“Quince is famous for its heavy, sensual perfume, which at autumn farmers’ markets hangs as thickly in the air as Dior’s Poison on the platforms of London underground stations circa 1987. Quince’s aroma is a combination of apple, pear, rose and honey, with a musky, tropical depth.”
Niki Segnit, The Flavour Thesaurus
Forget eating them, it’s worth just making this for the heavenly smell which will pervade the whole house. Unless that is you are using the Pineapple variety from California which are less exciting. Once made this will keep for a month or two in the fridge. Some varieties of quince a downy (see the photo which I took in Italy in Tonino Guerra’s delightful Orto dei Frutti Dimenticati (the garden of forgotten fruits) in Pennabilli, about 40 Km inland from Rimini in the north of Italy. Tonino Guerra was a writer and poet. He wrote the script for Fellini’s film, Amarcord, which captures a year in the life of the director’s home town, Rimini, in the rise-of-fascism thirties. The film is really a random, surreal collection of nostalgic vignettes, but with beautiful cinematography and a haunting score an excerpt of which I include below to listen to as you make this syrup.
Guerra conceived of this garden as a “museo dei sapori utile a farci toccare il passato” – a place of flavours to help one touch the past. It certainly is an interesting, slightly bizarre, tranquil and largely undiscovered gem in which to pass an hour or so.
Do not, on any account, throw away the poaching liquor. Instead boil it down until thick and syrupy, and use it as a cordial, to make a quince whisky cocktail, a quince Bellini (mix with prosecco), or simply to pour over vanilla ice cream along with some of the poached quinces.
If you want to give a firm friend a very special, long-lived, present you could do worse that sending them a quince tree, with some quince jelly packaged up in a wooden crate, from The Glutonous Gardener.
Recipe for quinces in their own syrup
- about four quinces
- 2.25 lt/10 cups water
- 210 g/1 cup sugar (you can, as the ancient Romans did, use honey instead in which case you will need less water and more honey)
- A little fresh lemon juice, and some lemon peel which you will need to fish out at the end
- Gently wash off the down and slice off both ends, retaining them and putting them in large, heavy bottomed saucepan.
- Peel the quinces using a sturdy potato peeler, again retain the peel and put it in the saucepan
- With a strong, sharp knife which you don’t care too much about cut vertically down as close to the core as you can without touching the core, four cuts down, and then chop off the bottom and top, also as close to the core as you can. Put the remaining core in the saucepan. Add a couple of bits of lemon peel if you have them.
- Pour the water into the saucepan and bring it to the boil, reduce to a simmer (don’t cover, you want it to reduce) and continue to cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Meanwhile excavate any bits of core which have strayed into the flesh – they will have the texture of bits of chipped bone!
- Sprinkle the quince flesh with a little lemon juice to stop it going brown while the cooking proceeds.
- It’s at this stage that you’ll start to really smell this aromatic fruit (it’s quite sensous!) and the water will turn a beautiful rose colour.
- Ten minutes before the end of the simmering time slice the quince flesh thinly.
- Take the core, peel etc out with a slotted spoon and discard
- Add the flesh and the sugar to the saucepan.
- Continue to simmer for at least an hour, until the flesh is tender and has begun to blush profusely. Now TASTE! Too sweet, add more lemon juice; too bitter, add more sugar
- Pour into sterilised jars (go here to find out how to do that) making sure that all the quince flesh is covered by the syrup.
“Quinces play it cool. They are the opposite of a wanton supermarket strawberry: exotic, complex and, like most inappropriate love objects, horribly elusive. If one is lucky enough to live near one of those corner shops with mysteriously year-round supplies, for a pound one can buy an almost-quince: freakishly unblemished, barely fragrant. This is how my grandmother bought them before, in her windowless galley kitchen, peeling and slicing them, probably with a sabre, then poaching them with vanilla until they were soft and silkily rosy and her flat smelled like Samarkand. We could each have a quarter, maybe two; there is no such thing as too much quince. At least, so I thought.”
Rhapsody in Green, Charlotte Mendelson
Music from the film, Amarcord