Quince for the memory

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Spot the odd one out from these four: 1) Quincey Jones (music producer). 2) Thomas de Quincey (writer and drug addict). 3) Quincy ME (70s TV series). 4) The quince.

QuincesSpot the odd one out from these four: 1) Quincy Jones (Music Producer who worked with Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra). 2) Thomas de Quincey (ferociously clever writer and drug addict). 3)Quincy ME (1970s television series starring Jack Klugman). 4) The quince.

Correct: only one is a fruit.

We have just harvested quinces from a neighbour's tree - the one that I planted is only a couple of years old and too pre-pubescent to fruit. The quince (Cydonia oblonga) is a rather neglected tree native to the Caucasus (Iran, Turkey, Armenia and Greece) - not to be confused with the ornamental Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) which is a great wall shrub.

Do you remember the Greek myths about the Golden Apples of the Hesperides? Hercules' Eleventh Labour? Or the apple that Paris gave to Aphrodite (which decision eventually led to ten years of Trojan War)? Well, anyway, the apples in question were almost certainly quinces. They have the most beautiful coy pink flowers in spring followed by fruit that are about six inches long with yellow skins covered with a fine fluff. When harvested and brought into the house they are like knobbly air fresheners and can be smelt all over the house. Put one in the airing cupboard and it will scent your towels.

But: they are not the easiest fruit to use: they are very hard and you can't eat them raw unless bletted (softened to mush by frost - like the medlar which is another neglected fruit). The Romans stewed them with honey (and surprisingly) leeks. In Syria it is used in lamb stew. Isaac Newton's favourite dish was Quince Pie. The Afghans use the boiled seeds as a cure for pneumonia. In Spain it is made into Membrillo - a sort of sticky paste that is delicious with cheese. (The Chileans eat it on its own in sandwiches) They also combine beautifully when poached with pears (with ice cream and a dollop of chocolate) - a way of using up our vast stock of unripe, bullet hard pears. Anybody else have problems with pears that refuse to ripen (the ones that are not eaten by birds, squirrels or foxes)?

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Gardeners' World Web User 25/10/2007 at 08:44

I obtained some windfall quinces last year and took them home to make jelly. I read up in an ancient copy of Cassells Cookery that the quince seeds, when soaked overnight in water, give up about 10 times their weight in pectin. It's worth keeping the seeds in your liquid if you want jelly to set. You will have to add acid to the mix as well, as quinces do not have enough on their own.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/10/2007 at 14:20

I make quince jelly by chopping quinces up into pieces, cooking as for any jelly recipe with a little lemon juice. Strain through a jelly bag or a piece of muslin overnight then boil with sugar, one pound of sugar to each pint of liquid until setting point is reached. Bottle and store. It keeps very well.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/10/2007 at 14:01

Mag, you can use ornamental quince for jelly but they are not nearly as good as regular quinces.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/10/2007 at 17:39

I do exactly the same as Ann O and we love the jelly with any sort of pork dish, and it is also really good with strong cheeses.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/11/2007 at 22:01

There are literally heaps of downy yellow quinces in the green markets at the moment in Serbia. They are called Dunja. Here they are made into a compote, Stew peeled fruit for a long time, it remains quite firm, but extremely tasty, in a very sweet syrup with a hint of lemon.

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