My favourite medieval fruit is baaaack!
Two Saturdays ago, across the crowded farmers' market, I found them.
I'd been asking around since September, and then I was just standing at the fruit stand, about to buy pears, when I saw it: a basket of homely and bumpy quinces.
|Have you ever seen an uglier or more beautiful fruit?|
I don't think I actually jumped up and down (although it's certainly possible), but my excitement must have been fairly obvious because the girl next to me asked me what I was so excited about. So I waxed rhapsodic about quinces and I do believe I converted both her and the nice young man selling the fruit to this fuzzy-rock-hard-magical fruit.
I went a bit wild about quinces last year and the mania continues.
One of my favourite things about baking is how ingredients get together and transform themselves into cakes and soufflés and gratins – something completely new. Well, quinces do that all by their lonesome. (OK, a bit of water and sugar help them along.)
Last year, I gave you the recipe for quince almond cake and threw in a line about how you can just add a bit of extra sugar to the cooking liquid once the quinces are poached, forget about it boiling on the stove while you eat dinner, and suddenly you have a kind of firm quince jelly.
|"Done" bubbles – so quick and rolling they won't come into focus|
Well, I do understand that wasn't the most helpful instruction ever so I thought I'd make it a bit more scientific. I can now give you exact proportions and times to make quince jellies – because, let's face it, eating dinner might take a different amount of time at your house.
The jellies have a lovely set that is firm but as smooth as a lake on a clear day. The taste is hard to describe because it's so very quince: perfumed with a sort of tang that is unlike any other fruit.
We like eating the jellies neat for dessert, and also with crumbly sharp cheese on a cheese board. Their clear red colour is stunning – especially when you think about how you started with ugliest pieces of beige fruit known to man.
|Sylvan Star grizzly gouda & quince jellies on a cutting board my dad made me|
one year ago: quince almond cake and applesauce spice cake
two years ago: west african peanut soup via winnipeg and butter tarts
three years ago: seafood chowder for a cold autumn day
many thanks to clotilde at chocolate & zucchini for the poaching method
yields a 20-cm or 8-inch circle of jelly, which you can cut up as you please
1 kg. quince, about 4
1/2 pod vanilla (omit if you don't have)
80 g. (1/4 c. + 2 tbsp.) + 160 g. (3/4 c.) sugar
1 litre (4 c.) water
Rinse the quinces in warm water and use a cloth to gently rub off their fuzz. Then, take out your biggest and baddest knife and sharpen it – quinces are hard like wood. Once you've sharpened your knife, set it aside and get out your vegetable peeler. Peel the quince, then use your sharp knife to cut around the core and make pieces in the size you like (I like 2 – 3 cm squares).
Put the quince in a big pot and cover with 1 litre of water. Cut your vanilla bean in half and use a small knife to scrape out the seeds. Deposit these seeds and the bean pod in the water. Stir in the 80 g. of sugar. Bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, until the quinces are pink and soft, about an hour and a half for me, possibly longer for you. They should yield easily to a sharp knife and be edible at this point.
While the quinces are poaching, get out a big bowl and two strainers*: one regular pasta strainer and one fine-mesh sieve. Place the big strainer over the big bowl. Once the quinces are soft, strain them over the bowl. Set aside the fruit for your next cake or breakfast** (removing the vanilla bean).
Wash the pot the quinces were cooking in to get rid of any extra grainy matter. Rinse it well! Set the fine-mesh sieve over it and strain the cloudy liquid through it. Now you should have clear liquid in the clean pot. Stir in 160 g. of sugar. Boil uncovered over medium-low, stirring when you feel like it.
At first, the bubbles will be small and pop up from the bottom. While you're waiting, get out a shallow pot (about 20 cm or 8 inches). Set it nearby. When the liquid is ready, in about 20 minutes***, it will suddenly be darker and bubbles will be big and tangled and overwhelm the liquid.
Pour it into the shallow pot to stop the cooking process. Wait about 20 minutes, until it's completely cooled and firm. Run a clean butter knife around the edge and invert it (with a bit of help) onto a plate. Use that butter knife to cut it into jelly pieces. Serve alone, as dessert, or with a crumbly sharp cheese, like very old gouda.
You may keep it in the fridge a sealed container for a long time.
*If you have a large fine-mesh sieve, you can skip the first strainer. My fine-mesh sieve is too small to hold all the fruit.
** The poached quince is very nice for breakfast with a dollop of thick Greek yogourt and honey
*** If you double the recipe, it may take twice as long.