At first sight, you could easily mistake it for a sweet apple or a soft pear, but it’s a tough thing. There is an irresistible floral fragrance, but if you dare to bite it, you’ll be left with an awful raw bitterness. You have to be patient with the quince. It needs special treatment to let go of its harsh façade and slowly reveal its full essence and beauty. With the quince, it’s a love story.
The quince, not the apple, is the fruit that Eve used to seduce Adam in the Garden of Eden. The quince is the fruit that brides chose to perfume their kisses at wedding ceremonies in Ancient Greece. It is the fruit behind the exquisite delicacy called ‘Romeo & Juliette’ in the Spanish-speaking world. And yes, the quince is my Valentine’s treat.
In Morocco, the quince is abundant, but it is always cooked one way, in a succulent tajine with lamb, saffron, and cinnamon. Not very far from Morocco, in Spain and Portugal, the quince is prepared in completely different ways, to make delicious jellies and paste (membrillo).
The quince is a Fall fruit and isn’t easy to find this time of the year, but our local Persian store manages to keep it available, fresh, and fragrant… if pricy. The original recipe calls for rose water, and I added some tiny dry roses that I brought from Morocco during my last trip. They are called ward beldi, which means roses from the countryside. Women grind them and mix them to make natural soap, sabon beldi. I like to put dry roses in tea infusions with some honey. One sip and I’m back in the sweet homeland.
For this recipe, you could use as many quinces as you like. My recipe has a single quince and will yield two 6 oz. jars, but you can multiply the recipe with no problem:
1 large quince
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 sachet, made of 5 cardamom pods crushed
1 sachet, made of quince seeds (high in pectin)
½ teaspoon of rose water and/or edible roses
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Peel the quince, cut it into quarters, then slice each quarter in half. Cut out the stems and cores, but keep the seeds and put them in a sachet.
Put the quince wedges into a large saucepan and add cold water, then add the sachet of seeds.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the saucepan, and let cook for 1 hour.
Uncover the saucepan. The quince edges should have turned pink. Add the lemon juice and sprinkle one cup of sugar all over. Turn up the heat to bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the saucepan simmer covered for 1 hour.
Uncover the saucepan again. The quince edges should now be burnt orange in color. Turn off the heat, then add the cardamom sachet and the rose water. Let the saucepan sit for 15 minutes to diffuse the flavors, then remove both sachets and discard them.
Gently spoon out the cooked quince wedges and place into jars. Add one cardamom pod and one or two dry roses (optional) in each jar. I like to strain the syrup before I then pour it into the jars, filling them. Cover the jars and let them cool before refrigerating.
I find it better to wait until the next day to enjoy, so that the flavors can set and the syrup has a chance to thicken. Quince preserves are great eaten directly from the jar, or with cheese (Manchego) and bread. The remaining syrup can be used as a sweetener for tea and smoothies, and can add a great flavor to salad dressings. It can also be used to brush home-made fruit tarts, especially apple or pear. Yum!
Thank you Fae, and Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers!