October, Novermber is the time of year when quince appear in my local market in Tarascon. They’re not cultivated commercially like apples or pears, so you’ll have to look out for them and most probably will find them on a paysanne or small holder’s stall, who will have picked them that morning from his own tree. Whenever I see them, I have to buy them, as much for the way they look as for their unique taste.
People are no longer familiar with this strange, gnarled looking pear with its fuzzy coating. But in the 16th and 17th centuries it was much more prevalent and often formed the centre piece for the ‘dessert’, which was served in grand houses after dinner and often in a separate room. It would consist of a spread of candied fruits and nuts, served with spiced wine, to the pride of the host and the wonder of the guest as sugar was a new import to Europe and so expensive and rare it was called ‘white gold’. Today this custom still remains as part of the traditional Provençal Christmas when les treize desserts, (thirteen different types of dried and candied fruits and nuts of which pâte de coin, quince paste, is one) are laid out on a table to be nibbled during the festivities and between going to Mass.
But what to do with this hard, unyielding fruit today, when sugar is so ubiquitous it has become the scurge of the Western, obese, World? It isn’t palatable raw and the soft furriness of its skin will make your lips curl.
The answer is to pair it with other fruit, giving a fragrant dimension to apples in a compôt or a crumble and adding an exotic flavour to a pork stew or a lamb tagine. Or do as the Elisabethans and Jacobeans did and make a jelly to be be eaten with meats, along with a quince cheese, the English name for pâte de coing or membrillo as it is called in Spain. Both can be made at the same time, the jelly is made with the water that the quince has simmered in and the pâte is made from the strained fruit.
Quince Paste and Quince Jelly with Rose Water
- 4 or 5 quinces (or as many as you have)
- 1 lemon, zest and juice (organic is best)
- 1Vanilla Pod, (Ndali Fairtrade)
- 1 tbsp. Rose Water (Steenbergs Organic Rose Water)
- Approx. 1.5 k. sugar
Wash the quinces, rubbing off the furry outer layer, but do not peel. Core the pears putting the cores and pips into a muslin cloth and tie with string and cut into medium sized pieces. (If you’re not making jelly and using a mouli, there’s no need to core the quinces).
Put the fruit into a large heavy based pan, add the lemon zest and juice, along with the vanilla pod and the bag of pips and cores. Cover with water, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer slowly until the fruit is very soft and the house is filled with a spicy citrus smell. This can take up to an hour.
Let the fruit cool and then drain the liquid through a collinder, double lined with muslin, or a jelly bag if you have one. Leave for at least four hours or overnight, without pushing down on the fruit, as this will make the jelly cloudy.
Put a saucer into the freezer and then measure the juice and add 450ml sugar to 600ml juice and put into a clean pan. Slowly heat the pan to melt the sugar, then turn the heat up high to a rolling boil. Stand by, making sure the syrup doesn’t boil over and after five minutes or so (I find it usually takes quite a lot longer) put a few drops onto the frozen saucer, let it sit for a minute and then push with your finger to test if it has set. The syrup will wrinkle when its ready. Next take it from the heat and skim off the foam (you can add a dollop of butter to dissipate the rest if you want a perfectly foam free jelly) add the Rose Water and pour into sterilised jars (I wash the jars with hot water and then put them in the oven at 100°c whilst the syrup is cooking). Screw on the lids and leave to cool.
Next make the quince paste. Whizz the fruit into a mouli or food processor and measure the amount of fruit you have and add 750g to every kilo of fruit.
Put the sugar and the fruit into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then turn up the heat and keep stirring, so it doesn’t burn. Beware the sugar and fruit will splutter and spit and can burn your skin, so its best to wrap a towel around your hand. Keep stirring for 30-45 minutes until its thick enough that when you drag the spoon along the bottom of the pan, it leaves a gap, (like the parting of the seas).
Pour the mixture into a tin lined with parchment paper and leave to cool and set over night.Then cut into squares and wrap in parchment paper and foil and keep in the fridge.
I love the slightly gritty texture of pâte de coing eaten as it is in Spain with a salty cheese and even if it is packed with sugar, a little goes a long way and it makes a great gift to give to my friends in Provence for Christmas to add to their table of treize desserts.
Recipe adapted from the BBC Goodfood magazine
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