Quincing my words

Luca was born in time for lunch on the 14th of September. He is, as my sister Rosie would say, a bonny boy. I am feeling deeply unqualified for this truly wondrous but frankly bewildering job. Luca however, seems to have faith in me and so we have agreed to muddle – and I mean muddle in the nicest possible way – along together. Have no fear, even though I’m sure Luca will come up from time to time, I’ve no intention of dishing out a blow-by-blow account of this muddle. I do intend to talk about quinces.

I am slightly obsessive about quinces. This is partly because they are so illusive, their short season coupled with their fall from favor can make them hard to find. But my obsession is mostly because I adore both their heavy, properly sensual scent: a heady cocktail of apple, pear, rose, musky honey and a dash of something exotic, sultry and tropical and their particular but superb flavor and texture when cooked.

Quinces are ancient fruit, part of the rose family and cousins of apples and pears. They are rather odd-looking, bulbous and lumpy but somehow curiously beautiful. They could be the love child – conceived during a night of passion at the back of a fruit crate  - of a knobby, yellow pear and a underripe cooking apple. They are the pome fruit equivalent of the tall, gawky boy with a massive nose and aptitude for physics who turns out to be by far the most interesting and delicious male in your year. Quinces are covered in strange downy brown coat and their hard, astringent flesh when raw gives little clue as to the potential delights in store when they cooked with sugar or honey. They are not easy fruit, they need a bit of attention and keen hand to deal the devilishly hard flesh. They need - like me on a Monday morning – sweetening-up and then patient cooking; a simmer, bake or slow bubble, to bring out the best in them and transform them into something delicious, be it jam, marmalade, thick paste, relish or clear jelly.

I entertained the idea of making some cotognata (quince paste or cheese) when I spied a crate of particularly bulbous but fantastically scented fruit at the market. This domestic fantasy persisted all the way home. Encouraged by the heady scent curling provocatively out of my shopping bag, I daydreamed of slices of amber quince cheese with chunks of hard, piquant goats cheese all the way along via Branca, round the corner into via Marmorata, into the courtyard and up the stairs. I only came to my senses when I entered my kitchen and remembered that I’m hard pressed to make a cup of tea at present, never mind execute lengthy fruit preservation. As I put the quinces in a bowl I resigned myself to the fact this was probably their final resting place! At least they would make the kitchen smell glorious I told myself.

As is so often the case, once I accepted the fact I wouldn’t find the time to cook my quinces and promised myself not to feel guilty about my fruity air freshener, I found time to cook them. Not quince paste I hasten to add, that will have to wait until next year, but something nearly as delicious: poached quinces with lemon.

Quinces poach beautifully. Peel, slice and sweeten them with sugar or honey, then leave them for a long gentle simmer over a low heat and they transform. They become tender and succulent (while resolutely holding their shape and pleasing grainy texture) and taste like buttery poached apples, fragrant grainy pears, sweet honeyed wine and something sharp and rather tropical.

I’ve actually written about quinces before, poached quinces no less, but this recipe is a little different, simpler and (particularly if you can find really good, unwaxed lemons) just as delicious. You simmer wedges of quince gently with long strips of lemon zest in a light syrup of water, sugar and lemon juice. The lemon lends a sharp defining edge which both accentuates and balances the honeyed sweetness of the quince. Whats more, the strips of lemon, having made their, sharp, citrus contribution, cook into tender almost candied softness and can be eaten with the quince.

The recipe is ridiculously simple, you could argue it is not really a recipe at all, more a suggestion. The amount of sugar you add really depends on you and how sweet-a-tooth you have. I’d say I’m pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to sugar, not a fan of either sickly sweet or too bracing, my quantities reflect this. You should adjust accordingly.

I like this poached quince with a dollop of creme fraiche and a little almond biscuits, it’s a pretty perfect pudding. What am I saying, pretty perfect pudding, the heady combination of tender fruit, slightly sour cream and soft, milky, nutty almond biscuits is pretty perfect at anytime. I imagine a little pile of poached quince would also be nice with a slice of plain or almond cake.- you could pour a little of the syrup over the cake! I also like poached quince for breakfast with yogurt and muesli.

Poached quince with lemon

  • 1.5 kg (roughly 6) ripe quines
  • 150g fine sugar
  • 1 large unwaxed lemon
  • 500ml water – you may need to add a little more
  • Cover the quinces with warm water, and rub them in the water to remove the fuzzy down from their skin. Rinse, drain, and dry.
  • Using sharp knife carefully pare away the lemon peel in long strips from the lemon (trying to avoid too much bitter white pith). Put the lemon strips, 500ml of cold water, the sugar and the juice from the lemon into a large heavy based pan
  • Carefully peel the quinces with a vegetable peeler. Using a very sharp knife (carefully, they are devilishly hard), cut each quince in quarters, carve out the core, and cut into slim wedges. As soon as you have cut a wedge drop it into the lemon water in the pan to stop it discoloring.
  • Over a modest heat, bring the pan to a gentle boil and then reduce to a simmer for about an hour or until the quince is very tender but still holding its shape and liquid has reduced to a thick syrup.
Thank you, as always, for all your nice messages and comments, we – I am still adjusting to the plural –  appreciate them very very much.

41 Comments

Filed under fanfare, food, fruit, Puddings, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, Uncategorized

41 responses to “Quincing my words

  1. Congratulations on the arrival of little Luca he looks gorgeous! I was just thinking about Quinces myself and wondered where one could buy them.
    Enjoy your little boy.

  2. Beautiful! Congratulations Rachel! I love your blog, and I’m eager to see how it evolves!

  3. Janae

    Your boy is seriously beautiful; congratulations! I couldn’t help but smile when I read the beginning of this post. When I had my daughter (ten years ago already – goodness, time flies), I had NO IDEA what I was doing. I had never changed a diaper, fed a bottle, or done anything else baby related. I had never even held a baby, I think. I was very young (too young, really), and when this tiny creature was placed in my arms I thought, “Well, here we go!” We managed, “muddling” along, and it worked out just fine. They bring such joy. Enjoy these baby days. You’ll be great!

  4. laura

    Benvenuto, Luca! I think you’ve chosen a wonderful mother. (As an elephant-lover, I loved the elephants in your mother’s photo of the quinces; as an “adopted” Italian who remembers her mother-in-law’s cotognata, I loved the post.) Buon tutto!

  5. Congratulations Rachel, and welcome Luca! (FYI – Muddling is really the best way to handle these things, in my singular experience.)

  6. Hurray for Luca, in all his cuddly gorgeousness. Muddling is definitely the best course. I love this recipe, I make quince jelly every year, after the quinces have sat in a bowl in the kitchen doing their thing with that perfume of theirs, but I must try poaching them. Actually thinking about it, I don’t think you can be muddling – you are poaching quinces and posting about them and he is not yet a month old. Bravo! I don’t think I had changed from my dressing gown in that time. You must be wonderwoman :) xx

  7. I have never actually eaten quince… much less cooked it! Though, you have made me an admirer with one blog post! I may give it a go.

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy…. :) [John Lennon]

  8. Luca is beautiful. Welcome back, R!

  9. SRM

    Many many congratulations to you. Luca is beautiful! So happy to see you here with your news and a post! enjoy this special time!

  10. I am just so happy for you. He is perfect.

  11. Susan Maroni

    Rachel, I’ve been checking your blog frequently hoping for news of you and your little one. Congratulations, he is gorgeous and looks like an old soul. I’ve been reading your blog for a year or so now, so have mostly come in on the more suspenseful posts. My first son (of four children) came in a situation somewhat like yours. He is a lovely man. He has recently presented me with a grand-daughter who may be as beautiful as Luca!
    Blessings to you and yours!
    P.S. I muddled through four kids, and I am so proud of each of them. All different, all wonderful.

  12. Congratulations! He is just precious. Hope you settle into this new phase as easily and comfortably as possible… :)

  13. Congratulations and warm wishes on the safe and happy arrival of Luca, he is one seriously beautiful boy Rachel. xx

  14. Welcome to beautiful Luca. He is amazing! And you are amazing — poaching quinces less than a month after the arrival of your wee bambino. They are difficult to find here on the West Coast of Canada… but this recipe is a keeper I think.

  15. Federica

    Dear Rachel, I have been following your blog for a year or so now.. I came across it while searching for a new pasta e broccoli recipe and loved it! I grew up in Aventino and Testaccio but I have been living in London for the past 6 years. I was visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago, my father and I went to the market for some pizza bianca (Passi) and a mid morning cappuccino (Giolitti) and you have appeared from around the corner with you beautiful baby! In avoidance of coming across as the worst stalker ever I decided not to say hi, but can I do so if I bump into you again?!

    Un abbraccio da Londra,
    Federica

  16. Many congratulations and welcome to the parent club! After 23 years of children I am still muddling along and will be muddling with the grandchildren at the weekend. Best way forward really… :0)

  17. Congratulations Rachel and welcome little Luca (you’re a beauty!). I know first hand that quinces smell amazing but do they measure up to that new baby smell? The youngest baby I’ve met was over a year old so I’ve never had the chance to find out.

  18. Suse

    Congratulations, Rachel – wishing you all of the joy, none of the broken nights.

    “They dined on mince, and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon, and hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon”. That’s what invariably sings through me when I smell/see/think quinces (courtesy of Mr. E. Lear).

    Some say the Golden Apples of the Hesperides were really quinces – and the same has been claimed for the fruit Eve picked.

    Happy-wishes for you & baby Luca from Suse

  19. Katie

    Welcome Luca! So beautiful. My boys are 4 and 5 & 1/2 (halves are very important!) but I can remember that hazy feeling of the first few months with a baby. It’s hard but so lovely too. Enjoy. I wish you both the best. And I’m going to keep my eye out for quinces. Only know the paste-membrillo- from my years in spain. I would love to try this.

  20. colleen

    Congratulations on your beautiful son. I so loved being the mother of young children. The time goes by quickly and then, before you know it, they are grown. If all goes well you will have raised your best friends.

    Enjoy this special time.

  21. oh, rachel! had gotten behind, then came back to find this one-two delight! all of which is to say, my most enormous, wild wolloping congratulations on this bright-blue-eyed baby boy of yours. it is all one great muddle, each and every time, and never ceases; no worries, there. day by day, one small foot before the other.

    welcome, luca, to the world. it is delicious, the whole of it.

  22. Hi Rach–happy that you could find time to post about quinces in the midst of your new role–listen, we moms have all muddled—-it’s the nature of it. cheers to you and your bonny boy! he’ll teach you so much. x n

  23. Hello Luca! Nice to meet you.

    I love quinces too, cooked in every possible manner; with meat, as a paste, with lots and lots of cheese. Poached must be perfect.

  24. Ah! There you are! It’s wonderful that you’re back, I’ve missed your lovely writing. Welcome welcome to your beautiful boy.

  25. mei

    Congratulations! Love reading your blog and glad to see you are back (plus one). The more the merrier! :)

  26. Kate

    Welcome to the world Luca! He’s adorable and beautiful. Congratulations!

    I, too, love quince, but my attempts last year at possibly using the fruit for *something* devolved into a fragrant mess in my fruit bowl. You are inspiring me to try anew this year! Thank you.

  27. lifewithgusto

    What a gorgeous boy and a lovely recipe. I’m a year into a similar muddle and it just gets better…and worse and easier and harder and muddlier. Quinces help.

  28. JodiG

    Welcome to the world Luca! What a beautiful baby boy (and I don’t say that about every baby). On a daily basis, I feel unprepared to parent but every day, my little girl shows me the love, happiness and mishaps of life. Enjoy. Love your writing and recipes!

  29. I just wanted to say that your blog, your words, your food–it’s all so lovely, addictive even. Thank you for sharing your delicious recipes with us, too–I’ve become a big fan of your lentil dish. Simple, hearty, and satisfying. Just the kind of food that I love to cook and eat.

  30. Congratulations and hello Luca – he’s lovely. And as for poaching quinces, it sounds incredibly exotic – the muddling sounds like it is going well for both of you.

  31. s

    Many congrats, Rachel on the birth of your baby boy. x shayma

  32. I’m not sure how I missed this post but huge congratulations to you and hello to gorgeous baby Luca!

    I hadn’t really thought of poaching quince before but we were in Bread & Wine last Monday morning and they were serving poached quince with yoghurt and toasted brioche and it was lovely (although I went for the bacon sandwich!). Now I’m thinking I might make some to keep in the fridge for breakfasts next week.

    Gx

  33. Congratulations Rachel!!

  34. Saw mention of this post over at my friend Nancy V. at “Good Food Matters” and wanted to pay a visit to see what your “quincing” was all about. My grandmother used to make jams from everything from apples to quince and I loved them all. This is the first quince mention I have seen in some time. I love your recipe, photos and encouraging my mind to wander to standing in a steamy kitchen with my “Granny” helping her can. Thanks.

  35. Congratulations on your new baby and all the new and wonderful things in your life!
    I love your blog! I wish you had more time to post more often! You have great recipes! Thanks for sharing!

  36. Congratulations on the birth of your Luca! We are Romans currently living in the States, and are also parents of a Luca, now 7. It’s a fabulous name, and if your Luca is anything like ours, you’re in for a delightful and spirited roller-coaster ride called parenting. Best wishes to you!

  37. Well, what a surprise. Congratulations – you’ll be better off for not knowing anything; trust yourself and carry on. Here in Portland, Oregon it is pretty easy to get ahold of quinces, if you know where to look. I bought 55# organic from a farmer I know for $15. I had to give half away to a friend so I could start making dinner again. Of course, now I see that I needed to keep a few so I could poach them! Ah well, next year. I have membrillo up the wazoo, though (http://igrewit.blogspot.com/2011/11/quince-and-what-to-do-about-it-part-1.html) I’ll send you some if you like!

  38. Pingback: Have Yourself a Merry Medieval Easter with Mincemeat-Stuffed Quince | We Are Never Full

  39. Jack Etsweiler

    I’m one of the lucky (and unusual) people who has quince trees in his back yard. I’ve made quince paste (membrillo, along with Manchego cheese, is a revered indulgence in Spain), quince honey (a more-liquid version of Membrillo), and this year I treated them like apples, loading a pressure cooker with de-fuzzed but otherwise unmolested quinces, some sweet white wine, and some sugar. Cook them up, run it through the food mill, and you have Quince Sauce. Mixes nicely with apples for a fine accompaniment for roast meats.

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