10 Jan 2014

A tasty Quince-essential shrub...

Or, as I read elsewhere, Quince Charming.

 ~ 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 
I remarked to our tutor about the yellow fruits rotting under the bush. Oh, yes, she said, those are edible, they're known as Japanese quince. I tucked this information away in my head for further research and future use.

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.

31 comments:

  1. We have a quince tree Meeches Prolific cydonia and we love the fruit in a pie or crumble. It's also a very attractive tree. We have a Chaenomeles in the garden but have never used the fruit, We do like tagines though so maybe we should try next year, Hope the housing woman stays away from your new tree as the fruits are harder than pears!

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    1. Oh how wonderful to have a quince tree! I've heard that the blossom is very attractive which was another reason to want one. You'll find the Chaenomeles fruit a lot easier to prepare, they're easily cut with a sharp knife - give it a go in the autumn, would love to hear what you think! I'll be sure to keep a watch out for the over zealous housing officer!

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    2. I wrote about our quinces on my web page here and blog post here where there are photos of the flowers.

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    3. Thanks for the links Sue. I couldn't open the first one but the second page was very useful and informative. So, it took 2 years to get the first real batch of 14 fruits - I'm wondering how big your tree is now, four years after planting? It would be good to know so I can judge the best place to plant mine. The tree I'm getting is 'Champion' which can be kept at 8 feet but, if not, will ultimately reach about 12 feet. Exciting times!

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    4. I've update the link on my blog and will try for a photo today that shows its size. The photos that I have maybe have no reference points.

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    5. I took the photos in
      this link this afternoon - hope you can access. The tree is about 7 feet high

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    6. Thanks for that Sue - yes, I was able to access the photos; the shed makes a good reference point and it seems that your tree is a good manageable size. I can think of a couple of places where it would be happy. Interesting to see that you haven't cut your lavender back either! Mine needs doing but I'm going to wait and see if the end of January brings a freeze first1

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    7. I usually cut the lavender back in early spring leaving the old bits ion to protect a bit from frost.

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  2. I'm also a fan of the Spanish-style one, with cheese - and perhaps a glass of Port...

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    1. Funny you should say that, Mark - friends of the happy couple have generously donated port to go with the cheese tomorrow so I'll be able to sample that particular combination. I'm not generally a fan of port but have had it before at Naval dinners that my bro used to drag me along to! (Years ago, before he was married!)

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  3. Oh what a unique contribution to the wedding feast Caro - hope that bride and groom have a long and happy life together with much dancing by the light of the moon.

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    1. Ah, thank you Anna! The bride and groom are both so lovely that I'm sure there will be lots of dancing under moonlit skies! I wouldn't have thought of membrillo if the runcible spoon hadn't sparked off a chain of poetic inspired events. I do hope no-one turns up in a pea green boat, although Ealing hasn't had any floods that I know of!

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  4. Manchego and membrillo for lunch is one of my happiest memories of my trips to Mallorca. My mate Mark (the other Chippenham blogger) and I have an annual tradition of swapping a jar of apple jelly (mine) for a jar of quince (his). Mark's quince jelly is made from the Chaenomeles hedge he has at the front of his house. I've also used them (also a gift from Mark) to make quince tart. I have a pukka quince tree in a pot and I know you're going to love it. The flowers are indeed lovely, but I've yet to have some fruit from my infant tree.

    Have a wonderful wedding and may the bride and groom have a long and happy life together. I'm assuming they're sailing away to the land where the bong tree grows for their honeymoon ;)

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    1. Ah, now that's got to be the next milestone, Michelle - eating membrillo in Spain! I'm sure the ambience and sunshine will only increase the pleasure! I love the idea of an edible hedge - if not Chaenomeles then Rosa rugosa for the hips! I'd love the recipe for your quince tart and also to know how Mark makes his quince jelly - there are a lot of variations out there! Recipes are one area when personal recommendations carry a lot of weight!
      Thank you for your good wishes for the wedding - I think bong trees will be on the cards but hopefully the vicar tomorrow won't suffer a comparison with a piggy-wig!

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    2. I've just read back through your blog, Michelle, and found your posts on quince. I've added them to the list of links at the end of my post. Thanks for the inspiration - loving the look of that quince tarte tatin!

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  5. Well, I never knew my Chaenomeles fruit were edible!
    Have a lovely day tomorrow.

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    1. Seriously? :) Hope this post has inspired you to try a few recipes next autumn! They're best taken from the bush when the fruit comes away easily rather than waiting for them to languish on the ground - same as for apples - so it's probably too late for this year. I rather like the sound of VP's quince tart!

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  6. A quince tree, how wonderful, lucky you. We had the quince shrub in the garden when I was little. My father used to make quince wine, and the pulp was used to make quince jelly as well, which was really delicious. Hope you have a really good weekend and that you enjoy the wedding. How wonderful to be given a runcible spoon with a proposal!

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    1. Ooh I like the sound of quince wine! It seems this is a very versatile shrub! I'm wondering now if you ate your childhood quince jelly as a savoury or sweet treat? I've read quince jelly, if set firm enough, can be dipped in chocolate or just eaten as a sweet! I'd need to have a very sweet tooth for that!
      The runcible spoon is a very typical gesture from the groom but a lovely one! He searched high and low for it in antique shops … aww, bless! I'm sure the wedding day will be really enjoyable - thank you and hope you have a lovely weekend too, CJ!

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  7. I have never seen Japanese quince before. Maybe there are some in high land tropics as an introduction plants. Thanks for sharing

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    1. Hello Endah! I hope you weren't too puzzled by the references to Owls, pussycats and spoons in association with the quince! In case you ARE puzzling, this all comes from a nonsense poem by Edward Lear about an owl and pussycat who run off together to be married … and dine on 'slices of quince'! I looked up the origins of Chaenomeles and discovered that it is a shrub which hails from East Asia, ie, Japan, China and Korea. It's now grown all over the world. An internet search using the Latin name, will tell you more!

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  8. What a lovely story, best wishes to you all today for your wedding!
    My Chaenomeles only produces one or two fruits so they gat added to crumbles with another fruit, one day maybe, I will have enough to do something more exciting with them.

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    1. Thank you, Pauline! I'm writing post-wedding and it was a lovely day. Gosh what a lot of work went into it, especially by the bride and groom! I like the idea of adding a couple of japanese quince to a crumble; I imagine that would be just enough to add a hint of the flavour. Good to know, especially if you don't have the time to make a batch of jelly!

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  9. I've never tried quince but I should think the shrub earns its place in the garden because of the beautiful flowers it produces without even considering the bonus of fruit. I hope everyone's having a wonderful day today and that the bride and groom have many happy years ahead of them.

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    1. Yes, I've heard the flowers are beautiful and am hoping everything I've heard is true! Thanks for good wishes for my niece's wedding, Jo - it was a lovely day, so much attention to detail and with (unusually) great speeches. Who knows what the future holds but, for now, it all looks very positive!

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  10. Fabulous post. Thanks especially for making the distinction between flowering and the fruiting quinces. Congrats on adopting a Cydonia Oblonga. USA fruities have declared 2014 the "Year of the Quince!" The fruit's revival is happening across the pond.

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    1. Hello and thank you! Lovely to have 2014 adopt a fruit, especially quince! I hope to see a lot of postings about this on US blogs! Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment!

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  11. Oh I do love all things home made and that jelly jam has me drooling. I can almost smell the spices from here. How fab to get the tree, I have to admit to never having tasted quince. Shame on me eh....xxx

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    1. Not at all, Snowbird! I'd never heard of quince (apart from the poem!) let alone tasted it until I started down this particular road! One batch of jam didn't set properly, despite extensive boiling, so as a bonus I have a couple of jars of exceptionally delicious compote! Lovely over porridge or rice or yogurt!

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  12. Father Christmas very kindly put a quince tree in my stocking this year but I fear it will be a few years before I get any fruits so I will have plenty of time to look up suitable recipes.

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    1. Ah Father Christmas has indeed been good to you, Elaine! We'll have to compare notes on our new charges as they grow! Sue, above, tells of having a couple of fruits from her quince tree in the first year so, fingers crossed, eh! We might be lucky!

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