Jane McMorland Hunter and Sue Dunster, Quinces; Growing and Cooking
2014, Prospect Books £9.99
These fruits have become undeservedly forgotten. This book tells their fascinating story, shows how to grow them and includes an inviting range of recipes. The trees do not require much space and would enhance any garden, whatever size. The fruits are delicious and versatile and the recipes here extend well beyond jellies and jams, including sweets, savouries and even drinks.
Out of season quinces are impossible to obtain and even in season they are usually only available at the more inspired farmers’ markets and a few selective shops. This seems a sorry state of affairs. The easy solution is to grow your own quinces and the purpose of this book is to encourage everyone to do exactly that. Quinces grow on attractive trees which never become unmanageably large and can even be grown in containers. In late spring the trees are covered with the most exquisite, fragrant blossom. This ranges from white to pale pink and is set against a backdrop of furry grey-green leaves. The trees themselves grow in a twisty, slightly mad, but attractive manner, although some varieties can be trained against a wall in an espalier or fan. The fruit appears in late summer and ripens towards the end of autumn. The trees are highly productive and fairly unfussy as to where they grow. They self-pollinate which means you only need one to get fruit. They are largely disease free, fruit reliably most years and will live to a great age, enhancing your garden and providing you with a scrumptious crop in return for little input.
Quinces were reputed to be the fruit which Paris gave Aphrodite and it was said that quince trees grew up wherever she walked. They may have been the infamous fruits on the Tree of Wisdom in the Garden of Eden. Much later Edward Lear’s Owl and Pussycat dined on them at their wedding feast. They originally came to Europe from Central Asia where they still grow wild in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains in Turkestan and Iran. They have been used in Persian cooking for over 2500 years, but probably reached Britain in the13th century where they appear in recipes for pies sweetened with honey.
Quinces are deliciously sweet and scented when cooked. They contain a high level of pectin and can therefore easily be made into jams and jellies. Originally marmalade was made from quinces coming from the Portuguese word for the fruit, marmelo. A little goes a long way and the addition of a few slices will transform many dishes. They combine particularly well with apples and pears, but will also go with almonds, oranges and even mulberries, if you can get them. They can be made into cakes, tarts, biscuits and custards. They are used in many Mediterranean and Central Asian savoury dishes including chicken, pork and all types of game. They can be stuffed with meat and used to flavour savoury tarts. There is so much more to them than just the jelly and membrillo commonly found in delicatessens.
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