Golden quince are abundant in Fethiye’s markets at this time of year. Not the most attractive fruit perhaps, they are slightly pear-shaped, heavy and covered in a yellowish fuzz. When raw they are an acquired taste. Their saving grace is their sweet almost exotic fragrance.
A curious fruit indeed, but once cooked their beguilling perfume and soft ruby flesh transforms this end-of-summer bruiser into a irresistible temptation and one that invariably ends up as a firm favourite on the table, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.
A fruit with attitude
Let’s set things straight; the quince you find in Fethiye is the Cydonia oblonga, not the ornamental flowering Chaenomeles, popular in British gardens, which has tiny fruit.
The ones we’re talking about are enormous by comparison and grow on trees, which become bowed under their mighty crop. If you hit your head on a low hanging quince, you’ll know all about it. Your head will invariably come off worse.
Heavy on history
According to fruit historians, quince has a long and intriguing history. Alleged to hail from the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation, over the years the fruit made its way to the Mediterranean, where Greeks and Romans cherished its flavour and perfume.
It is believed that in classical times people kept baskets of them in living areas, as natural air fresheners.
As apples had not arrived in the ancient world, it has been said that this remarkable fruit could well have been the one that led Adam and Eve off the straight and narrow in the Garden of Eden.
And if this isn’t enough, the golden apples of the Hesperides, given to Aphrodite by Paris of Troy, could well have been quinces, too.
Despite a lack of quince in Britain these days, there is research suggesting that in the 17th century, there were far more recipes for quinces in English cookery books than for any other orchard fruit.
Imported from Mediterranean countries as far back as medieval times, often in paste form, a favourite condiment then and now is marmalade, which stems from the Portuguese word for quince – marmela.
Apothecaries recommended quince as a digestive aid. This could be why in the 17th century quince pastes were served after the meal at banquets. They were even regarded as an aphrodisiac.
Click here for more about the history of the quince.
Big on flavour
These fruit can be used in many ways… in fact they are incredibly versatile. We have enjoyed them at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Quince for breakfast
Here is a recipe for quince paste; one of our favourite breakfast table treats.
A great way to use quinces is this quince chutney, which is delicious served with cheese.If you and looking for something more substantial, a treat from Yotam Ottolenghi is this perfect dish – quince stuffed with lamb
An equally impressive dish is chicken, quince, lemon and almond tagine
… and of course, for pudding
Slow food at its best
Quinces need very slow baking – so dont leave making them to the last minute. The delayed gratification is worth it!
Slow baked quinces
4 quinces, de-fuzzed
1 lemon, zest peeled and juiced
1 orange, zest peeled and juiced
50ml apple vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 fresh bay leaves
Preheat your oven to 140C fan-assisted or 160C conventional.
Carefully cut the fruit in half lengthways and lay them in a ceramic baking dish, cut side up. Scatter over the sugar, drizzle with the honey, add the lemon and orange zest and juice and pour over the vinegar. Scatter over the cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves, cover with baking paper and foil and bake for two hours.
Uncover and cook for a further two hours. Once cooked, the flesh will be crimson in colour and there will be a thick, fragrant and almost jam-like syrup in the dish.
You can serve the quinces warm or at room temperature. We particularly like them served warm or cold with plenty of thick suzme – strained – yogurt.
A Turkish treat
No story about quince would be complete without a recipe for famous Turkish ayva tatlısı. Here is the recipe we use most often:
We have been told that to bring out the rub-red colour quinces should be cooked with their skins on.
Sniff a quince
When selecting a quince, chose those that are heavy. Also, dont forget to give them a discreet sniff, so you can make sure you are buying the really fragrant ones.