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.
- 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 160 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 very loosely 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 1.2 litres 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.