Quince are a mystifying fruit to the uninitiated. Solid and unyielding to the knife their yellow skins carry a thin layer of fluffy down and they seem scarred and unsightly compared to modern day tree fruit. On top of this quince require some level of processing as they would taste foul raw, if indeed you managed to take a bite without breaking teeth.
The golden – honey fruit has a long culinary history and a broad geography in origin. Jewish belief is that it was in fact the quince, rather than the apple, which Eve picked on that fateful day. In Ancient Greece brides would nibble on quince to sweeten their breath before entering the bed chamber, and it was the main ingredient in the Portuguese marmalada; Henry VIII’s favourite import.
It was through my research on fruit preserves that I first encountered this underused member of the rosacea family. The Tudor sweetmeat is a close relative of the Spanish dulce de membrillo, an excellent addition any cheeseboard. Many recipes can be found online and it is a simple, if lengthy process perfect for filling a blustery October day. Today I aim to guide readers to a more accessible way of introducing the quince into every day cookery. I should point out that I take inspiration from a medieval dish of ‘pear baked in wine’ for the infusion of fortified wine and cinnamon in the poaching stock.
Take a sharp knife and cut 5 quince into quarters. Carefully remove the core and lay cut side down into a large ovenproof pot. Pour 300ml water and 100ml madeira wine. Finish with a generous slug of honey and a couple of small cinnamon sticks. Cover and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until cooked through.
The quince can be eaten hot or cold at this stage; with a spoonful of creme fraiche and an extra drizzle of honey. Or pop them in the bottom of a roasting dish of belly pork and onions as a sharp contrast to the crackling.
Leftovers will sit quite happily in their juices for a couple of days. Hide a few in your apple pie for a floral depth that will keep people guessing. Dice into bite size pieces and stir into a rice pudding along with a little more madeira, ginger and brown sugar. They sit wonderfully with sweet and sticky flavours of cinnamon, ginger honey or maple syrup, so play around a little and help me stop the quince becoming an old forgotten fruit.