If you’ve not yet met a quince, you have a treat in store. These fragrant, downy, golden globes, distant relatives of the apple family, are not so much forbidden fruits as forgotten fruits. They ripen in late fall, and by Christmas they’ve all but vanished. If you’re lucky enough to find some, swoop on them and set them on a beautiful plate in the kitchen while you consider what to do with them. While you deliberate, the air will be filled with their delicate, faintly lemony scent, likened by 10th century Arab-Andalusian poet Shafer ben Utman al-Mushafi to the perfume of a loved woman.
One idea is to peel and core them and bake them whole in the oven, bathed in a syrup of honey, sugar, lemon juice and water. Done this way, they turn magically from a brilliant daffodil yellow to a burnished coppery color. They’re amazingly good served warm with vanilla ice cream. Or chop them up and turn them into chutney, mixed with oranges, raisins, white wine vinegar, sugar and loads of ginger. For an original apple tart, substitute a quince for one of the apples, peel and grate the fruit together, mix with cream, eggs and sugar and bake in a fragile pastry case. Best of all, turn them into a shimmering jelly, which makes a delightful Christmas gift. Pour into pretty pots, cut fabric hats for the tops and label the jars with pride. Append a little note to each jar explaining to the lucky recipient that quince jelly is magic on toast or melted and brushed over an apple tart to give a glossy, totally professional French pastry shop finish.
Makes about 8 (1-pound) jars
Juice from 1 lemon
1. Take 8 fine, ripe, yellow quinces, scrub them well to remove any down and cut away any brown bits.
2. Cut the fruit in quarters and chop roughly (no need to remove the peel or cores). They’re very hard, so a good, stout knife will be necessary.
3. Put the chopped flesh in a preserving pan.
4. Add enough water to cover the chopped quinces (about 8 cups, depending on your pan and the size of the quinces).
5. Simmer quince very gently for about 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a knife.
6. Tip the quince into a colander lined with a muslin or other fine cloth set over a large bowl.
7. Leave overnight to let the juice seep gently out – it’s permissible to give it a bit of a squeeze at the end to extract maximum juice, but don’t overdo this or the juice will be cloudy.
8. Discard all the pulp.
9. Pour juice into a measuring jug. For every 4 cups of liquid, allow 1½ pounds of sugar.
10. Put juice and sugar, plus the juice of 1 lemon, in the preserving pan.
11. Bring to a rolling boil, then boil for 20 to 30 minutes.
12. Start testing for a good set after about 25 minutes: Place a saucer in the freezer, spoon a little jelly onto it, leave for a few seconds, then pull your finger through it. The jelly should wrinkle and form a distinct channel.
13. Pour jelly into sterilized jars and cover while still warm.
14. Eat with a runcible spoon.
Top photo: Freshly picked quince in a basket. Credit: Sue Style