- Life & Style
- Books & TV
Autumn may see the end of summer stone fruits, but we are soon compensated with a bounty of later harvest fruits rich in character and taste – the sweet, aromatic feijoa, fleshy figs and the season’s slightly knobbly golden prize, the quince. Quince is the kind of old-fashioned fruit you seldom see in the shops, but it is making a comeback. Old orchards are a good place to find quince trees and autumn is the time to check out the season’s harvest. Borne by trees reaching up to 8m high, quinces (Cydonia oblonga) look something like a cross between a pear and an apple (they are related to both). They have a wonderfully fragrant perfume; indeed, quinces were once popular as room deodorisers and they were also used to scent linen drawers.
Quince is a frost-hardy tree which requires a cold period below 7 degrees Celsius to flower properly. The tree is self-fertile and deciduous, and its fruit needs to be picked before the first frosts. The quince season starts in early autumn as the fruit turn from green to pale gold. They fall to the ground as they ripen but may also be harvested from the tree and will ripen further after picking. I planted our first quince tree in Wanaka about eight years ago and it has been fruiting for the past five years. The variety that does best for me is the Smyrna, of Turkish origin. It bears a huge crop – more than 300 fat, golden fruit.
Raw quince has a pale flesh, which is hard, sour and gritty, with an intense astringency. Given long, slow cooking with sugar, this transforms into a tender, sweet dessert of the deepest ruby hue. As with the alchemy of gloopy egg whites into cloud-like meringue, the metamorphosis of the quince is one of the more remarkable culinary transformations. Quinces can be used in small amounts to enhance and deepen the flavour of a variety of savoury or sweet dishes or to create delicious old-fashioned desserts and preserves. In Medieval times, quince marmalade was popular in Britain. Peeled and quartered fruits were boiled in red wine, strained, boiled again in honey and spiced wine, then after cooling and setting, sliced into pieces and served as a dessert in the same way as ‘membrillo’ (quince paste) is eaten in Spain today. Quinces have long been used as a herbal medicine. Even today in Iran and other parts of the Middle East, the dried pits of the fruit are soaked in boiling water and used to treat sore throats and coughs.
These are some of my favourite recipes for quinces:
Generic content for all other countries not on the list.
Get VIP offers and great foodie inspiration!