The Quince And The Cordial

Aesop really should have written a fable about the quince, in which this concrete wrecking ball of a fruit is enticed into loveliness by the intervention of a little loving care.

I’ve always admired the truculence of the quince. Its exquisite perfume and plumply yellow fruit give the impression of easy, yielding grace. But circle your fingers around a quince and you will find it as hard and unwelcoming as a winter’s morning. Never was there such a mismatch between looks and character. Once you know how to cajole it, though, a quince becomes the thing you always thought it was going to be from the start – sweet, delicate and fragrant.

So to make up for the fable that Aesop forgot to write, here is the tale of The Quince And The Cordial.

QUINCE CORDIAL

  • 12 quinces, left whole
  • 850ml water
  • 350g caster sugar

I have the brilliant chef Skye Gyngell to thank for this idea. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Wash the quinces and rub them dry with a cloth, to remove the soft fuzz that adorns them. Don’t bother to peel or core them, but simply line them up in a baking tray. Sprinkle over the sugar and pour in the water. Cover with aluminium foil and bake in the oven for between 3 to 4 hours.

My quinces were very large and needed the full 4 hours to be rendered soft and for the juice to be richly pink. Allow the quinces to cool in the liquid. Remove the fruit and tip the juice into a jug. My quinces made 1 litre of cordial. It will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, but I prefer to decant mine into small plastic bottles and freeze it. That way I can pluck a bottle triumphantly out of the freezer whenever needed, for an impromptu, showy cocktail. The rule is 50/50 of cordial to prosecco, sparkling apple juice or fizzy water with ice.

The really clever part of this fable is that having extracted your cordial you are still left with the cooked fruit themselves. Slice the quinces and serve them with Greek yoghurt, maple syrup and perhaps some toasted hazelnuts. Or tuck pieces of cooked quince amongst the apples when making an apple crumble.

The moral of this fable is, of course, that you should never judge a quince by its cover.

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Oh so cordial cordial…

A few weeks ago I paid tribute to poor old Blood Orange Posset, the deliciously delicate pudding that got lumbered with the worst name in the world. As if we needed reminding that life isn’t fair, along swooshes the elegant, beautiful, perfectly-named Apple Mint Cordial. If Blood Orange Posset and Apple Mint Cordial were guests at a wedding, BOP would be in the back row, behind a pillar and forced to wear a hat picked by Princess Beatrice, while AMC would be in the front pew dressed entirely in Alexander McQueen.

Not that it’s cordial’s fault. And I do love food that’s both a noun and an adjective. To drink a cordial that is cordial is very satisfying, although that might just be the cranky way my mind works. (While I’m on the subject of grammar, food that’s both a noun and a verb is weirdly full of fat – think of lard, milk, butter and oil).

This particular cordial will quench your thirst at a glance.

Apple Mint Cordial

Makes about 1 litre

1kg apples – Cox’s are best, although I used Royal Gala here

320 grams caster sugar

Finely pared peel of one unwaxed lemon

1 litre water

2 large handfuls of fresh mint leaves plus extra for serving

Chop the apples roughly, but don’t bother to peel or core them. Place them in a large pan with the sugar, water and lemon. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Add the mint leaves.

Simmer gently for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the apple is soft and mushy. Turn off the heat and pour the entire lot into a jelly-making bag and allow it to drip slowly through into a bowl for a couple of hours. You can squish it through with the back of a ladle if you like, but I prefer to leave it to its own devices so that it emerges on the other side as a clear rather than cloudy pink liquid. Pour into sterilised bottles. It will keep in the fridge for about a week. Alternatively, you can freeze it into ice cubes and use them at your leisure. Add about 1/3 cordial to 2/3 still or sparkling water and serve with plenty of ice and a handful of fresh mint leaves.

Drink your Apple Mint Cordial while making a consoling, slightly smug toast to poor old Blood Orange Posset.

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