Consider the Quince
This time of the year brings forth strange fruit, by which I mean stuff that you can buy at the greengrocer, but can’t immediately eat without putting a bit of elbow grease into it. I often wonder what proportion of it ends up in tastefully arranged fruit bowls in the kitchens of people who live on Instagram? I’m talking about rhubarb. I’m talking about cumquats (if you’re lucky, that might end up in a post next week). But today I’m talking about the noble quince.
It’s a big, knobbly, slightly furry fruit related to apples and pears. Completely inedible in its raw form. Apparently a lot of people make it into quince paste, which they then consume with slabs of Gorgonzola and lavosh and red wine with no regard at all for their waistlines, and why not. But that’s not what I do with it.
I like to poach it and bottle it. It’s very easy, like almost everything I make. It has the added bonus of making your house smell like you live in the Eastern Suburbs and have just put your house on the market so you can buy yourself a small island in the Caribbean and a helicopter. Here’s what you do.
Large saucepan. Four quinces, about a kilo. A cup and a half of white sugar (brown has too strong a taste). Four to five cups of water, plus the juice of a lemon. I also put in three or four small cinnamon sticks (you want it to be fragrant, but not overpowering), and a couple of expired vanilla beans from my homemade vanilla essence. Have I told you about that? Remind me to some time. Actually, it’s not even worth a blog post. Put six to eight vanilla pods in a cheap bottle of vodka and leave it for a year. There, you’re welcome.
You can roughly peel the quinces, or just scrub off the fuzz, I quite like a bit of peel in there. Chop them into whatever you consider to be bitesized. Put all ingredients into the saucepan and simmer for an improbably long amount of time. Hours. Until it’s time to pick up the kids from school. Most other fruit would fall apart, but not these babies. Go and check on it from time to time to be amazed at what’s happening to them. You don’t have to cover the saucepan for some reason either.
They go that colour all by themselves, with nothing added. In that last half hour, I boil up to sterilise some random jars I have lying about, then ladle that good stuff in. I generally have a bit of syrup left over and I bottle that too, and that leads me to a story. My poor mother in law has never quite gotten over the fact that I don’t drink tea, her South African hospitality demands that she offers me a hot beverage upon entering her house, and me not wanting one has thrown her for twenty five years now. She saw me drinking something hot here at home and said “Aha! You do drink something! Please tell me what it is so I can get some and serve it to you”. I felt like quite the tosser telling it was homemade spiced quince syrup in hot water. But it is very good. Try it, it’s kind of reminiscent of mulled wine, probably because of the cinnamon, but leads to a lot less self loathing in the morning. I’d imagine that it would also be delicious with gin, but what wouldn’t be?
What do you do with it then? Whatever you would do with any preserved fruit. Bung it on your porridge. Arrange the jars tastefully on your windowsill next to the word Home, spelled in wooden cutout letters. Actually, if you do do that, you are no longer my friend and you should seriously consider your life choices. I just slap it in a dish and eat it as is for afternoon tea. It’s not as grainy as preserved pear, not as slick as peach, it has its own fragrance apart from the spices too. I love it, and should stock up before quince season is over and I have to go back to eating raw fruit again like some kind of peasant.