Imagine the Garden of Hesperides. Imagine eating one of the mythical golden apples that grant immortality. Then picture a quince. It’s possible they were one and the same (the ancient roman agricultural writer Columella speculated that they were). So there is a certain romance and weight of history behind eating this fruit.
I went through most of my life without ever seeing a quince (Cydonia oblonga), but when we lived in the Canary Islands Membrillo (a quince ‘cheese’ to be eaten with manchego cheese) was sold all over the place. Then a few years ago I saw the actual fruit in a tiny Cambridgeshire village greengrocer. It was highlighted as a seasonal delicacy, so I bought it and used it to make jelly. Beautiful pink jelly. I discovered that it was delicious with many things. Since then I have found that several friends have quince trees and I have never been without them again. In fact I now have several small trees of my own grown from sowing the seeds from previous harvests.
At the weekend I cooked some of this year’s quince crop. I was experimenting with making something other than a jelly or jam. I was trying a fruit leather (yummy – see recipe below). That used several quince up, but then ten minutes ago a friend arrived with a new bag of about 20 more, so I am going to have to get inventive!
If everyone who has a quince tree is always trying to give the fruit away, is it worth growing your own? Well yes, for three reasons:
i) The tree is a small deciduous tree that bears a pome fruit which looks a bit like a pear. The fruit is bright golden-yellow when mature.
The tree is self fertile and eventually grows to 5-8m, so is therefore good in small gardens.
ii) In spring it is adorned with absolutely beautiful, large pale pink blossoms. Beautiful both as closed buds
and fully open as large goblets
iii) In the autumn the tree is covered in large golden fruits. In fact it can look just like the stylized ‘partridge in a pear tree’ Christmas cards you see around.
Most varieties of quince are too hard and sour to eat raw. However, when peeled and cooked (roasted, baked or stewed), the flesh softens and turns a pinkish red. It also smells divine. The strong perfume means quince can be added in small quantities to apple pies and jam to enhance the flavour. Even just sitting in a fruit bowl, the perfume of a quince is lovely with hints of vanilla, citrus and sweet tropical fruits. The ancient Greeks were so enamoured with the exotic smell of the fruit that there was a custom that a Greek bride should nibble on a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber.
Originally from Persia, quinces arrived in England in about 1275, when Edward I is known to have planted some at the Tower of London. You can see quince trees in many old gardens around England, including Hampton Court and Hatfield House, which I mentioned recently.
With my new haul of quince I am going to make more quince leather*, have a go at making quince sorbet and I’ve just heard of an interesting recipe for adding slices of quince to white rum. No sign of jellies at all then!
This is my recipe for Quince Leather :
4 Quince (peeled and cored)
1 Cooking apple (peeled and cored)
Juice of 1 lemon
100ml Runny honey
Handful of blackberries (optional but makes the leather look more interesting)
- Cook the quince, (blackberries), apple and lemon juice together with a little water for something like 20mins until soft and pink.
- Sieve or blend the fruit to make a purée. Add the honey and stir.
- Spread the purée thinly on two baking sheets (I used swiss roll tins and baking parchment).
- Place in an oven at ~50 degrees Celsius. Slowly dry for between 12-18hrs.
- Cool and cut into strips. Store in an airtight container. (Keeps for 3-4 months)
Use as fruit ‘stockpot’, sweetmeat or trail or snack food.
*A fruit leather is a thin, pliable sheet of dried, sweetened fruit purée with a flexible consistency like leather.