09 October 2009

Cydonia Oblonga

May I introduce a beloved friend: Cydonia oblonga, better known as Quince. Named after ancient Kydonia, now Chania on the island of Crete. You only have to smell the sweet perfume of a quince to understand its allure. Related to the apple, quinces were possibly cultivated even earlier, and many story apples may in fact have been quinces, such as the apple given by Paris to Aphrodite.

The fact that their season is short and they are not frequent guest at our table adds to my desire to preserve their luscious beauty; indeed, they must be cooked, raw they are hard and bitter. I had a kilo of quinces this week and made a quince sweet and some jelly. I also preserved some late raspberries in red wine vinegar and in a few weeks I will have a good supply of home-made raspberry vinegar. Just look at the beautiful threesome. Can you tell, I feel very virtuous...

Quince sweets are known under many different names, yet the English Quince cheese does not conjure up the right image, if you ask me, so I settle for sweet as sweet they are. They are easy to make but require a little bit of manual labour - a true labour of love, if you ask me!

Wash your quinces to remove their fluffy fur. No need to peel and core, simply cut into small chunks and throw into a pot and cover with water. Cook until soft. Strain your fruit, preserving the liquor - boil this with the required amounts of preserving sugar to make quince jelly (I read one can make jelly even with ordinary sugar, the ratio being quince juice divided by 1.2 = amount of sugar needed; quinces are full of pectin so I imagine this would work; I used up my preserving sugar).

Now for the arduous part: rub the fruit through a fine sieve. This is hard physical work but trust me, well worth the effort! Weigh the resulting pulp and add an equal amount of sugar. Heat up, stirring to dissolve the sugar. After a little while you will notice that the mixture begins to thicken, this is the time to remove it from the heat and pour it onto a lined baking tray. Leave to dry either in at room temperature (this will take several days and you will be well advised to turn the sweet once the top side has dried), or in a very low oven (try 50 C) for several hours. Once relatively dry, cut into well sized squares; the edges will, of course, not make pretty squares - cook's treat! And I need hardly remind you that you need to keep tasting your quince sweets to check their progress while drying...

These sweets, the jelly and vinegar make lovely presents, too - if you are prepared to share them, of course! Is there a better way to tell your friends you love them than by giving them something you covet yourself?

PS. Reading up on quinces, I stumbled over the curious fact that quince seeds, like almond stones, are said to contain small amounts of cyanide! I cannot substantiate this either way but now you are warned, it might be better to discard the seeds. And naturally, I will take no responsibility for what you do with this (potentially) dangerous fruit.

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