For the past 48 hours I have been seduced by the fruit that caused all the trouble in the first place. Or was it the serpent that was the evil one?

The quince, it seems, way pre-dates the apple. Not only is it thought that it was a quince, and not an apple, that was growing so temptingly in the Garden of Eden, but it was also a quince that started the Trojan War.

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A much loved fruit from mythical times through mediaeval times, Cydonia oblonga appears in De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), a collection of Roman recipes  thought to have been compiled in the late fourth or early fifth century and attributed to Caelius Apicius.

PATINA DE CYDONIIS 

A DISH OF QUINCES IS MADE AS FOLLOWS: QUINCES ARE COOKED WITH LEEKS, HONEY AND BROTH, USING HOT OIL, OR THEY ARE STEWED IN HONEY.

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I was delighted to see that lovage features large in what must surely be the original cook book. I was charmed by the rose wine and the violet wine. The puréed parsnips sounded divine. I was intrigued by the In Ovis Hapalis – poached eggs served with pepper, lovage, nuts and honey. I’ll skip the stuffed dormouse, sow’s udder and the rose petal and calf’s brain dish.

But I digress. The quince is, in some quarters, out of favour and is certainly not appreciated by those with no intimate knowledge of  its charms. But it is a truly rewarding  fruit if you are prepared to spend an hour or 48 in its company in the kitchen.

The quince, along with the prickly pear, was one of the fruits that was held in high regard by my mother. It was one of the fruits that for me was a symbol of her idyllic childhood spent swimming in farm dams and rivers. In my childhood, venison as well as ‘ mock venison’  was always served with quince jelly.

I spent quite a few hours in Google’s company when I came home from the shops with six velvety chartreuse quinces. By the time I had scoured Google  – and all my recipe books too – I found myself running back down to the greengrocer to buy an additional box of quinces. And then I settled in for a weekend in thrall to the quince.

The first thing I made was membrillo. Well, to be honest I actually made a version of  River Cottage Quince Cheese.   I followed their instructions exactly except I used less sugar – 75% of the  weight of the quince pulp. And mine took a little longer than theirs, possibly because I cooked it on top of our anthracite burning Godin stove. I was rather pleased that I didn’t have to use any additional energy to cook the membrillo.

While the membrillo was cooking I made supper – shoulder of lamb seasoned with salt and pepper cooked on a bed of leeks, quince halves, and thyme. Cook it at a low temperature of 150C for about four hours, tightly covered, and you’ll end up with silky leeks, soft quinces with a haunting depth of flavour and lamb that falls off the bone.

Thank you to Apicius for the idea of cooking quinces with leeks.  Now I need to get back to  De Re Coquinaria to see how to cook that flamingo I have tethered in the back yard.

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More quince recipes:

Quince Tarte Tatin from David Lebovitz

Quince Curd – The British Food Larder

Quince Pancakes – Saveur,  adpated from The Breakfast Book  by Marion Cunningham

And then of course Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a few other quince recipes worth trying as does  Nigel Slater.

 

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