In Praise of Quince

Two kinds of quince

The poor quince is the underachiever of fruit it seems. I’ve always associated it with all things British, like marmite or black pudding. Indeed, the Q in British alphabet books is very likely to be represented by a fat yellow quince, unlike North American ones where you are more likely to see a quilt. (I once saw one more obscure children’s book for budding scientists that showed Q is for Quark) So given that I have long known that they exist, and that the quince bush or tree is very popular here in Nova Scotia, how is it that I have gotten to be this old without ever having tasted one? Because it is unpopular I suppose.

There are two reasons for its unpopularity that I can surmise. First, it is likely an acquired taste. Cooked quince tastes like a combination of apple and pear, flavoured heavily with rose water. Raw quince is the very definition of astringent but if you do manage to eat it raw you won’t likely eat enough to shrink your eyes back irretrievably into your head or take the enamel off your teeth. That is because a fresh quince has the texture and density of balsa wood.

These quince look like rustic pears.

The second reason is because, although they are as easy to pick as apples or pears, they are insanely tedious to prepare. Yes, the peel is easy to separate but its removal is complicated by the curvaceous nature of the quince – if you wish to minimize wastage you need to hone your carving skills. Perhaps whittle up a few Punch and Judy heads out of balsa wood for practice. Cutting and coring the fruit is a bit like chopping wood. I think I broke my fifth metacarpal on the last few. If I do this next year I’ll use a small axe. The cores of the fruit need to be hacked out indelicately in chunks so for any big pile of ripe quince you are left with a bigger pile of compost or goat fodder (for surely if a goat would eat a tin can it would eat a quince). Anyhow, as I spent the two or three hours it took preparing my fruit for the pot I cogitated on all those little waifs in the corners of cavernous Victorian kitchens working their poor wee fingers to the bone so that the upper crust could enjoy their quince jellies. (Just a reminder that many things have improved in life even if it seems a little bleak at the moment).

Quince paste in the pot looks a lot like pease pudding.

We have our own quince bush in the yard but it only produces five or six fruit every year. My neighbour Gail, however, has a proper quince tree and she was happy enough to part with a big of fruit. Even though I am always up for a new culinary adventure, they languished on the counter for a week before I worked up the nerve to turn them into quince paste and quince chutney.

Pureed sweetened quince ready for the freezer.

What does one do with quince mash? My friend Ruthie mixes it in with applesauce to enhance the flavour. Her partner literally smacked his lips as she was telling this so it must be good. That said, Ruthie also likes Branston pickles, so I dunno. I read that it is yummy stirred into your morning porridge if you can get your kitchen waif to get up early enough to make it for you.

Introducing my very first quince chutney.

It’s hard to gauge the flavour of chutney right out of the pot because it is best aged. I did have a few nibbles just to alleviate my fear that the half dozen jars of freshly sealed quince chutney would be relegated to that category of preserves that work their way to the back of the cupboard where they idle until they become so discoloured as to be unrecognizable and even when you dump them out into the compost because you have to make sacrifices to get a few more jelly jars for your raspberry jam (which never idles) you still aren’t sure what they were when you started. I digress. I tasted and it was good, if not a little immature. The cider vinegar aroma coming off it was strong enough to replace a hair trimmer for your nostrils but it settled a little when smeared thin on a liverwurst sandwich. I liked it enough to put aside a jar to serve with Thanksgiving dinner. It will be one of those conversation piece accompaniments, like digestive bitters or spotted dick pudding.

Ready for the cupboard.

I made some labels for reasons stated above but now I wish that instead of Quince Chutney I had named it Quince Mince because who doesn’t love a good rhyme?

Today’s posting is brought to you by the letter Q.

© Judy Parsons 2020

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