“For the colour will be as diaphanous as an oriental ruby”
Before beginning on quince cheese be aware that this recipe requires some individual love and attention. A good meat stew takes time but not the cook’s time. A good quince cheese, on the other hand, requires both time and the cook’s attention. Especially on the second day when the quinces have cooled and need to be turned from a purée into a paste. If you decide to have a bash at this do not plan anything other than spending at least an hour in the kitchen close to the kitchen hob making sure the cheese does not burn as the moisture evaporates over a medium to high heat. The trick is to make sure that before you spread the cheese out in your chosen container the quince purée forms a paste strong enough to knead with the hand. Finally, as with most preserves many recipes – both traditional and new – suggest an equal weight of sugar to fruit. It is, however, possible to make this with less sugar and still get pleasing results.
4 large quinces
500 gr. sugar
3 heaped tbs. honey
Juice of one lemon
Roughly chop the quinces into pieces. Do not core or peel the quinces since both skin and core are rich sources of flavour and pectin. Place the cut pieces in a large pot with enough water to cover the quinces by around 5 cm. Add the lemon juice and bring to the boil. When they have softened (around 45 minutes) take them off the heat and leave to cool – overnight if necessary.
Once they have cooled strain and keep the water – it makes an excellent quince jelly which tastes perfect for many game and autumn recipes. Place the softened quince in a food mill in order to separate the fragrant purée from the fibrous pips and peel. From four large quinces you will have anywhere from 1.6 – 2 kg of purée and at least 4 litres of water for jelly.
Using a large stock pot (this baby spits) begin to heat the quince purée up stiring in the sugar and honey. To begin with the increasingly red purée will bubble and spit like lava spouting from of an erupting volcano. The more the moisture evaporates the thicker and heavier it will become. It is at this stage that the cook must keep stiring and stiring to stop the sugars from burning as the moisture begins to evaporate. The quince purée will begin to change not just colour but structure as well. It is really ready when you have a paste that can be moulded by hand without any of it dripping through the fingers. Or, to put it in the words of the master, Nostrodamus himself,
“Then, when it is nearly done, and so as to know when it is done perfectly, take some of it with a spatula or silver spoon and put it on a platter, and if you see that when it has cooled it comes off as a globule, without sticking either here or there, then it is done.”
This can take some time so be patient!
Line a baking tray with grease-proof paper and pour the quince paste into them. Cover the top with baking paper so it is properly covered.
When it has cooled place the baking tray in the fridge. It can be cut into small pieces and served cold alongside any of your favourite cheese or patées. The quince cheese can last for up to eight months in the fridge.
Some notes on quinces if you’re interested…
Hard as nuts quinces resemble an intriguing mutant apple or pear. Like apples and pears, quinces form part of the rose family but unlike apples or pears they are rarely eaten raw since they are too astringent and sour to be palatable. Although they lack sweetnesss they are an excellent vector for amplifying sweetness and other flavours such as cardamom, vanilla and lemon, which is why the cook does not need to add too much sugar. The loss of moisture in the paste means it stays well preserved over the months if kept refrigerated. The moment you cut into a quince you understand why these fruit are related to the rose family. Quinces are so fragrant reminding one immediately of rose petals and perfumes from a long lost era. As they cook they transform their colour from bland beige to a warm, burgundy red releasing a natural perfume that permeates the whole house. To be fair, a perfect red currant jelly makes a far more beautiful ruby red than quinces but then again red currants are, well, red so no surprises there. Quinces, on the other hand, start of yellow and transform themselves into a deep burgundy red which makes them that little bit more special.
The quince is truly a tale of metamorphosis of the most uplifting kind. If one were to assign a fairy-story to fruit, quinces would be the ugly ducklings that turn into beautiful swans. They are the beast below which lies the handsome prince – they are the diamond in the rough requiring just a bit of tender care to transform them into a glittering, precious cut stone. Best of all quince cheese and quince jelly make the most delightful adornments to so many recipes. Below is a very old recipe of excellent provenance. In the sixteen hundreds Nostradamus wrote this quince recipe which I found on-line. No surprises that the master of alchemy adored quinces whose transformative powers from sour to sweet, from bland to colourful, from purée to paste, perfectly reflect the good alchemists desire to turn base metal into gold.
16th Century Recipe from Nostradamus
For adventurous readers, here is how to make a quince jelly of superb beauty, goodness, flavour and excellence fit to set before a King, and which lasts a good long time:
Take whatever quinces you like, as long as they are fully ripe and yellow.
Cut them up into quarters without peeling them (for those who peel them do not know what they are doing, since the skin enhances the smell), and divide each quarter into five or six pieces.
Remove the seeds, because the fruit will turn into jelly perfectly well without them.
As you are cutting them up, place them in a basin full of water, for unless they are plunged into water the moment they are cut up they will turn black.
Once they are cut up, boil them in a good quantity of water until they are well done, almost to the point of shrivelling up.
When they have boiled thoroughly, strain this liquid through a thick piece of new linen and squeeze the whole preparation through it as hard as you can.
Then take this decoction, and if there are six pounds of it, take one and a half pounds of Madeira sugar and put it into the decoction, and bring it to the boil over a gentle charcoal fire until you see that towards the end, it is reducing in volume considerably.
Then damp the fire down, so that it does not burn at the sides — which would give a bad colour to the jelly.
Then, when it is nearly done, and so as to know when it is done perfectly, take some of it with a spatula or silver spoon and put it on a platter, and if you see that when it has cooled it comes off as a globule, without sticking either here or there, then it is done.
Take it off the fire and wait for the scum on the top to settle, then pour the still-hot liquid into small wooden or glass containers.
And if you want to write or gouge something on the bottom of the container, you can do so, for it will be seen easily [through the jelly].
For the colour will be as diaphanous as an oriental ruby.
So excellent will the colour be — and the taste even more so — that it may be given to sick and healthy alike.
(Recipe translation © Peter Lemesurier 2000)