Perfumed Persian Paradise

I got gifted my favourite fruit of all time, quinces, by a lovely lady I met at Oakwood Farmers Market. True quinces (cydona oblonga as opposed to the ornamental quinces chaenomeles japonica) are as rare as hen’s teeth and until my poor tree starts bearing fruit, I can merely look on in lust as others flaunt their quince harvest photos. But no more! This year I have quinces!

  

I dream perfumed dreams of quince sharbat and membrillo and amber slices suspended in a honeyed elixir and of course, cake!

Quinces have a soft, fluffy down on top of the skins that needs to be rubbed off before washing and flesh so hard you practically need an axe to slice them and long,slow cooking to render them edible. But perseverance is rewarded with a flavour unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. They are said to have originated in Persia and Victorians used to use them as air freshener due to their heady fragrance that quickly fills a room. The most energy efficient way to cook quinces is using a slow cooker and I thought I’d share with you my recipe for vanilla poached quinces. 

  
Vanilla poached quinces
Wash and peel your quinces using a vegetable peeler. Using a large chef’s knife cut the quinces in half. The length of the chef’s knife acts as a lever which makes cutting them easier on your wrists. Then cut each half into slices about 1.5cm thick. Place your cut slices immediately into a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon in it to stop them from discolouring too much.

  
 Once you’ve prepped your quinces, place them into your slow cooker or a large pan. They will shrink on cooking so pack them in as tightly as you possibly can.

  
Make up a sugar syrup with 2 litres water to 1 kg sugar and 1 vanilla pod, scraping out the seeds then putting both seeds and pods into the syrup. I prefer using a not too sweet syrup to keep the slight acidic bite of the quinces but you can make your syrup with equal parts sugar and water also. Bring your syrup to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes.

Pour your hot syrup over your quinces and switch your slow cooker on on a low heat and leave to gently simmer for 6 hours. If you’re doing this on the stove, simmer very very gently and reduce the time to 3 or 4 hours. Allow your quinces to cool completely in the syrup which should be a rich, amber colour. If it’s not, cook the quinces for a bit longer.

Your quince slices can be enjoyed over pancakes, ice cream, popped into casseroles (when poached without vanilla!), roasted in the oven (the same way you’d roast parboiled parsnips) and served with lamb, put into tagines, or even puréed and turned into ice cream. Or if you like, you can purée the slices, add sugar (roughly 1/2 the volume of sugar to fruit) and make quince cheese.

I chose to pop them onto a cake. A Salted Caramel and Vanilla Poached Quince Upside-down cake to be exact.  

 
Then I decided to put them in a bundt cake drizzled with vanilla icing

  

In terms of preserving, the easiest thing you can do is lay the slices of quince onto a silicone tray and pop into the freezer. Once frozen solid, remove from the tray and transfer into a bag. That way, you can simply defrost the number you need for your recipe. 

  
And if freezer space is at a premium (as it is in our house), pack the slices into clean, sterilised jars, cover with syrup and process in a water bath as you would for any other fruit you’re bottling. 

The syrup is also lush diluted as a cordial, added to apple pies or drizzled over ice cream or pancakes. 

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp