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QUINCE

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The quince is native to warm-temperate southwest Asia in the Caucasus region. It is a small, deciduous tree, growing 5–8 m tall and 4–6 m wide, related to apples and pears, it has a pome fruit, which is bright golden yellow when mature, pear-shaped, 7–12 cm long and 6–9 cm broad.

The immature fruit is green with dense grey-white pubescence, most of which rubs off before maturity in late autumn when the fruit changes colour to yellow with hard, strongly perfumed flesh.

Cultivation of quince may have preceded apple culture, and many references translated to “apple”, such as the fruit in Song of Solomon, may have been a quince. Among the ancient Greeks, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings, for it had come from the Levant with Aphrodite and remained sacred to her. Plutarch reported that a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber, “in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant” (Roman Questions 3.65). It was a quince that Paris awarded Aphrodite. When a baby is born in Slavonia (Croatia), a quince tree is planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life.

Most varieties of quince are too hard, astringent and sour to eat raw unless ‘bletted‘ (softened by frost and subsequent decay). High in pectin, they are used to make jam, jelly and quince pudding, or they may be peeled, then roasted, baked or stewed. The flesh of the fruit turns red after a long cooking time. The very strong perfume means they can be added in small quantities to apple pies and jam to enhance the flavour.

InIran, quince is used for making jams (or as it said in Farsi “Morabba”) which is very popular and delicious. The extra syrup of jam is mixed with cold water to make a sweet drink. This drink sometimes served by adding lime juice. Also, Iranians use quince to make a stew (with beef stew) which is served with rice.

In Lebanon, it is called sfarjel and also used to make jam. In Syria, quince is cooked in pomegranate paste (dibs rouman) with shank meat and kibbeh (a Middle Eastern meat pie with burghul and mince meat) and is called kibbeh safarjalieh. In Pakistan, quinces are stewed with sugar until they turn bright red. The resulting stewed quince, called muraba is then preserved in jars and eaten like jam.

InLatin America, the gel-like, somewhat adhesive substance surrounding the seeds was used to shape and style hair.

In Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish, jelly-like block or firm, reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo. It is then eaten in sandwiches and with cheese, traditionally manchego cheese, or accompanying fresh curds. In Portugal, a similar sweet is called marmelada. It is also produced and consumed in Hungary, where it is called birsalmasajt, “quince cheese”.

Quince Paste
INGREDIENTS
2kg quinces
Water
Approx 1.25 kg sugar
METHOD
Wash, peel and core quinces. Chop quince flesh coarsely and place in large saucepan. Tie peel and cores in a small piece of muslin to form a bag. Add to the quinces in the pan.Add enough water to cover the quinces and boil, covered 30 minutes or until fruit is very soft. Remove muslin bag and push flesh through a fine sieve into a bowl. Alternatively you can process the fruit until very smooth (however, this method is only good if you have been very thorough in removing all skin, parts of the core and seeds from the quinces when preparing them.) Weigh the fruit pulp. You should have about 1.25kg of fruit pulp. Weigh out an equal amount of sugar.

Combine sugar and fruit pulp in the same cleaned saucepan. Cook, stirring over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until the quince paste is very thick and a deep ruby colour. At this stage a wooden spoon drawn through the paste will leave a very distinct trail across the bottom of the pan. This will take approx 1½ hours.

Transfer cooked paste to a lightly greased and lined 20cm x 30cm cake tin. Spread paste flat.

Place in fan-forced oven with only the fan working (no temperature set) overnight or for several hours to dry out. Alternatively you can dry the paste in a very low oven (90°C) for several hours, or you could use a traditional method for drying the paste: in the sunshine if you have constant sunshine, in an airing cupboard, in a gas oven with the pilot light on. Whichever way you dry it, wrap it in baking paper and foil and then place in an airtight container. It should keep indefinitely. It’s a great accompaniment to cheese, or can be melted down and used in fruit tarts and pies. It should be cut into small wedges to serve.

 

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