|~ January blossom on Chaenomeles x superba 'Crimson and Gold' ~|
Why am I writing about quince now, when the season for quince harvesting has passed? Well, one of my lovely nieces is getting wed tomorrow and her fiancé proposed with the gift of a runcible spoon, so owls, pussycats, quince and spoons have loomed large in my week as I've made quince jam for the wedding feast and also had to pick up the emergency baton of designing her Order of Service and wedding breakfast menu cards after her graphic designer went awol.
An enduring memory from last January was the sight of fallen fruit under the Chaenomeles x superba shrub in the Capel Gardens. The class was trotting briskly around in the snow in mid-January doing the plant ident walk; this plant was one of the few shrubs offering winter interest with its deep red blossom but my eye was drawn to the fruit which looked very edible.
|Japanese quince in November 2013|
Spin forward to late summer and thoughts of quince resurfaced when my niece's fiancé produced the vintage runcible spoon. (The Tiffany jewel duly appeared after a trip to New York.) I kept a watch on the shrub with thoughts of making a quince preserve, otherwise known by its Spanish name of Membrillo, and was rewarded with a 2kg haul of fruit in mid-November. The fruits are usually ripe by early October but last year was a bit skewed, weather-wise.
The preparation is relatively simple but needs time. An internet search* caused confusion, particularly with regard to the ratio of sugar to pulp or liquid. Eventually, a decision was made - and it turns out quite a few folk have a sweeter tooth than me! For my second batch, I used less sugar and added spices: star anise, cinnamon, juniper berries, cardamom and a vanilla pod. I read that quince jelly is a great addition to Morrocan stews and tagines, or served with lamb in place of redcurrant jelly. Has anyone tried using it this way? Or you can use it as a chutney, in sandwiches or with cheese. My favourite is with Manchego, a salty Spanish cheese; luckily there are a lot of crackers to be used up after Christmas.
Chopped quince fruit can also be steeped in water with a little sugar for a healthy hot drink, packed with vitamin C; it tastes surprisingly good, like apple flavoured lemon tea. (This tip came from a Lithuanian friend whose mother made the tea to keep the family healthy throughout the year.)
I've now made both membrillo and quince jelly and found that they keep very well in the fridge or sealed jars, as you'd expect. As I used Chaenomeles fruit, rather than fruit from Cydonia oblonga, the true quince tree, I was curious to know how the taste compared so bought a slice from Waitrose (where else?). There is a very slight difference, the true quince membrillo being slightly more perfumed and that's enough for me. Naturally, I want it all, so a quince tree went onto my plant wishlist … and there's good news on that front from the veg patch's friends at Victoriana Nurseries in Kent. They are giving me a quince tree for the community garden! I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful start to 2014!
For future reference, these are the blogs I found helpful for recipes:
Edible Things - recipes for quince brandy, jam and a clear jelly.
Cottage Smallholder who recommends oven baking quince to add to pies.
Oh for the Love of Food who writes of her mum's quince chutney recipe.
Veg Plotting - writes of roasted quince with a link to quince tart.
Or there's always The River Cottage Preserves handbook. I never knew there were so many ways to preserve edibles. Excellent.