Re­fresh­ing fruit of many uses

The quince could ar­guably be one of the most ro­man­ti­cally mys­te­ri­ous fruits in ex­is­tence. Hen­nie Fisher ex­plains

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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.

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