Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Quince a Day ...

“If they stomacke bee very luse, or moyst, or thy belly laxative, then Quinces be good to be eaten before meate, beying rosted, or eaten colde: and in this case, the tarter the better...preserved, they do mightedly prevaile against drunkenness.” Bulleins Bulwarke of defence against all Sicknes, Sornes and Woundes, 1562

Originating in old Persia and then spreading around the Mediterranean Quinces were a popular food in the ancient European diet. Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love is often pictured holding a Quince and during the Middle Ages a Quince was exchanged during wedding ceremonies as a symbol of love.

Smelling somewhat like a cross between an apple and a pear the Quince was thought a cure-all in the 16th century diet similar to the apple.a.day mantra of four centuries later.

These days I eat this bulbous yellow fruit in the form of Quince paste where I love to eat it on a cracker with soft blue cheese. Here in Australia a small tub of Quince paste from a reputable company will cost around AUD$5-6.

Before our time families would've made this at home from the Autumn crop. Certainly few families bother with preserving fruit or making Jams (Jellies) these days however I decided to try my hand at making Quince paste to see whether it was worth the bother.

I found this recipe in Maggie Beer's book "Maggie's Harvest". It is Maggie's Quince paste which I buy for myself so this seemed a good place to start. The recipe is simple enough:
  • 2kg Quinces, cored and chopped in quarters
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Lemon Juice
However, as I discovered it is vitally important to read the recipe all.the.way.through before beginning.

  • Simmer the quinces (including the cores which are wrapped in a muslin bag or tea towel and placed in the water with everything else) until the quinces are soft and mushy.
  • Take out the cores then process or smoosh the quinces until they form a pulp.
  • Add sugar equal to the weight of the pulp plus some lemon juice.
  • Then (and here's the bit I should've read before I started) "cook over low heat, stirring continuously for four hours".

Cripes, lucky it was an overcast day in the school holidays.
Once the paste is so thick you can't move your spoon in it, spread it on a tray and dry it out in a very low oven (lowest setting or just pilot light) overnight. In the morning, slice it up.

Despite our shock at the 4 hour constant stirring it was fun for the kids and I to watch the Quinces change colour from honey yellow, through orange, watermelon pink and then to a deep Ruby red. To my surprise the paste turned out beautifully.

I would like to point out here that I am no gourmet cook. I cannot remember participating in any jam or preserve-making activities in my past.

I was so excited with the results I promptly wrapped them up and gave some away to my friends. That is the thing about making food - you might come over all neighbourly, and that's a good thing for all of us.

So, was it worth it? I wouldn't want to appear overly domestic but I loved creating deep ruby-red Quince Paste out of those bulbous yellow fruits and it was certainly an education for the kids to watch the fruit change colour. The quinces cost $8.20, the sugar $1.00 and the lemons $1.00. I was able to satisfy myself that all the ingredients were Australian and at 42cents per piece it cost a lot less than the $5 or more I would pay at the deli.

Mind you, four hours of stirring is not for everyone. But Quinces are only in season in Autumn so you only need put aside five hours a year. This is not the thing you cook after work with guests arriving for nibbles at 6pm. But if you do have some on hand it just might help your guests “...mightedly prevail against drunkenes”!


Gramma Ann said...

Well, I have to admit that was very educational. I use to make my own jams and jellies when I was raising my little family of 5. But, no more just grab a jar at the grocery store when hubby and I need it....

innercitygarden said...

I used to make quince paste, but I haven't for a few years now. Toddlers don't work well in conjunction with "stir for four hours". I look forward to making it again when he's bigger and either helps or reads a book in another room.

A friend took to making quince paste recently after the death of his mother. Four hours of stirring is exactly what you need then. We ate a lot of quince paste, which was no trouble at all.

Dee from Downunder said...

NOW I know why mum gave gave our quinces to the neighbour to preserve. 4 HOURS! I admire your tenacity.

We had a huge quince tree in the backyard as kids, and mum would give them all to a neighbour, who would send back some quince jam as a thankyou. I loved rubbbing off their little furry coating they get while growing.

Oh, I have been getting nostalgic lately, I did a post about my old house changing, even mentioned the quince tree!

Thanks for another great post, I am really loving your blog, so glad I found it.

Stomper Girl said...

Quinces are delicious but take way too long to cook for impatient cooks like me. I prefer to poach them with some apple and rhubarb and enjoy them in a crumble. Yum.

rhubarbwhine said...

I have that book too, and I love it. Some of the recipes are amazing and although are some work, are just divine.

Fairlie said...

I stirred for four hours...and at the end of it, I was left with a quince jam, not jelly. It just wouldn't set. I suspect I didn't spread it thin enough to dry out. I now have tubs and tubs of quince jam in the fridge!

The Old Dairy said...

I have never tried quinces?
Megan I have given you an award, just pop along to my blog to collect it.

Le @ third on the right and cold peas said...

wow fine, sterling effort ! Does it freeze in the wee cut squares ... or might it last for some time in the fridge if sealed ...

I know I get about six days out of the commercial variety.

A bit like fairlie - I made the scottish fudge from last week and now have caramel sauce - thick and gooey but definately not fudge.

I have frozen it - high sugar content so does not freeze and can see myself having a teaspoon on a hot afternoon when my blood sugar levels drop to new lows ... then I will soilder on thru dinner and nite time routines a new and improved mummy - cheers to you M and A le

Lesley said...

Four hours of stirring? Isn't that why one has below-stairs staff?

Brenda said...

I had never heard of this fruit before and had to look it up. I still do not know if this tree even grows in my country. I will keep trying to find out. I really enjoyed learning about it here on your blog. Thanks for sharing this!

Stacey said...

Hmm - I think I should have taken a few quinces to that Cup Day BBQ.

Jitterbug said...

I used to work for a non-profit museum that operated a historic jam kitchen, and I asked the kitchen manager one day which fruit was her least favorite to work with... quince, of course!

It does make the most delicious Paradise Jelly, though.