Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fruit of the Month: the quince

The Quintessential Quince

one of our two quince trees

October is the month of the quince. At least it is at Le Ripe where the overall success rate in our orchard is somewhat limited: quinces abound this year but there is nary an apple.

quinces are very attractive but I store them on windowsills also to ripen them and to enjoy their lovely aroma

The quince, cydonia oblonga, is the hardy fruit tree par excellence which requires temperatures below 7 degrees to flower well, while needing hot summers for the fruits to ripen.  

Native to Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Kashmir, Pakistan, Tajikistan,  and Uzbekistan, in Arabic it is called al safarjal, in Farsi beh ; the Akkadians of ancient Mesopotamia called it supurgillu. Our name originates from the Greek kydonion melon, by way of the Latin cotoneum malum, Italian mela cotogna, French coing: the English version derives from the Old English 14th century plural of quoyn.

Isn't etymology fascinating.

Quince cultivation may be older than that of the apple; the role of the apple in ancient literature was more likely played by the quince. For example, Paris gave Aphrodite a quince when he chose her amongst the goddesses. The reference in the Song of Songs was possibly mistranslated:

As the apple (quince?) tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

Song of Solomon 2:3 King James Bible

Whatever the true sources, it is certain that the quince has a venerable history. The fruit was sacred to Aphrodite and was ritually offered at weddings in Ancient Greece. Were the golden apples of the Hesperides quinces after all? Did Eve offer Adam an apple or a quince?

Although one does wonder: the raw quince has a delicious aroma, but the fruit has to be cooked before eating.

High in pectin, quince is perfect for jams, jellies and comfits, (the medieval quince cheese) or cotognata as it is known in Italy.

quince compote

I have provided a visual paean to the quince blossom and raved on about quinces already here, but it is one of my favourites, so here we are again! This year I shall be making comfits. Watch this space for the recipe.

Quince Comfits

Cook whatever quantity you like of washed, cored and cut (but not peeled) quinces in about two fingers of water, until tender. Drain the fruit well and keep the cooking water (see below*). 

Mash or blend or sieve the quinces then weigh the purée. Add the same weight of sugar (brown or white or a mix) to the quince purée in a deep, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot. 

Heat and boil this mixture, stirring frequently, for up to an hour or until the paste comes away from the sides of the pot. Use a long-handled wooden spoon or wrap your hand in a teatowel as the scalding mixture pops and bursts like a geothermal mudpool.
It will be considerably darker when ready, a deep orange amber.

Line a baking tray with baking paper and pour in the hot paste. For 750g of fruit puree + 750g of sugar I used a tray measuring about 30cm x 20cm. 

The mixture needs to harden and dry out a little. Some keep it in a warm place for a few days, or you can leave it in a turned-off, open oven after you have done some baking. When it is firm and dry, cut into squares or lozenges and roll in caster sugar to stop the comfits sticking to one another.

Quince comfits make a lovely gift and are delicious both as a dessert sweet and served with cheese, pork or game.

*What do you do with the quince water? If you boil it with its own weight in sugar for about 30 minutes and pour it into a clean glass jar you will have a delicious quince jelly, equally nice with cheese or pork etc.

1 comment:

  1. All hail to the aromatic and venerable quince. A generous fruit with all its delicious cooking potential.


Comments are welcome but will be checked before publishing.