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:

QUINCE CORDIAL

  • 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.

QUINCE SORBET IN PARMESAN CUPS

  • 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.

MEMBRILLO

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.