The first tree I planted when we moved here 2 years ago was a Quince. Their lovely mellow yellow appearance, tendency to resist pruning and organization (great excuse to be lazy and leave them be) and wonderfully fragrant fruit were the main attractions. I was seduced by the idea of a beautiful bowl of them making the kitchen smell wonderful in Autumn. And being able to make my own membrillo jelly to go with salty manchego cheese, olives and almonds definitely appealed.
So far the tree has produced one fruit. I haven’t exactly had to face the dilemma of whether to make jelly, quince cheese or add them to crumbles and pies yet.
Luckily I have a great neighbour who turned up with a bag of fruit from her own more mature and productive quince tree. So I’ve been able to enjoy them heaped in a bowl in the kitchen, looking and smelling like the quintessential Autumn fruit.
It seemed a shame to disturb them and their fabulous scent, and apparently their waxy skins can preserve them for many months. But yesterday was the sort of day made for roasting quince.
Rainy, cold and drab, I had to face up to the fact that pleasant though the sound of the rain on the velux while I lay in the bath was, I couldn’t stay in there all morning. Downstairs I could see the cows sheltering under the oak tree in the field next to us as the rain lashed down relentlessly. I lit the woodburner and put the espresso pot on top, one of my favourite weekend morning treats. After I’d made drop scones to go with coffee, I couldn’t resist making more use of the woodburner. It was definitely a day for roasting quinces.
I’ve been enjoying Diana Henry’s latest book ‘salt sugar smoke’ with its fabulous recipes for preserving fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. So for my membrillo I followed her recipe for quince cheese, chopping quinces and simmering them on top of the woodburner before pushing the puree through a sieve and simmering with sugar. It was a lot easier than I thought to make, quicker and less fiddly than jelly. No fussing about suspending jellybags to strain juice through. I lined a ramekin with clingfilm for a little membrillo and also used a Lakeland greaseproof paper liner for a loaf tin before pouring the jelly in and leaving it in the fridge. I thought they’d be easier to unmould like this, and the ramekin has worked a treat. It’s wrapped in greaseproof paper for a present, while I’m leaving the loaf tin version wrapped in the fridge. Looking forward to glistening slices of it, although it does look sticky to slice. Should be good with salty Spanish cheese, but does anyone have any ideas of British cheeses to go with my membrillo?
Meanwhile quinces and cooking apples roasted, ready for adding to dried fruit, brandy, lemon juice and brown sugar for my Christmas mincemeat. I just added a few quinces to a regular mincemeat recipe, imagining that less is more when it comes to their fabulous fragrance. And I substituted cranberries for some of the raisins and sultanas, liking the rich look of the crimson berries.
As is often the case in the kitchen and garden, as the quinces roasted and simmered I felt like a big kid marvelling at the wonder of it all. When I sow a tiny seed and it grows into a huge, healthy and tasty plant (well, sometimes!) it never ceases to amaze me. Similarly, it always seems miraculous how heat transforms food and how some simple cooking can completely change the feel of a room, adding warmth, comfort and even a decadence. As the quince puree turned from amber to russet by simply simmering with sugar, thoughts of how I would use the membrillo and quincemeat filling my head. I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I was creating the smells and feel of a Spanish tapas bar or an Elizabethan feast. Both were more tempting than the lashing rain outside.
And I saved two quince to enjoy in my bowl – well, until I can resist using them to add a heady exotic twist to an apple crumble or pie. Or is heady exoticism too much to hope for from a crumble?
Makes about 3.2kg
2 cooking apples
200g vegetable suet
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
450g sultanas and raisins
225g dried apricots, chopped
225g dried cranberries
700g dark brown sugar (preferably fairtrade)
80ml brandy or whisky
Core and bake the whole apples and quince in a moderate oven (180C/350F/Gas 4) for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool. When they are soft, chop. Grate lemon rind and squeeze out the juice. Mix all ingredients together, put into sterilised jars (I use them straight from the dishwasher) cover with jam covers and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using. Keep in a cool, airy place and it should keep for at least 6 months.
ps at least someone enjoyed the rain:
I preferred the Autumn sunshine today, and the cows appeared to feel the same.