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9:30am Saturday 4th August 2012 in Grow Your Own
No doubt there are many who think the slices of quince were as fictitious as the runcible spoon yet for centuries the quince was a popular fruit in the kitchen. It was probably the increased use of the more versatile apples and pears that saw its use decline.
Today there are reports that, along with apples and pears, there have been increased sales of quince, medlar and fig trees, too, and several nurseries I contacted agreed this was the case. Until we moved to our present village the quince was unfamiliar to us, too.
A tree in a neighbouring garden bore what we assumed were large pears but proved to be the golden yellow quince. Each year the fruits were picked in early autumn and often if there had been a good harvest some were left for passers by to help themselves, much as happens with surplus apples and pears in the village.
Eventually curiosity overcame me and I selected half a dozen fruit. Some I chose not to take as they were covered by a dusty down that I took for mould but have since discovered is usual on fruit yet to fully ripen. One of the first things you notice about the quince is the smell.
As the fruit ripens an intense sweet smell is given off. Unlike apples and pears the fruit cannot be eaten raw. It must be cooked and for some time, too, to soften. It can be added to apples to enhance their flavour but there are plenty of recipes for using the fruit on its own, although you may have to search these out.
The fruits are thought to have originated in the East, possibly from Asia, but have been grown in this country for centuries and were probably more familiar to subjects of Elizabeth I than Elizabeth II. One of Shakespeare’s workmen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream was called Peter Quince and there are recipes for using the fruit from Tudor times.
I opted to make a quince jelly as a simple start. Some recipes suggested just quince, sugar and water but I decided to add the rind and juice of a lemon as I was told the jelly would be very sweet. Quince has a high pectin level so sets easily so the lemon is not required for that purpose. Cutting the fruit proved a challenge requiring the sharpest cook’s knife. There is no need to peel or core the fruit.
- Simply wash to remove any of the remaining fluffy coats and then cut into small chunks.
- Add the lemon rind and juice and then cover the fruit with water, pop on a lid and simmer it all gently for an hour to an hour and a half until soft.
- Place the pulp in a jelly bag and drain into a bowl overnight.
- Next day measure the juice adding a pound of sugar to a pint of juice and bring to the boil.
- Leave on a rolling boil until setting point is reached.
- Pour into sterilised jars and seal. The golden fruit produces a pale pinky pulp but nothing prepares you for the rich ruby red of the jelly.
The jelly can be used in place of jam and is especially delicious on crumpets. Alternatively it makes a great accompaniment to cold meats. Several of the nurseries I contacted made suggestions for the use of quinces. Agreeing that quince jelly was the popular choice for customers, Quince and Apple Pie was the choice of Russ Mills of the Ornamental Trees Nurseries whilst Quince Vodka was recommended by Claire Higgins of Pomona Fruits, along with pies, crumbles and Quince Cheese, a type of jam. Some old recipe books refer to Quince Marmalade as the fruit was used to make a form of marmalade before the use of citrus fruits for the purpose.
Although not all quince trees are bought for their culinary qualities, for they make a good ornamental choice, too, the most popular variety reported was Quince Vranja but some nurseries offer several different varieties so it is worth shopping around. If you choose to plant a quince you will need to be patient as a tree would not be productive for its first years. Meantime, maybe time to search out someone with a surplus to share and enjoy a good rummage through those old family recipe books to see what other culinary delights you may have been missing.