The last word on quinces

All the jars from last week’s quince marathon have been labeled and put away, and the sticky kitchen floor and stovetop have been cleaned. And, except for the quince chutney, which needs to mature for two months, everything quince tasted good so far.

The last poached quinces went into two quince crisps today, one for us and one for my parents-in-law in Connecticut. Crisp travels well in a cooler, it can be reheated and even frozen. Nobody around me can escape quince these days!

Quince Crisp

I made the crisp with 1¾ pounds poached quince chunks. If unlike me you have quinces with little waste, 2 to 2½ pounds raw quinces should yield about that amount. There is no need to be precise – a little more or less won’t matter. The quinces can be prepared in advance and refrigerated for a few days. The crisp topping is based on the all-purpose crisp topping from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone but I reduced the brown sugar in the topping and added a generous amount to the quinces, as these tart fruits really need it.

3 organic lemons

2 to 2½ pounds quinces

1 stick cinnamon

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Crisp topping:

6 tablespoons cold butter

2/3 cup flour

½ cup light brown sugar

½ cup rolled oats

Pinch of salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1. Wash the lemons under cold running water and rub them dry with a paper towel.

2. Peel two of the lemons with a vegetable peeler and juice them. Put the lemon peel and the lemon juice in a large pot with water.

3. Peel and core the quinces. Cut into bite-size chunks and immerse them immediately in the prepared lemon water. Add the cinnamon stick and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the quinces can be pierced with a knife. Cool in the cooking liquid.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

5. Drain the quinces and remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick.

6. Zest and juice the remaining lemon. Chop the zest very finely. Mix the zest, lemon juice, quinces, sugar and cinnamon with the drained quince chunks. Place the mix in an ovenproof dish and distribute evenly with a spatula.

7. For the topping, cut the butter into small dice. Add all other ingredients and quickly crumble with your fingertips to a pebbly consistency. Distribute evenly over the quinces. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour until bubbly and lightly browned on top.

Makes 6 servings

Quince Chutney

This recipe is based on the Pumpkin and Quince Chutney from the fabulous River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin, but I made a couple of changes.

I could not warm up to adding horseradish, so I substituted freshly grated gingerroot, as it goes well with pumpkin, quince, apples, and raisins.

Also, after I was done with all the chopping it was so late that I had to postpone the cooking to the next morning. I mixed all of the ingredients and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, which I have done with other chutneys. It usually intensifies the flavor.

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

12 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half

2½ pounds peeled and deseeded pumpkin

2½ pounds peeled and cored quince

1½ pounds peeled and cored tart apples

1½ pounds peeled and trimmed red onions

3 cups raisins

2½ cups light brown sugar

2½ cups apple cider vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chili flakes, more to taste

2 ounces freshly grated gingerroot

1. Bundle the peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon in a piece of cheesecloth and tie securely with a butcher twine.

2. Evenly chop the pumpkin, quince, apples and onions. Place the raisins in a heatproof bowl and pour hot water over them. Drain well.

3. Mix all of the ingredients in a large non-corrosive container (plastic or glass, no metal) with a lid and refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day, slowly bring the mix to a boil. Reduced the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 3 hours, until the liquid is thick and syrupy.

5. Remove the spice bag. Fill the chutney in sterilized jars through a canning funnel. Wipe the rims with a damp piece of paper towel to remove any drips and wipe dry with paper towel. Place the lids and the bands on the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

6. Let cool and set for 24 hours without moving the jars.

Makes six to seven 1-pint jars 

That was quince enough

Other than eating them, I don’t want to have anything to do with quinces for a very long time. Last week I spent three long evenings, and a good part of Saturday, peeling, coring, and chopping quinces, making quince jelly, quince sauce, quince compote, quince chutney, and poached quinces. In the process, I ran out of sugar, apple cider vinegar, jars, and lids. I dulled two paring knives (quinces are very acidic!), got a blister on my hand, and had to run over to a friend’s house because I don’t have a pressure cooker and I thought the quince sauce needed special processing (now I know better). Also, two filled canning jars cracked during sealing, spilling their precious content into the boiling water.

Yet when I look at the line-up of jars, I am telling myself it was worth it. I had already given up on getting my hand on quinces this fall when our neighbor unloaded three large crates with quinces on our porch on Wednesday night. I did not weigh them but it must have been 30 to 40 pounds.

If those had been regular quinces, I would not have been able to handle such a huge amount. The trees where that glut of gnarly quinces originated surely have not been treated with pesticides, nor been pruned in decades so there was a lot of waste. Except for the tedious process of cleaning and trimming, this was fine with me; I was going to peel and thoroughly core the quinces anyway, because I don’t like the astringent taste of those parts.

While the look of most fruits deteriorates during cooking, the quince turns into a blushing pink beauty. I find it amazing how the pale yellow, gritty flesh of quinces changes its color. However, it is essential to immerse the quinces in a bowl of water with several tablespoons of lemon or lime juice immediately after peeling to prevent them from turning brown.

No additives needed for coloring here – the leftover liquid from poaching the quinces, which I strained and filled into bottles, has the color of pink lemonade. We started mixing it with seltzer water for a refreshing soda. Nothing should go to waste, especially after you have worked so hard for it!

Here are two of the quince recipes. After I am done labeling all those jars, I will write down the others.

Spiced Quince Sauce

I initially thought the quince sauce needed to be sealed in a pressure cooker but I learned that ¼ cup of sugar per pound of fruit is enough for safe water batch canning.

Although it takes more time, and I really did not need that after all the peeling and coring, I strongly recommend grinding the spices yourself instead of using ground ones. The flavor is significantly better.

5¾ pounds peeled and cored quince chunks

1 tablespoon finely chopped organic lemon zest

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground anise

½ cup orange juice

2 cups sugar

1. Put all the ingredients except for the sugar in a large heavy pot and cook, covered, until the quinces break apart, about 1 to 1¼ hours. Stir often to prevent burning.

2. Add the sugar at the end of the cooking process. Puree finely with a stick blender.

3. Fill the hot quince sauce in sterilized jars. The sauce is very thick and forms air pockets. To remove them, carefully stir the sauce with a long, thin utensil (I used a metal skewer).

4. Wipe the rim with a damp piece of paper towel to remove any drips and wipe dry with paper towel. Place the lids and the bands on the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

5. Let cool and set for 24 hours without moving the jars.

Makes four to five 1-pint jars

Chunky Orange-Cardamom Quince Compote

Quinces and oranges are a wonderful combination, and so are quinces and cardamom, so why not combine all three? This makes chunky quince compote that we ate with Greek vanilla yogurt.

1¾ pounds peeled and cored quince chunks

2 teaspoons dried orange peel

6 cardamom pods, finely ground

1/3 to ½ cup sugar, to taste

2 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur, to taste

1. Put the quinces in a heavy pot with the cardamom about ¼ inch of water to prevent burning. Cook, covered, for about 45 minutes, until the quinces are soft but not falling apart. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.

2. Let cool, then stir in the orange liqueur. Refrigerate.

Makes 6 servings

Quince finale (double header)

When I started gardening I always made lists of what I wanted to accomplish that day, or that week. However those lists quickly became a source of frustration. Once outside, I always got sidetracked by the many additional things that need to be done.

As a result, today, on a gorgeous early fall day, I am happily working in the garden without a list. I only came into the house to write down the last two quince recipes, and, of course, to have a slice of the Quince Meringue Pie I made this morning.

Quince Sorbet

8 cups water

1¼ cups sugar, more to taste

2 pounds peeled and cored quinces

¼ cup applejack

You also need:

An ice-cream maker

1. Bring water and sugar to a boil. Cut the quinces into chunks and cook covered for about 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. Puree the quinces very finely with all of the cooking liquid. As long as you peeled and cored the quinces neatly, there is no need to strain the mix. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Add the applejack to the chilled mixture and stir well. Process in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Since this recipe makes a large amount, I processed it in two batches and put the freezer bowl back in the freezer after the first batch until it was solidly frozen again.

4. Fill sorbet in airtight freezer containers and freeze for 12 hours, or until solidly frozen.  Take sorbet out of the freezer 15 to 20 minutes before serving to soften, but not much longer because it melts quickly.

Makes 1.5 quarts

Quince Meringue Pie

This pie tastes best the same day, as the meringue tends to get soggy after a while.

Pie crust:

1 cup flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3  cup (about 2½ ounces) shortening, at room temperature

4-6 tablespoons quince poaching liquid, chilled

Filling and topping:

2 ounces unpeeled almonds, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons golden raisins

1 teaspoon golden rum

16 ounces poached quinces, drained

3 egg whites

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

You also need:

A pastry blender

Wax paper

A 9-inch pie pan with removable rim

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. For the pie crust, mix flour, salt and shortening with a pastry blender until crumbly. Add poaching liquid by tablespoons until the dough holds together in a ball. Blend briefly to get rid of any lumps.

3. Roll out the dough to an 11-inch circle between two sheets of wax paper. Remove the top layer of the wax paper and flip the wax paper over to fit the circle into a 9-inch fluted pie pan with removable rim. Carefully remove the wax paper. Let the dough come up to the height of the rim. Trim the dough along the rim with a sharp knife.

4. Loosely line the crust with lightly greased aluminum foil (shiny side down) and fill with pie weights. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the pie weights and the aluminum foil and bake for 10 to 13 more minutes, or until the crust has a golden brown color. Let cool on a wire rack. Do not turn the oven off.

5. While the pie crust is baking, toast the almonds in an ungreased pan until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

6. Wash the raisins under warm water and pat dry with a paper towel. Mix with the rum in a small bowl.

7. Whip the egg whites until very stiff, gradually adding the confectioners’ sugar.

8. Carefully toss the poached quince slices with the almonds and raisins with rum. Arrange them on the cooled crust. Top with the meringue and bake in a 350 degrees F preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the peaks are lightly browned. Remove the pie rim and let cool on a wire rack.

Quinces part 2

After looking at dozens of quince recipes (there’s really not so much out there), I poached a good amount of the quinces, which was the easiest and most versatile way. Any recipe that uses quinces whole or with their skins still on was a reject right away, because as much as I like quinces, I do not like the particular taste of their skins and cores.

I followed the recipe for poached quinces from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Fruit, using a full two pounds of peeled and cored quinces. That leaves me with a big container of quinces in syrup to use for pies, desserts and other experiments.

This morning I wanted to do something quick so I made Quince Danish. I couldn’t get away from my desk so I left the puff pastry thaw on the countertop for too long. It was sticky and difficult to handle but it still tasted good.

Quince sorbet is next.

Quince Danish

2 cups sugar

6 cups water

½ organic lemon, in slices

½ vanilla bean

2 pounds peeled and cored quinces

1 sheet puff pastry

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons cream cheese

Apple or crabapple jelly for brushing

1. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a heavy saucepan. When the sugar is dissolved, add the lemon.

2. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife. Add pod and seeds to the pot.

3. Cut the quinces into rather thick wedges and add the them to the pan. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the quinces are soft but not falling apart. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Remove the vanilla bean and the lemon. Refrigerate.

4. Let the frozen puff pastry thaw for about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

6. Place the puff pastry on a sheet of wax paper and cut it into 8 rectangles of even size.

7. Stir sour cream and cream cheese until smooth. Put a small dollop of the mix in the middle of each rectangle. Arrange 5-6 quinces slices on top, leaving enough space around the edges to crimp the dough.

8. Crimp the dough all around. Place the rectangles on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the quince slices with apple jelly and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until puffed up and golden.

9. Transfer to a wire rack immediately and cool.

Makes 8 small Danish