The birthplace of the quince is thought to be the Fertile Crescent: the cradle of civilisation.
The fruit then spread to the Mediterranean where the Greeks and Romans embraced it, with its tart, distinctive flavour and heady aroma.
Quintessentially a part of autumn and early winter, quinces are inedible raw but the rock hard, pale, astringent flesh becomes burnished and rosy when cooked.
The high pectin content makes them perfect for preserves and jellies and they are prized in the Middle East, South America and Europe.
Quince is great for sweet and savoury alike and goes with dairy and citrus, fresh herbs and dried spices, red wine and verjuice, and pork and prosciutto.
- Fantastic with cheese, dulce de membrillo (quince paste) is traditionally served with Manchego but it is equally good with brie and blue, mature cheddar and washed rind too.
- Quince is often used in tagines and stews. Why not slow cook a shoulder of lamb with a couple of quinces (peeled and cored), ground cumin, coriander and cinnamon and serve with pearl couscous.
- Baked, poached or stewed- slow cooking transforms these knarly fruits into delectable jewels that can be served simply with yoghurt and the poaching juice or used to make cakes, crumbles and tarts.
Place quinces in a heavy bottomed pan that will accommodate the quinces tightly and add the sugar and water.
Boil quite vigorously for about 30 minutes until jelly begins to form, then lower the temperature and simmer for about 4 hours, turning regularly (carefully so as not to break the quinces). They will become a deep ruby colour – this is what we are after.
Add lemon juice, mix and cool. These quinces will keep for about a month in the poaching liquid. You can also use the poaching liquid to make quince jelly.
Simply reduce the liquid until setting point is reached and pour into sterilised jars and cool.
This is delicious on warm toast or with scones and cream and makes a wonderful glaze for ham and quail.