Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: If You Have a Quince Tree to Hand This Is What You Do with It. (Columns)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: If You Have a Quince Tree to Hand This Is What You Do with It. (Columns)

Article excerpt

One of the most fashionable ways either to start or to finish an urban dinner party these days is with slices of salty Manchego cheese and squares of quivering membrillo, the sweet jellied quince paste from Spain, which is prized by foodies everywhere as the ultimate in exotic food.

Yet if "local produce"--that mantra of the well-heeled--really counted for anything, quince paste ought to seem less exotic to us than the orange marmalade we spread on our morning toast. Quinces, unlike Seville oranges, have always grown well in Britain. It was only in the 20th century that they ceased to be part of our ordinary repertoire of sweet dishes. It is rather topsy-turvy that it should take the coarse quince pastes of Spain to reintroduce us to this native fruit, when we have in our own traditional armoury several recipes for rather finer quince dishes than membrillo.

Elinor Fettiplace, for example, was an Elizabethan lady in an Oxfordshire manor as well as a very good cook. Her manuscript receipt book, edited by Hilary Spurling, contains a recipe for a lovely pink brick of quince paste. It reads: "Take your quinces and rost them, then take the best of the meat of them, & way to every pound of it, a pound of sugar & beate it together in a morter, & boyle it till it be so thick that it come from the posnet [that is, the cooking pot] then mould it and print it, & dry it before the fire."

Spurling suggests that the quinces need an hour or two in a warm oven before being cooled, cored, chopped and sieved or blended. Weigh the puree and cook it in a thick-bottomed pan with an equal weight of sugar, slowly simmering it, stirring often, until the intensely fragrant mixture begins to leave the sides of the pan. There's no need to set it in a mould, unless you happen to have a pretty one--a plain lined tin will do just as well. …

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