I regard quinces, one of the more unusual fruits that we find in the markets in Autumn, as retro fruits as I remember, with nostalgia, a crystal bowl of pinky beige wedges of chilled stewed quinces on my Grandmother’s table. They were served as a dessert, with pale yellow jersey cream or a rich egg custard. Later as the weather cooled, warm baked quinces replaced the chilled ones. They oozed a caramel-like jelly from their creamy flesh, and were also delicious with cream or custard!
My Mother also bottled stewed quinces, but the most exciting thing I remember are the jelly-like pink quince sweets coated with sugar crystals. She seldom made them and when she did they were a treat.
She also served home-made quince jelly with roast Springbok, the common game on our Karoo farm.
In later years, when my travels took me to Spain I discovered Membrillo. This is a quince paste similar in texture and colour to Mom’s quince sweets, but without the sugar coating. I have never seen it served outside Spain, where it is the traditional accompaniment to their delicious Manchego Cheese. Manchego is a pale, hard sheep’s milk cheese that has the nuttiness somewhere between mature cheddar and Parmesan. The contrast of the sweet quince flavour and the complex cheese is unique. I first experienced it in the Tapas bars in Madrid and in recent visits, in Barcelona and San Sebastian.
When our friends Billy and Judith, who own a farm near Stellenbosch, just a few kilometers from our house, offered me some quinces I enthusiastically accepted.
This year the crop was relatively blemish and sting-free. Insects love quinces, and I soon discovered that Retrievers don’t mind chewing them as well (see the photo of a quince being enjoyed on the lawn!).
I returned home with my basket and got stuck in peeling them. Quinces have an uneven surface and very firm or should I say hard flesh, so peeling and slicing requires sharp instruments and some stamina.
As you peel quinces they start to oxidize and turn brown very quickly, so you must always have a bowl of either well salted or acidulated water at hand to dunk the peeled fruit. Use approximately 50ml salt or 25ml white vinegar to 2 liters water.
Cut away any insect stings or bruising. Before you discard them, look at your recipe as they sometimes recommend that you place the core, pips and peels into a bag to extract the pectin for jellies.
And of course, all of these are lovely gifts for friends who enjoy artisanal foods.