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Quintessential Quince

Nothing shouts Autumn more than the quince. This magical fruit has an ancient past coming from the Mesopotamian plain, used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans and transported by Muslims to many lands in the Mediterranean.

It was planted not just for its fruit but also as a pretty tree which grew well in dry places.

The magic is in the cooking which transforms this astringent white-fleshed demon into perfectly pink and perfumed treats. The other magic is in the pectin. There is a massive amount of this natural setting agent in quinces, mostly in the skins and seeds. That's why you don't peel and core them if you want a firm set jelly and a slice-able paste. It is an old fashioned fruit that is hard to find unless it comes from a backyard tree. When I was a child, ladies made quince jelly and gave it as gifts and sold it at trading tables.

More recently we have become acquainted with quince paste which is lovely with hard cheese and is common in Spain where it is called membrillo and eaten with manchego cheese.

To make the jelly and paste, you mostly need time and patience. Because we can't be out, it is a perfect activity for a weekend. My brother provided the quinces, fresh from the York Peninsular. They were big, creased, hard and furry.

There are lots of recipes on the internet but my memory of making quince jelly was of whole quinces rolling about in a big pot of sugar syrup, slowly turning pink and then dark red.

This method means the actual quince flesh is not used, so it seemed logical to find a recipe for the paste that used the flesh from making the jelly.

We planned for jelly making on Saturday and paste making on Sunday.

The recipe for quince jelly comes from the Green and Gold Cookbook, a book first published in 1923 in Sydney. It was very popular and every kitchen seemed to have one. It has been republished many times but more so now as an historical curio - a snapshot in time of Australian home cookery. The cake, biscuit and jam recipes are excellent and there is a whole section on how to use an electric stove, but I would not recommend the invalid cooking section.

The recipe for quince jelly is extremely simple and attributed to Mrs S.P.Bond, Mrs G Barnes and Edith E. Rutt.

To make a quince paste that is reasonably solid so it can be sliced, it must be cooked for an extraordinary amount of time, either on the stove or in the oven. On line I came across a clever idea of cooking it in a slow cooker. My daughter's friend Steph left an old mustard-yellow crock pot when she was moving house and we rescued it from the hard rubbish. It's from the 1970 s, the time when slow cooking devices we born. It's great for making ragu and as we discovered, also perfect for quince paste making. It saves standing over a stove for hours, managing hot sticky spits from bubbling volcanoes or worrying abut burning on the bottom.To make my paste a little unique I also added some spices.

Quince Jelly

( I have kept the imperial measurements)

Wipe 6 pounds of quinces (do not cut them up), place in a pan and pour over them 6 pounds of sugar and six pints of water. Boil gently for four hours. Gently lift out fruit whole, which can be used as preserve. Put jelly in jars.

My note: you don't want the jelly to be too runny so if it's not done in 4 hours just keep it going for a little longer.

Spiced Quince Paste using a slow cooker

Once you have taken the whole quinces out from the jelly, put them in the bowl and allow them to cool over night.

The next day, cut the hard bits out of the core of the quinces and put all the rest, including the skins and seeds in a blender to make a smooth paste.

For every cup of paste, add half a cup of sugar.

Add a few cloves and a piece of star anise.

Mix well and add to the slow cooker and put in a high setting with the lid off.

Cook for a few hours, (I had mine on for around 3 hours) stirring every now and then.

It should turn from pale pink to dark red and get very thick.

Turn out the paste into a flat pan and leave in the fridge for 24 hours. It should go solid. Its best kept in the fridge.

A slice is lovely served with fresh ricotta for dessert.

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