit
The quince is intensely fragrant, with a perfume like a mingling of pear blossom, rose petal and narcissus, with a sort of old-world, grandmothers-kitchen, baked-apple smell. Exquisite!
A single ripe quince placed on a table will do wonders for a room.
Quinces are remarkable to look at and it's difficult to ignore the very feminine, very voluptuous shape of their dimples, bumps and curves and their beautiful perfume. These "golden apples" were given as gifts to gods, kings and queens and you will often see images of Venus with one in her hand.
The Golden Apples of the Goddess
The quince of Aphrodite was the Fruit of Paradise in the Garden of the Hesperides, the mythical Eden sought by Hercules somewhere past Egypt.
I bet it was! A quince is a perfect fruit to grow in the garden of a goddess. There's something essentially paradisial about a bowl of quince with vanilla ice cream. Just heavenly!
There are a number of exciting and exotic ways to cook a quince.
How to cook a quince
Cooking a quince means work and possibly explains its loss of popularity in modern times.
Quinces involve heaps of preparation.
Their irregularity makes peeling difficult and they brown quickly unless put straight into water. You need patience. It takes even more patience to finally transform them into a deeply hued ruby red, with a soft yet firm texture that's lightly granular and richly flavoured.
Most commercial quinces are picked too green so they never develop the rich colour and delightful perfume. I wouldn't recommend buying quinces from a supermarket chain. A farmers' market is a safer bet.
Keep an eye out, you may spot a quince tree in a neighbour's yard, the fruit stays on for quite a while in autumn long after the leaves have dropped.
Remember - you cannot eat a raw quince!
When cooked, the versatile quince is delicious. Because it's full of pectin, it lends itself very well to the making of preserves, but can also be cooked with meat and fish and, of course, a quince dessert is a downright delight.
It's wonderful poached in a syrup spiced with cinnamon and clove and reveals another quality of wonder - it turns a luscious shade, anywhere from deep pink to rich red. From rosy to ruby.
If fresh quinces are handled carefully and not bruised, they should last for months. Poached in a heavy syrup, they will keep very well for a month to 6 weeks in the refrigerator.
How to Poach a Quince
The classic poaching method, tried and true and and an easy way to peel the quinces.
- 4 -6 quinces
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water or more as needed
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 whole cloves
- In a large saucepan, combine the quinces with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, until barely tender, about 10 minutes.
- Drain the quinces and, when cool enough to handle, peel, halve, core, and cut into slices.
- To make the syrup -
- In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the sliced quinces, combine the sugar, 1 cup water, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.
- Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the quinces and additional water if needed to cover. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Now simmer for about 3 -4 hours. Watch for the colour change.
- Transfer to a serving dish and refrigerate. Serve chilled.
Quince Colour ChangesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Recipe - Quince Chutney
At first glance this may seem a long list of ingredients but these tiny amounts of spices produce a wonderful taste. Chutney is basically jam with vinegar and spices and the quince makes a chutney to die for.
- Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy-based pot.
- Stir so that the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to 1 hour until mixture is thick enough to mound on a spoon.
- Mash quince to desired consistency.
- Let it cool slightly then ladle the chutney into jars, make sure to leave 1/2 inch of headspace.
- Put the jars in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 months so that the flavours develop.
- 2 kilos quince, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2 chunks
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- Juice of 1 lemon
Recipe - Quince Curd
All you need are quinces, water, sugar, an orange and a lemon, eggs and butter, plus some sterilised jars for the curd.
- 500 g diced quince flesh - about 1lb
- 400 g sugar - just under 1lb
- a small piece of orange zest
- a small piece of lemon zest
- Place the sugar, quince dice and zest in a pot and barely cover with water
- Bring to the boil, stirring, then simmer till the mixture takes on the characteristic quince pink hue. (By this time the pieces of fruit should be soft)
- Remove from heat, then immediately whisk in 4 eggs and 150g butter (cut into small pieces)
- Combine well.
- Pour into sterilised jars and seal the jars when cold
- Store in the fridge.
Recipe - Quince Compote with Cointreau
If you don't have cointreau (a vital addition to your pantry in my opinion) you can use any other orange liqueur
- 2 kilos quince, peeled and cored, cut into small chunks
- 6 cardamom pods, finely ground
- 2 teaspoons dried orange peel
- 1/3 cup sugar (if you prefer sweeter, use 1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons Cointreau
- Put the quinces in a heavy-based pot with the cardamom and add about 1/2 inch of water to prevent burning.
- Cook, covered, for about 1 hour, keep checking that the water hasn't disappeared.
- When the quinces are soft but not falling apart. add the sugar and stir until dissolved
- Let the mixture cool, then stir in the cointreau
Recipe - Spiced Pickled Quinces
What you need
850ml white wine vinegar
peel of 1 orange
2 tsp peppercorns
3 tsp coriander seed
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves (fresh if possible)
What you do
*Peel and quarter the quinces, remove the cores
*Put everything in a pot
*Simmer about 2 hours until soft and red
*Cool and refrigerate.
For cooking your quinces....
Quinces in Classical texts
Many references in ancient texts were mis-translated to "apple", such as the fruit in Song of Solomon.
Among the ancient Greeks, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings, for it had come from the Levant with Aphrodite and remained sacred to her. Plutarch reports that a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber, "in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant".
It was a quince that Paris awarded Aphrodite (and resulted in the Trojan War) and it was for a golden quince that Atalanta paused in her race.
Sir Hugh Platt's Quidini of Quinces
from Sir Hugh Platt Delights for Ladies (London: 1600)
Take the kernells out of eight great Quinces, and boile them in a quart of spring water, till it come to a pinte, then put into it a quarter of a pinte of Rosewater, and one pound of fine Sugar, and so let it boile till you see it come to bee of a deepe colour: then take a drop, and drop it on the bottome of a sawcer,
Then let it run through a gelly bagge into a bason, then set it in your bason upon a chafing dish of coles to keep it warm, then take a spoone, and fill your boxes as full as you please, and when they be colde cover them: and if you please to printe it in moldes, you must have moldes made to the bigness of your boxe, and wet your moldes with Rosewater, and so let it run into your mold, and when it is colde turne it off into your boxes.
If you wette your moldes with water, your gelly will fall out of them.
I love a quince!
I can't sing the praises of the Queen of Fruit highly enough. If you've never had a quince, then believe me, you're missing a taste that has delighted us for at least 4000 years.
Even the long process of cooking a quince brings pleasure. The slow simmer, the watching of the pot, the changing of the colour, and the outcome - finally the outcome! It's Art! Then you realise how virtuous and talented you are.....
If there is a heaven, it's full of quince trees.
How about you?
What do you think of quinces?
What do you think about the glorious quince? ? All comments are appreciated.
© 2008 Susanna Duffy