Seasonal Secrets – quinces
Our annual competition with the birds for the fruit in our orchard saw us lose big time this year. Once again every singe apple was stripped from the trees whilst still green – we never had a prayer of getting any. We have a couple of ancient peach trees, plus an almost moribund apricot and very strict vigilance paid off in a tiny way with 2 peaches and 3 apricots being our score there. Mind you, they were worth it – the apricots were like nectar from the gods. The utterly reliable plum tree gave us plenty to share with the birds, as have the fig trees (see more about them next week) and the quinces.
I have been somewhat “challenged” by quinces in the past and suffer from vivid flashbacks to an afternoon spent at my aunts kitchen table, sitting in front of a bowl of, grainy, bitty, stewed quinces, under pain of death should I move before they were consumed. This clearly damaged my developing young psyche to the point that my quince curiosity stopped at quince paste or quince jelly.
Quince trees are native to the Caucasus region of South-west Asia and why anybody ever became curious enough about them to actually consider eating them is quite a mystery to me. They are related to apples and it is thought that the many scriptural and mythological references to golden apples were, in fact, references to the quince. Quinces were considered sacred to Aphrodite and used as a ritual wedding gift by the ancient Greeks, were used in cooking in ancient Rome, have been lauded in poetry and are noted for their delicate rose-like scent. However, the fruit is too hard and too sour to eat raw unless they have become “bletted” (splendid word meaning to become soft with decay – must pop it into the conversation more often) and they really require a long, slow cook to bring out their best.
The sight of the quince tree boughs bending to the ground under the weight of the fruit eventually stirred some incipient feelings of guilt in my bosom. All of my foodie friends fall over themselves to get to my quinces at this time of the year and some become a little misty about them in their poached and baked forms. My friend Lizzy from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things recently inspired me with her quince post and then I happened upon this deliciously spiced version from Ganga’s A Life (Time) of Cooking. It seemed to me that this is a fruit that would lend itself particularly well to the charms of the slow-cooker so, with a nod to the two afore-mentioned blogs, I headed off down my own road to Damascus and my quince epiphany.
The following recipe for poaching in the slow-cooker results in a deliciously fragrant, slightly spiced and not too sweet fruit. It was divine with custard, but would also freeze well for later use in tagines or casseroles. However, for a sublime quince experience which will just about make you weep with joy, I’d suggest following the extra steps and baking them after poaching. I think this might just have changed my life.
- 750 mls water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup port
- 4 quinces, peeled, quartered & cored
- 1 small lemon, washed, thick sliced
- 3 whole star anise
- 4 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 vanilla pod
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into chunks
- Place sugar and water into pot over medium heat and stir until sugar has completely dissolved. Add port and heat. Pour into slow-cooker.
- Place fruit pieces into syrup immediately after peeling or they will discolour.
- Add lemon, ginger, spices.
- Split vanilla pod, scrape seeds into syrup and add whole pod.
- Place lid on and cook on high for 1 hour.
- Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 6-7 hours.
- Cool the fruit in the syrup - this will help it take up more colour.
- Remove fruit from syrup and set aside.
- Strain syrup and pour into pan over medium heat.
- Bring to boil, then continue to cook until syrup reduced by half.
- Cool, then pour over fruit.
- It will keep in this syrup for well over a week in the fridge. Serve with custard, cream or masarpone.