This is Jane’s latest book, which she has written with Sue Dunster. Quinces were once more common in Britain than apples; now many people don’t know what to do with them, where to buy them or even what they are. Slowly, over the last ten years or so, quinces have become more readily available. For a long time only farmers’ markets sold them, now increasingly green grocers and even supermarkets stock them. This is the quinces season and is the perfect time to acquaint yourself with this fruit which is delicious in both sweet and savoury dishes, can easily be preserved and will enhance a room with an unmistakable yet delicate fragrance.
The best way to get a good supply of quinces is to grow your own, although this year the harvest has been poor, with many trees only bearing a few fruits. Don’t be off put by this though, with any luck next year, quince trees will be laden with fruit. Quinces grow on attractive trees which never become unmanageably large and will improve any garden. They 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 blossom does not last long, but while it is in flower there is little that can rival it. 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. In Northern Europe the fruit never ripens sufficiently to be eaten raw, but is so delicious once cooked that this really does not matter. The trees are highly productive and fairly unfussy as to where they grow, in particular, the cultivar ‘Meech’s Prolific’ certainly lives up to its name. The trees self-pollinate which means you only need one to get fruit. They are largely disease free 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 to Aphrodite and it was said that quince trees grew up wherever she walked; they may also 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. Quinces came to Europe from Central Asia along the ancient trade routes and 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 sweet and savoury 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.
Even before you cook with them quinces can be used to scent a room. Once ripened, they are an attractive golden colour and will keep in a bowl giving off a delightful fragrance.
The first part of this book gives a brief history of quinces to put them into context in both the kitchen and the garden. A section on growing quince trees follows which gives all the information you need to select and care for a suitable cultivar. The final part covers storing, cooking and using the fruit, in both modern and historic recipes. Do not be put off by the fact that they usually need to be cooked, so do lots of other ingredients and the rewards for cooking quinces are enormous.
Quinces Growing and Cooking by Jane McMorland Hunter and Sue Dunster, Prospect Books. ISBN 9781909248410
I would obviously love everyone to buy this book. I would be especially happy if they bought or ordered it from a bookshop; bookshops are an endangered breed and, too late, we may be sorry when they disappear. Jane