Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Quinces


quince pate de fruit
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.



Pretty much everyone has their weakness when it comes to fruits and vegetables. You can spot these weaknesses at the grocery store. Just keep your eyes open for someone filling their shopping cart with unseemly amounts of, say, mandarin oranges, or burying the check-out counter under absurd amounts of mirabelle plums. I happen to have several of these weaknesses: peas, pomegranates, sour cherries, blood oranges, and quinces. Luckily their seasons are spread out, so I almost always have something to obsess over. At the moment, I've been stalking the greengrocers in search of perfectly ripe quinces, preferably cheap ones.

For something that is both inedible in its raw form and extremely hardy, quinces are generally hugely overpriced. Perhaps it is because of their relative semi-obscurity that grocers are able to sell them as something exotic. $3.00 a piece is far too much for a fruit that would, and should, grow in any Quebec garden. I am willing to pay for fragile fruits shipped for miles and miles from the tropics, but not quinces. Quinces are a magical fruit, and their scent alone is worth any price, but I was pretty happy last Saturday when I found a place selling them for $1.00 each. I bought 20.

At Christmastime, I place a few quinces around the house and wait for their amazing scent to reach every corner, one that is nicely offset with the scent that comes from oranges studded with cloves. But you shouldn't leave it at that. You have to cook quinces to discover their full potential. Recently, I've been busy putting away several jars of quince-hazelnut preserve and spiced quince butter. I can think of no better holiday condiment. Ooh, the butter spread on pannetone. A must.

Last year I made the quince paste from Chez Panisse's fruit cookbook. It was a big hit with guests. We served it as a sweet after dinner, but it is equally excellent with cheese, or champagne--or both. I made another batch this year, with even better results. Don't be afraid of overcooking the fruit, that's essentially what you want. This will keep for a year in an airtight container.

Quince Paste

3 lbs. quinces, peeled, cored, and diced *
3 cups water
2 cups sugar, plus more for dusting
juice of one lemon

Bring quinces to a boil in the water until they are very soft. Pass through a mill or sieve.

Add sugar to puree and simmer on medium heat, stirring constantly. I recommend using a bigger pot than you need to prevent getting a thousand tiny burns on your hands. The mixture will thicken and bubble a lot. Be careful. Cook until it can be mounded up in a pile, about 45 min. Add lemon juice and pour onto an oiled piece of parchment paper in a tray. Smooth out to 1/4" thick. Let cool. Reverse it onto a new piece of parchment paper and let dry overnight. Cut into squares and toss in sugar. Store in an airtight container.

Note: My paste was still a little sticky after one night. I cut it into squares, tossed it in sugar and let it dry overnight again. Now they are perfect.

* If you are super industrious, you will save the peels and cores and make quince jelly. I have yet to be so industrious.

m

7 comments:

Iso G. said...

The picture you paint is a gloriously aromatic one. I'll do what I can to find them here in Wellington. Not sure how easy that will be, but I'm up for the challenge. I mean, I can find Quince paste, but the source fruit is a bit harder to come by. Thanks for the continuing inspiration.

michelle said...

I seem to recall that Australia's and NZ's climates are great for quinces. It might be worth asking your neighbours and colleagues. One never knows what others have in their garden: and quince trees are incredible when they are in flower. Real showpieces. Good luck with your quest.

Anonymous said...

I have two quince trees and buckets of quince which I have always just given away. Will try your "paste". Too bad I'm in CA or could give you some.

michelle said...

Dang. I could sure use some windfall quinces right now.

Christina from down under. said...

I make quince jam, paste and jelly every year.
Just bought 16 kg of the most glorious quince I have ever laid my eyes on. They were picture perfect and not a black spot on any of them.
There were so many....... I had to deal with them in 2 batches. (what was I thinking?)
I quarter the fruit, core and peel it. I blanch the fruit and pop it in the freezer. I cook the cores and skin and collect the strained juice. I now have 4 liters of juice in the freezer which I will make some jelly with at a later date.
Yesterday I dealt with the other half. It's all cooked and strained. Ready to go.
Today I will be busy cooking jelly with the 5 liters of juice I've collected and turning all that cooked fruit into jam and paste.
I have been going through this ritual every autumn for the past 4 years. I'm obsessed with quince.
We are lucky here in Melbourne, Australia. Quince are reasonably priced and relatively easy to source if you don't have a tree.
Oh and btw the chickens are loving all those cooked quince peels and cores. Maybe we'll get some rosé colored eggs!!.

Anonymous said...

Going to try this Quince paste recipe. We just picked our quince for the season right before the first hard frost and so far have only made jelly with it. They smell wonderful and if nothing else, you can set them in a bowl and scent the whole room, very wonderful fragrance. Friends were laughing at me as we have now a rather large tree and many, many fruit to process but well worth it. Thanks for this great recipe!

Anonymous said...

I have been making quince compote with a bit of sugar, chopped up quince, vanilla and raisins, currents or cranberries. It takes no time and voila, something delicious topped with plain yogurt, ice cream or whatever you fancy. Quince chutney may be in the making tomorrow. I wish I had a quince tree, maybe next year. At my farmer's market, the quinces are in a bucket on the ground and sell for 50 cents a lb! At the coop, they are 3.99/lb, and no one buys them.