Quince is the exotic perfumed relatives of apples and pears.
This might seem obvious from their shape – quince can resemble either, depending on the variety. And all three arepome fruits, a type produced by flowering plants. But bite into a raw quince and you will discover just how unlike their siblings they are.
Come to think of it, don’t bite into a raw one. Quince are almost never consumed uncooked, their rock hard and bitter flesh virtually inedible. But roasting or simmering works magic, the heat turning the flesh tender, like the best of pears, and transforming them from pale and wan to perky pink. With their heavy perfume, it’s little wonder that quince have a mystical magical reputation.
There’s definitely a knack to preparing this exotic fruit. Try to find unblemished specimens and rub off any fuzz before you chop them up. But take good care; raw quince are hard as nails, so make sure the knife doesn’t slip when coring and chopping. You can peel them if you want to, but I tend to leave the skin on, as you barely notice it’s there once the fruit is cooked. If you do peel, pop the skin back into the simmering liquid; it enhances the hue of the flesh to an even richer pink.
As you core, slice and peel (or not), plop the quince into a bowl of acidulated water (spiked with a squeeze of lemon juice) to stop the flesh going brown. Then drain well just before you’re ready to cook.
Try roasting them. For two quinces, place slices in the centre of a large piece of foil and fold up the sides to make an open packet. Add a cinnamon stick, a star anise, a pinch of chopped saffron thread, 2 bay leaves, a spoonful of runny honey, a generous splosh of sweet wine and a knob of butter. Seal the packet, place in a baking dish and roast at 200C for an hour or so, or until the quince are very tender.The scent of the roasting fruit will build over the cooking time until the whole kitchen, if not the entire house, smells of it.
Alternatively, poach sliced quince in apple cider, perry, sweet wine or a simple sugar syrup spiked with whatever herbs and spices you fancy. Add the cooked slices to pies, crumbles and tarts – with or without other fruit in season such as apples, pears and blackberries.
Quince’s very firm flesh makes it agreeable for preserving; simmer slices until tender in sugar syrup and then bottle them according to your usual preserving method. The bottled fruit is disarmingly pretty and will see you through the summer when quince are out of season.
Quince pickles up very nicely, too, a combination of sweet and tart I find hard to resist. Make a pickling liquid with 600ml perry or cider vinegar, 400g sugar and whatever aromatics you fancy (juniper berries, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks or cloves, black peppercorns and lemon peel is lovely). Place in a pan and simmer until the sugar dissolves, then add 1kg sliced quince and cook, covered, until the fruit is very tender. Transfer to sterilised jars and seal in the normal way. This is wonderful with cheese and charcuterie (it’s a great counterpoint to fatty cuts).
On that point, roast or poached quince can also be served with meat, just as you might serve cooked apples or pears with roast pork. Cook slices of quince alongside the meat in the roasting tray, then mash and serve as an accompaniment or stir into the pan juices for a fragrant gravy.
Just like pears, cooked quince is also delicious in salad, served with bitter leaves (rocket or radicchio), walnuts and your favourite cheese.
Thanks to their high pectin content, nature’s very own setting agent, quince is ideal for making jam or quince cheese (sometimes known as quince paste or membrillo). It’s so sturdy you can almost slice it, which makes it terrific paired with cheese.Quince cheese does involve quite a bit of cooking and stirring, but it’s versatility makes it worth the effort.
Stir some quince cheese vigorously to loosen, then spread thickly over a raw pastry case, top with frangipane (a kind of almond cream filling), stud with sliced cooked quince or ripe pears or apples and bake for a sublime autumn pudding. Or stir spoonfuls of quince cheese into sauces and stews for a hint of mystical, fruity sweetness.
Quince pairs well with apples, pears, cinnamon, bay leaves, juniper, sweet wine, cider, perry, roast meat.
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