I can admit it, I’m not ashamed. I used to be scared of quinces. Not scared as in I’d cross to the other side of the street if I saw them walking up to me in a darkened street – but definitely scared of cooking them. They always seemed like so much work to take them from a beautiful but inedible fruit to something that you can actually eat. However, like most people I tend to shop with my eyes. So when I saw a kilo bag of quinces all yellow and bashful, shining prettily at me from their bags… well I was done. Three dollars later and I there I was walking through the farmers market thinking ‘oh jesus why did I do this? What am I going to do with these?’ A week later and they were still sitting in my fridge, balefully staring at me and silently asking ‘why haven’t you cooked us yet?’ I didn’t know how to tell them that I was scared of them, unsure about how to cook them and whether they’d be worth the effort.
They are totally worth the effort. After some research I decided that the best way to cook them would be a long, slow cooking filled with warming spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and anise. My options seemed to be fairly limited methodwise, most people seemed to advocate either roasting or poaching it. But I needed both my stove and my oven for other things, and couldn’t devote six hours to just tending to quince, no matter how lovely they might be.
A slow cooker was the answer. My favourite thing in winter is to throw some meat and vegetables in the slow cooker in the morning and then to come home from a cold, dark day to a room stewing in the juices of a delicious meal requiring approximately no effort from me. I figured that surely it would work in a similar way with the quince. And my god did it work. The quinces were transformed from hard and intensely sour flesh coloured fruit to a deep, flirtatious pink that tastes like the best mulled wine and sweet roses, with a texture that is indescribable but feels something like velvet in your mouth in the best possible way. You can use the quinces in so many different ways, whether on your morning oatmeal or as a dessert by themselves; you can cut the cooked fruit into tiny pieces and use to make a membrillo cake or make a clafoutis.
I ate them mostly as part of my breakfast, either with yoghurt and granola or porridge, but I’ve also used the syrup to make a quince cocktail with gin, lemon and soda water. Once you’ve tasted them, trust me – you’ll find ways to sneak them into everything. And just as a side bonus, your house will smell amazing for the next few days after you cook them.
Mulled Wine Spiced Quinces
1 kilo of quinces
3 cups water
2 cups caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
6 whole allspice berries
2 whole star anise
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
Quinces tends to oxidise (turn brown) quickly once it’s peeled so it’s important to have a bowl of water into which the juice of a lemon has been added, also known as acidulated water. Peel the quince, cut into quarters and remove the core. Pop the prepared quince into the acidulated water and repeat until all the quince is prepared.
Put the quince in the slow cooker and cover with water and sugar. Add the spices and the remaining half of lemon to the slow cooker and stir to dissolve the sugar. Turn the slow cooker onto high and let cook for an hour, stirring occasionally and then turn the heat down to low. At this point you can cook the quinces as long as you like, the longer you cook them for the deeper in colour and flavour that they will turn. To get mine to the deep, ruby red that you see in the pictures I cooked them for about five hours total, however you can either cook them longer or shorter than that depending on time constraints.
Once cooked to your liking, ladle the quinces into a sterilized jar and top with the quince syrup. If you have syrup remaining you can bottle it – it makes a delicious cocktail qith a little gin and tonic. Get inventive with it, the syrup is so delicious it’s a waste just to throw it out.