Ambrosia

Hurrah! The quinces in the garden are ready to be picked. There is nothing as glorious as the sweet perfume of quince filling the air – simply ambrosia.

quince

I hope you didn’t think I was referring to the ambrosia of my childhood, that tinned fruit salad with mini-marshmallows and shredded coconut that appeared on the Thanksgiving table alongside the cranberry jello mold. Not quite in the same league as the quince!

I used to think that quince were quaint, old-fashioned fruits that no one under the age of eighty had tasted (or wanted to). This image, I’m sure, was due in part to a forlorn quince tree in my grandmother’s garden that was so ancient it was long past its fruit-bearing years. All I can say is thank goodness first-hand for exposure to Mediterranean cuisine where the quince is eaten in both sweet and savory dishes. My image of the quince took a radical turn for the better.

The beautiful qualities of quince are eloquently phrased by Diana Henry in her fabulous cookbook Crazy Water Pickled Lemon. To her, quinces (figs, pomegranates and dates) are “fruits of longing” embodying an ancient mystique combined with the sensual properties of the exotic and the erotic. Great PR. That’s a much more provocative – and accurate – image!

So, one of the first things I did when planning my garden here in Northern England was to plant a quince tree. I have been rewarded ever since. Though if you aren’t lucky enough to have a quince tree (or know someone who does), quinces can generally be found in Middle Eastern food shops.

Last year I made quince pickle from Nigel Slater’s luscious fruit-filled cookbook, Tender vol.II. They are so good! Roast pork won’t be the same without them. I’ll probably make more as the quince harvest continues, but for now, I have in mind a variation on my grandmother’s classic Brandied Peaches. I still remember those jars of peaches that would come out as a special treat during the Christmas holidays.

In fact, a jar of brandied quinces might make the perfect holiday gift for a “quince-aholic” friend.

Brandied Quince
These remind me of the quince brandy I make by infusing grated quince with sweetened brandy and letting it mature for months before straining and bottling.

Makes about 4 pints

  • 12 Small to Medium size Quince
  • 2 Lemons
  • 4 cups Sugar
  • 4 cups Water
  • 1 Cinnamon stick, about 8 inches long broken in quarters
  • 8 Whole Cloves
  • 1/2 cup Brandy

Juice the lemons and set in a bowl to the side. Peel and core the quinces. This is a laborious process and will require (what my grandmother would call) a bit of elbow grease. The fruit is hard-fleshed and is not meant to be eaten raw. The best way to core them is to cut them in half lengthwise before you peel. Use an apple corer to cut out central core and area around the seeds, proceeding from top and bottom of the fruit. After each half is cored and then peeled, brush with lemon juice to minimize discoloration.

In a large, wide pot, add sugar, water and the whole spices. Bring to a boil until you have a light syrup, approximately 3 minutes.

Lower heat to a simmer and add the quince. Poach fruit for anywhere between 20 to 35 minutes. The quinces will be done when they are softened and can be easily pierced completely through with a bamboo skewer or toothpick, but not so soft they are falling apart.

Lift the quinces out with a slotted spoon and pack in clean warm pint jars.

Add the brandy to the syrup, increase heat and let reduce slightly, about 10 minutes. Pour the syrup over the packed quince. Tuck the whole spices evenly in the jars, topping up with more brandy, if needed, to cover the fruit. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes to create a vacuum. Label and date when cool.

brandied_quince_2013

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