Slow Poached Quinces
THE QUINCE TREE
The quinces are yellow lamps amid red leaves,
Gay festal lanterns that a faery hand
Hung there at twilight when the long leaves turned
From emerald to a mass of crimson flame,
Enchanted fire that through the dawn mist burned.
Beautiful is morning on the land
When quinces hang like lamps among red leaves.
And when the moon of autumn lights the hills
Silver green are the quinces in her light,
Like lamps among the leaves above the well
That mirrors them entangled with the stars.
See, there a red leaf on the water fell.
One by one they will fall through the autumn night.
Tomorrow at dawn the well will brim with leaves.
The quinces are yellow lamps amid red leaves.
Tomorrow, when they ripen, we will go
Gathering them. In baskets they will lie,
Pale yellow fruit, a little pitiful
And sad their bare tree set against the shy.
But we have seen and we will always know
Their light of festal lamps at autumn tide.
by Canadian writer Joan S. Grigsby from Lanterns by the Lake (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. 1929).
We bought a basket of freshly picked quinces from orchardist, Jonathan Banks, during our recent visit and I promised to slow poach them and share the recipe with you. With a basket of quinces on my kitchen table, the fragrance has perfumed my kitchen and living room and reminds me that quinces were once stored with linen for that very purpose.
In The Cook's Companion, cook and food writer, Stephanie Alexander, notes that quinces are grown commercially in Australia only in small quantity, yet quince trees are a common sight in the gardens of old Australian homesteads. Indeed, according to food historian and poet, Eric Rolls, in A Celebration of Food and Wine, there were once so many quinces in orchards on Australian farms that 'the fruit was sliced, sprinkled with strychnine and dropped along freshly drawn furrows to poison the rabbits'. This explains why some old cockys (a.k.a. farmers) refer to the fruit as 'rabbit poison'! Incidentally, there is some interesting information about quince varieties and growing quinces on the NSW Department of Primary Industries web site.
I was introduced to quinces by renowned chef, French cookery teacher and writer, Diane Holuigue, when she prepared an entrancing quince tarte tatin at a cooking class she gave for my partners and I in Canberra many years ago. Holuigue's secret was to first poach the quince halves in a sugar syrup (gently overnight in a 130 degree C oven) until they turn a deep ruby colour. The quinces are then sliced and caramelised in hot butter. A puff pastry circle is draped over the quinces in the pan (with slits to allow steam to escape) and the tart is baked for half an hour in a 200 degree C oven. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, a caramel sauce is prepared with 250g sugar and a tablespoon of honey. 250mls of cream is added to stop the caramelisation and create a creamy caramel sauce. This sauce is poured over the upturned quince tart.
Native to Persia and known as 'Golden Apples', quinces have been used for centuries in both sweet and savoury dishes. In Good Things, English cookery author Jane Grigson wrote that 'One of the interesting things about Middle Eastern and Arab cooking from an Englishman's point of view, is its similarity to English medieval food'. Grigson mentions the abundant use of sweet substances with meat in both. Stewed quinces are lovely with roast goat and lamb; and quinces are exquisite in dishes such as the Iranian Dolmeh Beh (quinces stuffed with spiced beef and split peas).
And, now for my recipe, which is really very simple, but tastes and looks amazing... the deep hues are wonderfully reminiscent of Autumn, don't you agree?
SLOW POACHED QUINCES
4 or 5 medium sized quinces
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
a little slice of lemon zest
a little lemon juice
Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean in a deep stainless steel pan and gently bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer.
Meanwhile, cut the quinces in half with a sharp knife and peel and core them, working quickly. Sprinkle the fruit with a few drops of lemon juice to prevent browning.
Add the quince halves to the poaching syrup and set the heat on the lowest setting. Use a diffuser if you are poaching on the stovetop. The syrup should be gently poaching the fruit and should not be allowed to boil, so keep an eye. You can also poach the quinces in the oven, per Diane Holuigue's method.
Poach the fruit for at least two hours and more if you would like a deeper colour and flavour. As the images below illustrate, the quinces will turn from pale to golden to pink, then ruby (my favourite) and then deep purple. Remove from the heat, allow to cool, then chill and serve with sour cream, clotted cream, fine quality vanilla bean ice cream or crème fraîche. Serves 6-8.
Do you enjoy cooking with quinces? What is your favourite quince recipe?
The core is hard and thick, and is the trickiest part, so use a sharp paring knife and be careful! For those who prefer not to peel and core raw quinces, chef and food writer, Matthew Evans, recommends washing the quinces, then poaching them whole in a sugar syrup for four hours and allowing them to cool in the syrup, by which time the skin will 'slide off easily and the core can be removed'.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.