Tuesday, May 29, 2007


After the Owl and the Pussycat were married in the Edward Lear poem,

'They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.'

Now, I’m not sure about the combination of mince and quince (though there are many Middle Eastern dishes that happily combine the two), but the quince itself is a fruit that would be more than welcome on my wedding table (metaphorically speaking, people). Such delicious little morsels are worth waiting all year for. And I’d love a runcible spoon, whatever that is, with which to eat them.

The transformation that cooking can bring about, the alchemy if you like such fanciful ideas, is nowhere more evident than in the slowly cooked quince. The change from dull and inedible to headily-fragrant, jewelled pink is miraculous. In just under 3 hours, with a bit of lazy attending to now and then whilst pottering about, they are ready. It’s enough to make a girl feel very clever indeed.


Recently I read that Mexican cooks use the pips, cores and skins to make a syrup to soothe coughs and sore throats. If you have a jar of these quinces in the fridge, a spoonful or two ladled into a glass and sipped slowly with a smidgen of honey will do your aching throat no end of good. Thus the use of the whole fruit in this recipe – there is much wisdom to be gained from traditional ethnic cookery. Use it or lose it I say. Just in time too with winter, officially that is, just days away.

Maggie Beer and Stephanie Alexander both wax lyrical about the quince. Naturally I turned to them first, but both used excessive and frankly scary amounts of sugar. Deborah Madison saved the day (again). In fact you could quite easily replace the sugar with something like agave syrup or even honey to make it far more virtuous. Over to you.

The fruit makes a luscious dessert with a spoonful of the poaching liquid, a coat of thick vanilla yoghurt or cream and a few hideously expensive but oh-so-worth-it amaretti biscuits crumbled over the whole lot. Kept with its syrup in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge, it will be good for two months.

Poached quinces – adapted from Local Flavours by Deborah Madison

6 quinces (4 if they are huge)
¾ cup of caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
2 wide strips of lemon zest
1 tablespoon of rosewater (optional – but very good)

Rub the downy-fuzz from the quinces with your fingers, though there may not be any on yours. Give them a good rinse. You’ll need a very sharp knife for this, so sharpen yours if it’s looking dull.

Trim a little bit off the base of each fruit so that they stand upright. Cut away the skin from top to bottom in long strokes. Quarter each fruit lengthways. Cut out the cores. Reserve all of the trimmings. Slice the fruit into wedges just larger than 1cm.

Place the skin, cores and pips, into a heavy-based saucepan or lidded, flame-proof casserole with 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 minutes.

Strain the liquid and return it to the saucepan. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to very low and place a piece of baking paper, roughly cut to fit the pan, directly on top of the fruit to help keep it submerged. Cover and simmer for 2 ½ - 3 hours (maybe even a little longer). When ready, the slices will have become a deep pink and should be slightly translucent.

Store, with their syrup, in a lidded jar for up to 2 months.


No runcible spoon required.


Susan said...

Lovely. Last Christmas I tried tracking down quince to no avail. I suspect crop failure, since none of the grocers had them. I love them glazed and rouged. I still remember the richly sweet fragrance even a single fruit could throw into a room.

I suspect it's as hard to adequately define a runcible spoon as a Jabberwocky!

Pinkeagle said...

Beautiful :) I really really want to like quinces you know, but they're just too overpowering for me. I love cooking them though!

Christina said...

Quinces are ripe in the late fall here, and I use them to make membrillo, the Spanish quince paste that my Argentinean boyfriend introduced me to. It's perfect after dinner with a hard cheese and a good beverage.

Christina said...

Oh, and once again, a lovely post!

Lucy said...

Susan, they certainly do smell heavenly. Ha! A Jabberwocky; very good! Hope you manage to get your hands on some later this year.

Hi pinkeagle, they are a little strong, but cooked this way the are somehow fruitier rather than sugary.

Christinia, Membrillo! That's on my list of must make things this year. I actually went out and bought a whole lot more yesterday so that I can do just that. Wish I had a tree of my own.

Johanna said...

my mum used to make ruby red quince jelly when we were children so I loved seeing your reflections on quinces - I hope to cook with them one day - and I think the quince and mince reference might be to fruit mince - I am sure I have seen recipes somewhere for fruit mince with quinces

Cynthia said...

Thanks for the info on this ingredient that I've never heard of before. I must say, Dear Lucy, you wax eloquently too about the quince. :)

Lucy said...

Johanna, you are a clever girl! Of course, mince as in Christmas mince pies. Never even crossed my mind. You should try making them soon as that cold remedy really does work. Weird, but true.

Cynthia - you're such a delight! You always cheer me up. Thank you. Quinces are such an old fashioned fruit, so steeped in the cooking of the Meditteranean that they probably don't survive as well in your gorgeous tropical part of the world. Hope you find some one day.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Lucy, I have never lived anywhere where I have found quinces, although I kind of love them just hearing about them in the poetry that is so often spun around them. They look beautiful as well!

Jo Austin said...

Marvellous. A little off piste but I have to say that a world without quince paste and stilton is not one I would like to consider. The before & after shots are great as well. Why are they so satisfying to the eyes of humanoids?

Lucy said...

Jo Austin, my lovely Jo! God, how exciting to see your lovely self appear in my comments box.

So, life without stilton and quince? Hardly worth considering really...ta 'bout the pitchers love. I reckon it's the colour that does it.

Soup's up soon.

hedge said...

Hi all,

Well, I did have quinces at my wedding - centrepieces with recipes tucked underneath - as I am fanatical about my quinces. Susan, no quinces at christmas as it is strictly an autumn to winter fruit.

I eat them daily on my porridge, or on weekends in my pancakes, for the whole of winter.

I use vicki leng's recipe for this, which is ready in half an hour and gives pale pink quinces, not quite that delectable ruby red of your photo, but very delicious. Best of all - they have NO sugar and are still sweet, but with a lovely tart edge and the perfume intact. Use 4 quinces, peeled, cored and sliced, 750ml of apple juice, 2-3 tablespoons honey, a cinnamon stick, cook for half hour. YUM!

In stephanie alexander's "companion" there is a fantastic quince cake recipe too - if you make quince jelly, which requires a lot of fruit but is actually quite easy - you would normally throw all that lovely fruit pulp away. The cake means that you use it all up and end up with double quince goodness.

we live in an old victorian mining town and there are plenty of quince trees for pillaging - BUT - we have planted some too. Amazing blossom, drought tolerant, and they fruit within 3 years of planting.

Rant, rant.

Lucy said...

Hi Hedge, Susan had trouble because New Yorkers don't seem get quinces in their shops. Unlucky, eh?

Thank you for the Vicki Leng recipe - I've got one of her books floating around. Must get it out. Can't be doing with all that sugar...

Your town must be heavily fragranced at this time of the year. Beautiful.

Kim said...

I made Stephanie Alexander's poached quinces once and they were so so so sickly sweet (while the most stunningly glossy glorious colour) that I just couldn't come at them.

Although now I am really hankering for them with a really tart plain yoghurt and pistachio nuts.

Anyway, I missed the season (again - did so last year as well) this year so my quince relish, which i think came from Donna Hay, must wait once more.

Barb McMahon said...

Best place to go to find them is your local Farmer's Market. Look for an older farmer; he's more likely to have them.