Quince are literally all over my garden. I only have a small quince tree, but the strong winds this week have pushed all remaining fruit to windfall and spread them like a carpet of green and gold across my lawn. No more excuse was needed to gather up the least bruised of the fruit and try an old recipe for Quince Marmalade.
Quince are quite neglected these days. This wasn’t always so; according to Jewish lore, they were the ‘apple’ that tempted Eve; Romans used them as breath fresheners (take a bite and although it doesn’t taste delicious raw, your breath will smell centurion-lover ready) and newly-weds still bit into a quince together on their wedding day in some parts of the world well into the Renaissance. Half a quince in your apple pie will give it an even more appealing ‘appley’ aroma and, let us not forget, that they were the original ‘golden apple’ of Greek mythology: Paris giving Aphrodite the quince with ‘for the most beautiful’ etched into its peel, was – in effect – the beginning of the Trojan war.
Quinces (although native to Iran) have probably been grown and used in Britain for nearly 1000 years. They are a flavour one associates with Medieval Britain, along with the also now unfashionable mace, venison, spiced-wine, cloves and so on.
Eliza Acton’s recipe is the one that I am using today. Acton (1799-1859) herself hailed from Kent, so I feel a Kentish-kinship in today’s choice. You can read more about Acton and those she inspired here, in this excellent article from The Telegraph. Her recipe reads as follows:
‘When to economise the fruit is not an object, pare, core and quarter some of the inferior quinces, and boil them in as much water as will nearly cover them, until they begin to break; strain the juice from them and for the marmalade put half a pint of it to each pound of fresh quinces: in preparing these, be careful to cut out the hard stone parts around the cores. Simmer them gently until they are perfectly tender, then press them, with the juice, through a coarse sieve; put them into a perfectly clear pan, and boil them until they form almost a dry paste; add for each pound of quinces and the half pint of juice, three-quarters of a pound of sugar in fine powder, and boil the marmalade for half an hour, stirring it gently without ceasing: it will be very firm and bright in colour.’
Figgy Pudding’s Recipe…
Acton’s recipe has too many stages for an impatient and time-pressured cook such as myself. Her quantities however of sugar to fruit remain good, although I will use preserving sugar as opposed to fine sugar for speed and quality. There is also no need for anything other than the classic Acton trio of ingredients: sugar, fruit, water.
As many quince as you care to use
N.B Quince does not yield as much flesh as regular apple. The tough white pith-stone part around the core is larger and, if ingested in too large a quantity, can cause stomach upsets. I used around 4 large quince and 5 small ones to yield my pot of marmalade.
Peel the quinces with a knife and chop the flesh into small chunks. Throw the flesh into a saucepan and pour in just enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to the boil and simmer until the flesh is so tender it is falling apart (around 30 minute for one pot’s worth, c.8 fruit). When almost all the water has boiled away, pass the remaining quince/water flesh through a metal sieve with small holes (to allow just a little flesh to join the juice).
Measure the juice collected and put back into a clean saucepan. For every 500ml of juice collected, add 250g sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time. The colour will cloud over and become a beautiful dark amber. Keep a strong simmer going as the mixture reduces. When it has the consistency of thick toffee (around 10-15 minutes), turn off the heat and pour immediately into sterilised jam jars or other such container.
This is great. It also has many uses. Straight away, I took husband a little pre-supper snack of rough-cut cheddar chunks, spread with warm quince marmalade. You can spread it on toast and eat it simply like that. You can spread it on toast, grate a little cheese over the top, throw under the grill for a few minutes and have a sweet ‘Kentish Rarebit’. You can add a tablespoon to an apple pie for a beautiful kick that will have your guests begging for the recipe. You can make a ‘Kentish Toddy’ on a cold winter’s eve (put a teaspoon of quince marmalade in the bottom of a low tumbler glass; fill one third of the glass with whisky, mix the marmalade and whisky together with a cinnamon stick and fill the glass almost to the top with boiling water. Stir). My favourite use is to put a good tablespoon into your Christmas cake / Christmas pudding recipe; I’ll being making a classic Victorian Christmas cake soon and will do just that…