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Bounty Part 4: Quincicles

This has been a challenging one to blog about: my photography skills, as pathetic as they are, really didn’t have a hope here. Quinces are wonderful, and I had no idea because they are not an attractive fruit.

They look a little bit like pears, if pears were huge, hard, nobbly-bottomed, and hairy. And also completely inedible when unripe.

Fat and fuzzy!

In fact, if I hadn’t tasted a friend’s homemade quince paste, I would have lumped quinces into “too hard, not interested” basket. Actually, I would have need to invent such a basket first, and then put the quinces in it. Mumini and Dadini rent a property with a wandering creek which, to my noisy, unending joy, wanders through a grove of wild fig and quince trees. The quince crop has been particularly abundant this year, and so Mumini forced a bagful into my somewhat reluctant hands. After all, I already had an enormous bag of figs: why would I want quinces, the ugly stepsister of the pear? (Actually, if you’ve got an enormous bag of figs, you could extend that question to “why would I want to do anything ever again except cram my fighole?”) Allow me to cut to the revelation: if someone offers you a huge bag of free quinces, you fucking take it and run. Maybe not as fast as you would with a huge bag of free figs, but still, run, before they change their mind.

First I rubbed all their fluff off. If you’re peeling and discarding the peel, this isn’t really necessary — but quince peel is loaded with pectin, that precious substance that thickens and gels jams, jellies and any other fruity nectar. If you’ve got any jam-making planned, quince peel is an excellent addition.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with mine, and jam-making was an option I was considering, so I spent five minutes rubbing all the fur off. Side note: why does nature make furry fruit anyway? Is there an evolutionary purpose to fur on fruit?

I decided to keep my quince-experimenting fairly low-key. I peeled, cored and chopped, then stewed them in a little water and spices. I put the peels and cores in a bag in the saucepan to encourage the liquid to thicken and become sauce. Quinces cook really slowly, and gradually change colour from a dirty creamy colour, to a kind of yellow, then, finally, as they become tender and take on the spices, they become dusky apricot-pink.

Even less sexy!

They still are not very pretty to photograph. Not if you’re me. If you’re David Lebovitz (ooooh, check out his quince tarte tatin), they seem to present no problems. And oh, God, check out what you get on food gawker if you search for quince (link is NSFW if beautiful food photography makes you moan in an unseemly way). Incredible.

Where was I? Oh yes. My very pretty but not very photogenic results are unbelievably delicious and I’m already onto my second batch. Served warm with yoghurt, figs and carrot cake for breakfast it is seriously good. The flavour is incredible: Think of a strongly-flavoured pear with rose and flower flavours, plus a little lemon and you’re getting pretty close. Cook them as slowly and tenderly as you can: they’re such a hard fruit that they take a while anyway, but I think when you stew fruit you should take your time — it lets the spices infuse more thoroughly and makes the house smell good. If you want larger chunks of fruit, you’ll obviously need to take plenty of time and let it simmer even more slowly — maybe consider baking them in the oven in plenty of liquid, at a fairly low temperature.

(Also, when can we come up with a better term than “stewed fruit”? I know we can say “compote”, but that’s just too close to “compost”. Can’t we do better? What about “soft-poached fruit”? That’s not bad. Maybe we could go for something with an exotic twist: like the Moroccan word for “squished” or something.)

The trees are still groaning with fruit, and I predict there will be more quinces and more figs in my future. The abundance of this autumn is fantastic. Maybe some quince paste will be on the cards after all.

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