Don’t wince at quince

Quinces, those golden apples of the sun

Quinces, those golden apples of the sun

Around this time of year I await the knock at the door with a little foreboding. It’ll be my neighbour Jill from across the road with a big bag of golden quinces from the tree in her back garden. She has far too many of them for her own use so she shares them with the street.

Now usually I wince over a quince. They are hard to cut and trouble to cook, then something always goes wrong. I’ve put quince in stews but not been impressed by the taste. I made some quince marmalade a few years back and am still eating it. Nigel Slater’s recipe for pickled quince doesn’t work for me. It’s the juniper.

That quince paste, or membrillo, I made the other year didn’t keep. It’s not just me. Some fruit I gave to a local chef which also came back as paste went mouldy before you could say Aphrodite. The classicists among you will know that in Greek mythology Paris gave her a quince, one of the ‘golden apples of the sun.’

Talking about quinces as gift I once gave a couple to a friend who was putting up the folk legend Peggy Seeger for a few hours before a performance. The aroma would perfume her room, I promised. It didn’t.

Still, I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and decided to get down to it. I hit upon a two-for-the-price-of-one recipe which promised me jelly and paste. For once, everything went well. I liked the recipe because it would give me the chance of using a bottle of rosewater I had bought previously on a whim. So first I made quince and rosewater jelly.

A stool and jellybag make a strainer.

A stool and jellybag make a strainer.

I had 1.6k of quinces and after washing off the fuzz cut them up. Don’t go though the top but the softer sides. I added the peel of a lemon but reserved the juice. In previous years they have taken up to two hours to soften, these were ready within 30 minutes and I squished them to pulp with a potato masher.

Next you strain the juice out through a boiled jelly bag into a bowl. I strung it from an upturned stool and left it for about four hours (overnight is best). Don’t squeeze or your jelly will be cloudy.

Pour the quince paste into a tin to set

Pour the quince paste into a tin to set

You measure the juice and for each 100ml you add 75g of sugar. Heat to boiling with the juice of the lemon until you reach setting point. I rely on the plate from the freezer wrinkle test. Everything was going too well: I had a set inside 10 minutes. I stirred in about half a teaspoon of rosewater and had enough for four 100ml jars. It’s gorgeous on toast and I shall have it with roast meats. It’s a winner, well worth the effort.

The next day I tackled the membrillo which was harder work. First I blitzed it in a processor then pressed it through a fine sieve. It took over 30 minutes. For each 100g of puree add 75g of sugar. My recipe didn’t mention lemon juice but I added it just the same. Bring gently to the boil and keep stirring, making sure the mixture doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pan or spit at you. It’s ready when ‘volcanoes’ appear on the surface and you can see the bottom of the pan when you draw a wooden spoon through it.

Pour into roasting tins lined with greaseproof paper and allow to set overnight. Mine is not as hard as shop-bought membrillo but still a little soft. It goes well with cheese, particularly Manchego, and apparently the Spanish also spread it on toast. Will it keep for Christmas? Fingers crossed. I’ll be freezing some as an
experiment.

Little jars of quince and rosewater jelly

Little jars of quince and rosewater jelly

Slabs of membrillo, or quince paste, and jars of jelly

Slabs of membrillo, or quince paste, and jars of jelly

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