Thursday, 24 November 2011

Quinces fight back

Last quinces on the tree on 24th November
Ever since Giles Coren (now he really is funny) recently described quinces (and medlars) as "semi-extinct Medieval fruit", quinces up and down the land have been planning their revenge.  Yes, I know, he wasn't really talking about the fruit, but trying to remember the name of a restaurant which AA Gill (why isn't he on twitter?) had recommended - which was Quince, or was it Medlar?  As I'm too frugal to subscribe to the newspaper he was writing in, I can't give you the link...

Part of the main quince harvest in October

As for the medlars, I'm with him... we'll return to them for their one good point later, but for now it's the turn of the quinces
"We're agreed that Giles Coren is a semi-extinct food critic"
First to clear up some confusion.  I'm talking about the big pear-shaped yellow fruits with furry down  on them which grow on trees, not the "quinces" which grow on prickly bushes with white, pink or red flowers.  It's a different thing altogether, but its greeny yellow fruits are also edible and people do make them into jelly (and rave about how a bowl of them will scent a room - if that's the sort of thing you like)

Flowers and fruits of Japanese quince or Chaenomeles japonica

Okay, back to the real quinces.  My quince tree is very vigorous - its response to any type of pruning, even brutal (yes, that's you I'm talking about, Gordon), is to promptly double in size- it doesn't have any pollination issues, it flowers quite late so it doesn't have any frost issues (you know, where fruits which have just formed are damaged, sometimes resulting in no crop at all that year) and it usually produces an overwhelmingly enormous crop of fruit.  If there's a dry spell followed by a lot of rain the fruit may swell up too quickly and split and start to go bad, but in a consistently wet (or dry) summer this doesn't happen much.

Mould caused by cracking
Now, what to do with these quinces?  You do see quite a few recipes in magazines at this time of year for "pork chops with quince" or that type of thing, but they usually turn out to use only one quince "peeled and diced" or "peeled, cored and sliced neatly" per quarter pig - not much use when you're looking at about 200 quinces.  Also, have you ever tried to core or neatly slice a quince?  They are incredibly hard - it's difficult even to cut them in half, yet alone do anything fancy.

Nigella Lawson has a good but strange-sounding recipe in "How to Eat" for baked quinces where you peel and core them (Nigella does warn that "these fruits are rock-hard and coring and quartering  takes strength") then bung everything - including the trimmings -in the dish with a good slosh of muscat sweet wine.    But this is good in the end and the quinces take on that wonderful rich ruby colour (or "glorious burnished terracotta" to Nigella) which foodies rave about.  Also baked quinces with pomegranate seeds in "Feast", equally delicious

What I usually do is cut the quinces into halves (or quarters if I'm feeling strong), cook them in the pressure cooker for about 15 mins (or in a normal pan for a lot longer - maybe an hour) then make either quince jelly or jam or quince cheese or membrillo (as they call it in Spain).
Cooked quince put through a mouli ready for the next stage of membrillo making
This is beginning to sound a bit Medieval - pressure cookers (they've been around a while, haven't they?), moulis.  It gets worse though because once you've added vast amounts of sugar to this pulp you have to cook it for ages, stirring to stop it sticking to the pan and burning, and it behaves like lava, spitting hot jam high into the air.  A welder's glove on the stirring hand is a sensible precaution, as well as covering all nearby surfaces with newspaper.  Last year I was just congratulating myself on my uncharacteristically careful approach when I noticed that the ceiling above the cooker was liberally splattered with orange sticky blobs.

But we haven't finished yet - when "you can see the bottom of the pan as you draw the wooden spoon through the mixture" (as the books say) or you're bored with the whole process or your hand is burnt with molten jam, you can either put the mixture into small jars or (more authentically but with a risk of future mould spots) pour it into trays lined with greaseproof paper and dry it off further.  Then cut it into squares and dust with sugar, pack in boxes.  Jane Grigson in her learned "Fruit Book" says the cooking can take seven hours! 

Or you could just pile them up attractively

Or leave them on neighbours' doorsteps under cover of dark

Or wait for me to give you a pot of jelly or jam or membrillo.  Don't worry - I always scrape any visible mould off first

Or make quince vodka

Or make quince chutney

If you've only read this far to hear the medlars' redeeming feature, it's that their uncannily visually accurate nickname is "dogs' bottoms".  Even Jane Grigson in "Fruit" again admits that "the medlar has long been the happy target of  jokes in much of Europe".  How do we know the medlar was that happy about it though?

"Go on then, laugh at us, see if we care"

1 comment:

  1. I ate some cooked Quince the other day - had quite a pleasant tang. Now I know what they look like. And at least semi-extinct means surviving!


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