The Unjustified Quince

My praise for the sooth­ing, reg­u­lar, oblong qual­it­ies of jus­ti­fied text in my last post, The Jus­ti­fied Green­gage, pro­voked some people to ques­tion my san­ity and judge­ment. Appar­ently, only jus­ti­fied left, raggedy right, will do. In my defence, I’m teach­ing myself the art of let­ter­press on my dad’s Vic­tori­an print­ing press, so it’s only in blog posts that I like slabs of type to look like Swedish crisp­bread.

If you were hor­ri­fied by my taste for uni­form lines, this post is for you. Its raggedy, ram­shackle right-hand edge will, I hope, soothe your raggedy nerves. If your nerves are still raggedy, jus­ti­fied text not­with­stand­ing, the glor­i­ous, per­fumed qual­it­ies of the quince will help no end. In my case, cre­at­ing sorbets, cor­di­als and jel­lies from my har­vest of quince, came at the end of a week in which I saw Ibsen’s Ghosts, Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Tit­us Andronicus. For three nights in a row, I wal­lowed in hypo­crisy, tor­ment, murder, tyranny and pints and pints of blood. (I’d always thought that Tit­us Andronicus was un-per­form­able, but Michael Fentiman’s pro­duc­tion at the RSC proved me wrong. It was start­lingly, shock­ingly funny and very, very messy.)

I’ve writ­ten before about the truc­u­lence of the quince, but over time I’ve come to think of it as hav­ing Pol­ly­anna-like qual­it­ies, des­pite its unyield­ing, con­crete-like flesh. Once cajoled out of its raw state, the quince’s  perky eager­ness-to-please puts it in a cat­egory all of its own. The fruit looks beau­ti­ful on the tree, per­fumes the house when it’s brought inside, yields gen­er­ous amounts of cor­di­al while it cooks and, hav­ing done that, it’s still there, at the ready, to be turned into some­thing else. This year, hav­ing grown over one hun­dred fruit, I’ve made jelly, mem­brillo, quince brandy, cor­di­al and, per­haps my favour­ite of all, sorbet. Like Mrs Beeton’s instruc­tion, when mak­ing pie, to ‘first catch your rab­bit’, to make sorbet, first make your cor­di­al. Like this:


  • 12 quince, whole and unpeeled
  • 850 ml water
  • 350g caster sug­ar

I’ve writ­ten the recipe for this before, but to make life easi­er, here it is again. Pre­heat the oven to 150 degrees C. Wash the fruit, rub­bing off its fluff with your fin­gers. Pack the quince snugly into a bak­ing dish that is approx­im­ately the same height as the fruit. Tip in the sug­ar and water and place a piece of sil­ver foil over the top, tuck­ing it in around the fruit. Bake in the oven for three hours and then remove and allow to cool before pour­ing the liquid into a jug. (Reserve the fruit and I will tell you how to use it for mem­brillo.) The amount of cor­di­al you will get var­ies from between 500 to 700 ml, depend­ing on the size of the fruit. I freeze mine in small bottles, to pluck out, slightly show­ily, dur­ing the year. Serve it topped up with spark­ling water or pro­secco. Or, move onto phase 2.…. sorbet.


  • Home-made quince cor­di­al
  • Finely grated parmes­an

The point of com­bin­ing the sorbet with parmes­an is to drag it in the dir­ec­tion of the savoury. But if you wish to nudge it back into the safe con­fines of a famil­i­ar har­bour, match it with mango and black­cur­rant sorbet instead.

Pour the cooled, undi­luted cor­di­al straight into an ice-cream maker and churn until frozen. It will turn a rather soppy Ger­moline pink, but has its charms. To make the parmes­an cups, heap mounds of grated cheese on bak­ing parch­ment — about two table­spoons for each cup — and bake in the oven for two to three minutes. When melted into golden discs, remove and shape them over the bot­tom of an espresso cup imme­di­ately. Allow to cool and then assemble.


Next, the com­pli­ant quince is ready for phase three — mem­brillo.

  • Cooked quince left over from the cor­di­al exper­i­ment
  • Caster sug­ar

Like the cor­di­al and the sorbet, this recipe is ridicu­lously easy. Squish the cooked fruit through a sieve. It’s easi­er to do this one at a time, dis­card­ing the pips and skin from the sieve and then mov­ing on to the next fruit. Weigh the pulp and add it, with an identic­al quant­ity of caster sug­ar, to a pan. Bring the mix­ture to the boil and then allow to sim­mer very gently for around one and a half hours. It will become a dark, rich red and is ready when you can draw a wooden spoon across the bot­tom of the pan, leav­ing the two sides to stand huffily apart from each oth­er, before reluct­antly creep­ing back over the pan to reunite.

Serve with a hard, salty cheese and crisp­bread. For those of us who’ve aban­doned beau­ti­fully uni­form jus­ti­fied text for the sake of oth­er people, use nice, sooth­ingly oblong, reg­u­lar, plank-shaped crisp­bread, to calm those raggedy nerves. My favour­ite sour­dough crisp­bread from Peter’s Yard is cir­cu­lar, not oblong. So I’ll cut my cheese into oblongs instead.

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