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The quince - love apples

"fruit of frosty mornings and blackened leaves" Nigel Slater

Well we are certainly into cold mornings at the moments, although the fallen leaves have not quite blackened yet and some autumn leaves are still on the trees. So according to the English this is when we should be getting quinces, but I suspect that they have come and gone here. I certainly haven't seen any in the shops and there are none on my two trees. But I will just add a few more things to my post on quince paste of yesterday.

Why do I say love apples? Well legend would have it that the quince is really the fruit given to Eve - though I think others lay claim to pomegranates. But there seems to be some consensus that these are the golden apples of the Hesperides that Paris gave to Aphrodite. Many commentators also made reference to quinces looking like women's breasts or women's bottoms and I guess the painting above would bear that out. But I also found a poem in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, written in 982 by an Andalusian Arab - the vizar to Al Hakam II of Cordova. It's rather nice so I give it here>

"It is yellow in colour, as if it wore a daffodil

tunic, and it smells like musk, a penetrating smell.

It has the perfume of a loved woman and the same

hardness of heart, but it has the colour of the

impassioned and scrawny lover.

Its pallor is borrowed from my pallor; its smell

is my sweetheart's breath.

When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves

had woven for it a covering of brocade,

I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it

like a censer in the middle of my room.

It had a cloak of ash-coloured down hovering over

its smooth golden body,

and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than n

its daffodil-coloured shift,

It made me thing of her I cannot mention, and I feared

the ardour of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers.

Isn't that Aphrodite's apple?"

And certainly many of the cooks whose thoughts on quinces I looked at did indeed comment on the smell, suggesting in fact that they be kept in a bowl in the open so that the smell could permeate the house.

"It's a soft perfume, rose-like, a little sickly but reminiscent of honey, too. A scent that marks the start of winter cooking like a tomcat marks his territory." Nigel Slater

The most remarkable thing about quinces it seems to me is the change in colour of the flesh from white to deep red when it is cooked. I'm sure there is a chemical explanation for this, but I really don't know how it happens. It just seems like magic.

Quince - we get the name from the French version of its name - coing, not the Spanish/Portuguese marmela (I think) which gave its name to marmalade, because the first marmalades were made from quinces. As we saw yesterday, very hard to cut up, and takes a long time to cook. Also you can't always tell from the outside whether it won't be rotten in the middle. This has happened to me.

But very versatile. This is a quickie post as I have things to do, but there are heaps and heaps of recipes out there that use quince. The Persians are very enamoured of it as are the Turks, and it often turns up in the tagines of northern Africa as well as various other Mediterranean and Middle-eastern recipes. As for desserts - well where do you start really?

Maggie Beer gives a good cross-section of recipes from her quince paste and allioli that I talked about yesterday, to a quince and prune tart, lamb neck with quinces, a quince pickle, pot-roasted quinces, a quince and prune tart and poached pears and quinces. Elsewhere I have seen it suggested as a granita, and in salads - actually I think Maggie Beer had one of those too. I will attest to them adding an extra burst of flavour to an apple tart or crumble so next time you see some - and they are sold in supermarkets - buy some and have a go.


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