Sunday, 6 April 2008

QUINCE ESSENTIALS













Some things never leave you. Like the scent of a loved ones hair, the aroma of a ripe melon, the first taste of a mulberry.
Each year in early April, after the peaches, plums and nectarines have performed their magic, just when you thought that the preserving pan can be stowed till next year the quince appears and their heady aroma rekindles the last sparks of summer.
Unlike colour we do not have a well defined vocabulary to express our sense of smell, but very light scents can trigger rich memories and strong emotions. Some aromas are elusive like the exquisite smell of a tomato bush that can only be enjoyed in the garden, but leave a bowl of quinces in a room and very quickly you have a fragrance that few perfumers can match.
Quinces take me back to my childhood in Hungary. Quinces slowly braised with goose or duck, my mother also made quince cheese or paste that was served with fresh goose liver. Little did we know how special these dishes were?

Few fruit have a more colourful history than the humble quince.
In his definitive book “The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia” Louis Glowinski puts forward the quince as perhaps the most “famous or infamous fruit of all time.”
If you think product placement is a recent phenomenon consider the quince from a marketers’ point of view. From the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden they pop up everywhere in the ancient Greek myths. Quinces were often called Golden Apples as apples at that time referred to a very wide group of fruit. Apples as we know them did not grow at those latitudes.
The ancient spin doctors gave Hercules the task of stealing the Golden Apples. They were at it again with Paris giving one to Aphrodite eventually leading to the downfall of Troy. Even Solomon in gives them a plug in the Song of Songs.

Quinces are one of those old fashioned fruits that play hard to get but reward the patient cook with fine deep flavours and powerful aromas
Raw quinces are tart and astringent but some varieties are quite palatable if fully ripened on the tree. The birds and possums usually get to those first, but luckily they can ripen off the tree.
The common quince was improved by the Greeks from an exceptional variety from Kydonia in Crete giving it its present generic botanical name of Cydonia oblongata
In Australia we mainly find the smaller Smyrna with a heady aroma or the larger Pineapple quince so called for its tropical scent.
The pineapple quince has a softer flesh that is not suitable for pot roasting and it also does not develop the characteristic deep red colour when slowly cooked. Quinces contain large amounts of natural pectin for making jellies also providing the setting power to other fruits. Under ripe fruit have the most pectin and the levels also diminish if the fruit is refrigerated. In fact the whole of process of setting fruit in natural jelly can be traced back to the quince. An elaborate culture of quince preserves flourished in the ancient Middle East. In Spain there is membrilos a thick slightly coarse paste. France has the famous Contingac d’Orleans a clear very fine preserve reputedly presented to Joan of Arc for lifting the siege of Orleans. The original marmalade was also made from quinces, its name derives from the Portuguese “marmelos’.
It was not until the late 18th century in of all places Scotland that oranges were used for this preserve. The popularity of the quince plummeted with the availability of new exotic tropical fruits and the taste for sweeter fruit started to take hold.
The trees are long-lived and have very attractive blossom.
You can often spot on old quince tree gracing the site of an abandoned farmhouse or orchard still bearing well after many years of neglect.

In Australia Maggie Beer has in recent years restored the quince to our culinary consciousness with her wonderful paste, her slowly baked quinces and quinces in verjuice. And slowly
these Golden Apples are making a comeback.

In the modern kitchen the quince can add a surprising element to very simple dishes. Try adding some to roast leg of lamb. A wonderful variation on the classic Tarte Tatin can be made with quinces. A little quince in an apple crumble gives it another dimension.
For the ultimate quince experience you can visit pick your own fruit and even stay at the cottage at Ellisfeild Farm on the Mornington Peninsula where Liz and Barry Pontifex have meticulously restored an old quince orchard to its former glory. After a hard day in the orchard curl up by the fire with a bit of whimsy from Edward Lear

They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon
From The Owl and The Pussycat.


Quince and Jasmine Fool
Fools are a group of old English fruit based deserts; the name comes from the French verb fouler to mash.
I make this with a custard flavoured with jasmine tea.
Serves 6
350g of quinces peeled and diced with a squeeze of lemon juice.
30ml Honey
50ml Vin Santo or Muscat
20ml Water
Cook the quinces in the Vin Santo Honey and water till soft and slightly thickened. Lightly mash with a fork set aside and cool.
For the custard
250ml cream [ 35% butterfat]
3 egg yolks
40g sugar
1 tablespoon of Jasmine tea
½ Vanilla bean
100ml of cream whipped to light peaks.

Mix egg yolks with sugar and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean.
Heat the cream with the vanilla pod and the jasmine tea and allow to infuse for 20 mins
Add the cream to the egg yolks and sugar and heat gently till it thickens [82oC]
Strain through a fine sieve and cool. Fold in the whipped cream.
In a highball glass layer the fruit and custard.
Best eaten with a Runcible Spoon.
Serve slightly chilled with a glass of the Vin Santo or a Muscat.
.
Pork with quinces and myrtle

This dish has its roots in Sardinia where myrtle is often married with pork. The quince adds an exquisite aroma and also cuts the richness of the pork. Myrtle myrtus communis is a fragrant bush, the berries taste a little like Juniper berries. It was sacred to Venus as were the quinces in ancient Greece. The berries can be cooked but the leaves are used to infuse its flavour to the meat after it is cooked. A useful shrub in the garden as it has very attractive small white flowers as well as the dark blue berries. Available in most nurseries. The recipe works well with lamb or kid.

Serves 6
A 1.5 kg piece of belly pork with the skin attached and scored as for crackling
2 quinces cut into thick slices dressed with a little lemon juice.
2 red onions sliced
6 cloves of garlic whole in the skin
Zest and juice of a lemon
1 tablespoon of honey
A little red wine to deglaze the pan at the end.
A large bunch of Myrtle and some of the berries. If you can not find myrtle use bay leaves and juniper berries.
Salt and pepper
A little EV olive oil.

Heat the oven to 200oC
Mix the quinces, onions, lemon juice zest, honey, myrtle berries and garlic and dress with the olive oil.
Place in a heavy baking tray.
Pat dry the pork with a cloth and rub the skin with a little salt. Place on top of the vegetables and roast for about 20 mins. Lower the heat to 170oC and bake for about 40 mins till cooked. The skin should be crisp with crackling.
If the crackling is done before the pork cover with aluminium foil to shield the skin.

Place some myrtle leaves on a platter and put the pork and quinces on top cover with more of the myrtle leaves and allow the pork to “inhale’ the aromas. While the pork is resting on the leaves deglaze the pan with the red wine and reserve the sauce. Remove the leaves carve and serve with the sauce on the side. I like it with a tomato, olive and parsley salad.
First published in The Age Epicure March 2004

5 comments:

t h e - g o b b l e r said...

A quince man after my own heart George! Love that quince time of year! Cheers Gobbler

Darby said...

Love that pork dish. It needs a good wine to go with it. Why not try a Vermentino a Sardinian white wine variety now being made successfully in Australia. (google vermentino to find Aussie producers)

neil said...

We make some fruit liqueurs, but my fave is the one we make from quinces, a bit of work, but so worth it.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Darby, The Vermenito- Brown Bros or the South Australian?

Darby said...

George the Brown Brothers one is very good, but perhaps the best Aussie one I have tried is from Di Lusso in Mudgee.