Refreshing fruit of many uses
The quince could arguably be one of the most romantically mysterious fruits in existence. Hennie Fisher explains
RELATED to the rose family along with apples and pears, the quince had a starring role as the “golden apple” of Hesperides that Paris gave to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, thus sparking the Trojan War.
The quince is very likely also the fruit with which the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. A recipe from one of the earliest cookbook writers, Apicius, instructs one to place perfect fruits in a jar and cover them with honey and new wine, to preserve them for a long time.
Available at the moment in our greengrocers, unripe quinces have a lovely white furry down covering them, which they lose as they mature and change to a deep yellow, slightly leathery, smooth skin. The fruits do not ripen well on the tree, and they are therefore picked and ripened separately. Quinces are traditionally not eaten raw because of their rather astringent taste and tough texture, but there is mention of some smaller, mildly sweet varieties (newly developed) that can be eaten raw such as the “apple quince”.
I doubt if we have any of these in SA yet, but it certainly is something to look out for on one’s travels.
Laden with pectin, quinces are perfect for making quince jelly. They are also perfect for creating another famous product known in English as Quince Cheese. In Sicily they have special pottery moulds that are handed down from one generation to the next for moulding Cotognata. Greek legend has it that a nymph offered Cotignac to Jupiter when he was a child; this has given rise to the 19th century French belief that eating Cotignac from Orléans benefits the minds of unborn children.
The Romans also extracted essential oil from quinces for use in perfumery and a nice little practical used would be to keep a ripe quince in the glove compartment of one’s car; the fruit will not rot but gently shrivel up and perfume the car with a deep rich aroma for up to six months, a great saving and a good alternative to those rather horrid car fresheners that smell like loo spray.
Often cakes present one with too many layers of much-the-same sweetness and not enough variety and flavour nuances. I found a recipe by that queen of uncomplicated baking, Nigel Lawson, for marzipan cake that she serves with only fresh berries and a dusting of icing. I filled the layers instead with a quince and apple fruit spread which offered a nice balance between sweet and tart and created good dimension and variety in taste.