When I think of a Quince, I picture it being dressed up in Armour, wielding a mace and being patted on the back by Henry XIII for adding a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to his epic feasts. Far fetched perhaps, but this fruit has regal properties about it…a seat at the round table perhaps?
The Quince is one of those forgotten medieval fruits slowly clawing a comeback in Britain, you know, like the Medlar. It’s a fruit of still life paintings, jellies and delightful blossom. Fortunately for us, the Spaniards have taken it and turned into something a little better than a preserve. In Britain, we have a terrible habit of imprisoning hedgerow fruit in a jam jar with sugar…I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I am guilty of jarring up more members of the wild larder than most, but perhaps it is time indulge in more continental practices: take the raw inedible, and force it to be desirable on the palate, asap.
The Quince has an exquisite aroma about it, sweet and moreish, which is somewhat deceiving considering an inquisitive nibble on the fruit will have give you a face like Kenneth Williams getting into a hot bath. Tartness has never been so filthy, pectin has never been so high and the amount of sugar needed to make it edible so humungous. But this is a fruit with history and grandeur: it needs to be recognised.
Yes I bought the manchego prepared to sample my first block of membrillo, having hyped up this Hispanic classic in my mind to foolish proportions, I was actually a bit disappointed with the first bite. It was good, but something was missing. I was certainly convinced that making membrillo was the best way to go, what I wasn’t prepared for was my unyielding habit of grubbing through fridge and larder in search of adding value, there it was: Three bright red Jalapenos standing prouder than a honeymooner’s John Thomas on the window sill…Quince chili jam was born, and my goodness was it good.
Whilst in France I went down to San Sebastian and dropped into the local Supermarket, where they had at least 20 different types of pre-packed membrillo, the Pintxos bars also had it spread on bread with allsorts of toppings- popular stuff indeed. Although the Spanish may hold a chili in one hand and membrillo in the other, there was no sign of them putting their hands together. So, if you can find some quinces that haven’t bletted in the frigid temperatures (best of luck), get your hands on some and see below:
1.5kgs of quinces (washed, cut in half and cored)
1 vanilla pod (split lengthways)
4 strips of orange peel
Juice of half an orange
800g white granulated sugar
This recipe makes a fair amount of the stuff, which will last for a long time in the fridge. Effectively you are making a jam of sorts, for the Quince chili jam, simply transfer a generous jam jar full into a separate sauce pan before putting the membrillo in the oven: add two finely chopped chilies- seeds and all and combine on a low heat for 10-15 mins.
Firstly, don’t bother peeling the quinces- a ball ache of the nth degree, just wash, chop in half and de-seed. Place them in a big pan with the orange peel and split vanilla pod and add water till they are just covered. Bring to the boil and simmer for 40-50 minutes until a fork will slide into them quite comfortably.
Drain the quinces, discard the orange peel and but keep the vanilla pod (scrape clean), push all the quinces through a sieve into a pan, so you have a wonderful puree, place over a low heat and add the sugar. Stir until it is dissolved then add the orange juice and the contents of the vanilla pod.
Simmer on a low heat for 1 ½ hours; gradually the puree will turn a deep orangy-red (think toffee apples). At this point preheat an oven to 125C and pour the quince paste into a greaseproof-papered shallow dish (now is the time to put aside what you need for the Quince Chili Jam). Place dish in the oven for an hour or so to help it dry. Remove and allow to cool.
Traditionally served on a chunk of bread with a piece of Manchego cheese on top, can also be stored for time and used in gravies, puddings etc. versatile stuff!
I am now back from France for Christmas, having dealt with 4 days of being stranded in London, good socially but not laboriously, I eventually made the 40 minute train journey to Sussex. British Infrastructure is an utter pile of shit…as if we are not used to a spot of inclement weather.
Due to said ‘severe’ weather I had to rearrange some book signings, I will now be at Haywards heath waterstones on the 17th and Waterstones Chichester on the 18th hope to see you there. Oh and The Treehouse Diaries makes a great Christmas present too, Shameless plugging ahoy!