Quinces: a real treat for autumn

The quince is regrettably rare nowadays in the northern parts of Europe. I think I only know of it, because when I was a child one of our neighbours had a tree in their garden. You never saw it for sale in a greengrocer or a supermarket.
Later of course I have realised how important a fruit it is for the Mediterranean kitchen. But when the neighbour’s wife would bring us a shopping bag full of quinces each year in November or December, we knew Christmas was coming.
Because Mom would make “quince bread” – a paste of quince fruit, dried up, covered in chocolate and served as a candy at Christmas time.
Of course telling a Spaniard about covering the fruit jelly from a quince with chocolate makes them wince. In Spain, the fruit jelly from quinces are the accompaniment for cheeses or other salty dishes.

Anyway – I have been looking forward to autumn in recent years in Belgium when the first quinces would show – preferably tasty, aromatic ecologically grown ones. In Belgium quinces of quite good quality are grown in Limburg – together with all the other fruit in Belgium.
For me the best way to use them – and the easiest – is for me to make a jelly (gelé) of quinces.If you have bought the fruit early and kept it to ripen, the quinces will have developed a sort of feathery layer on the skin. This is no problem – just wash it off.
For two kilos of the fruit you cut them up in not too small pieces and cover them with water and allow to boil until it is a like a compote. You may need to add water as the boiling can take quite a long time, before the fruits have become soft – easily 50 mins.
Put the compote in a strainer with a cheese cloth or the like, to allow the juices to drip out. You need to leave it standing over night or longer. Give it the time it needs. The next day you add 3/4 of sugar for each liter of strained juice that you have. The experts disagree on how much sugar. Some say a kilo to a liter. I would suggest start with 3/4 kilo and add more if you find the taste is not sweet enough. You also add juice of a lemon. You put it to the boil and when you have tested that it has reached the right consistency (a drop on a cold plate needs to firm up) you take it off the boil and put it in jars or glasses.
Should the jelly not set you may have to add some extra pectin – you can buy that at the supermarket. However, quinces are quite reach in pectin so as long as you boil everything from the quince – skin, meat and core – you should not have any problems.
However, my mother would then use the leftovers of the fruit. You put the pulp through a blender or the like, you sieve it to make sure no large pips remain and you and add the same amount of sugar as you have fruit pulp. You boil it more to get it soft and to dissolve the sugar. Then you spread it in a thin layer on flat plates. Cover and leave to stand for days if not weeks until it has dried up as fruit candy and can be cut. Alternatively you can put it in the oven at low temperature for while to dry it up.

Eat it either as it is or cover with chocolate and Christmas has arrived.

Finally quinces also have a great use in the salty kitchen. Many recipes for Tajines include quinces and you can also make a salty, vinegary pickle with quinces. In other words a quite versatile fruit that deserves more attention.


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