“It’s like a pear that has spent the night making love to a rose,” is how Rob described the enigmatic aroma of quince. We brought six quinces home from the market two weeks ago. Like some magic fruit of legend, as they lay ripening on the counter, they slowly started to drive us quince crazy.
They are a mysterious, ambiguous yellow-green. The fragrance is sweet and floral, but with a hint of animal musk. And their shape is suggestive, evoking the voluptuousness of Rubens, or the bordello paintings of Degas. Luxuriant. Tempting. Forbidden.
It all lends credence to the hypothesis that the apple of Eden would likely have been quince. It invites you to take a greedy mouthful, but you’ll be punished if you do: the raw flesh is strongly astringent, and requires patient cooking to yield the flavour suggested by its perfume. As you simmer it, the fruit slowly flushes with colour and sweetness, and softens to a texture that’s somewhere between poached pear and raw scallop. The transformation is dramatic.
Inspired by David Lebovitz’s recipe, we poached some quinces with some home-made Chinese five-spice, to which we also added licorice root. The resulting spiced fruit was amazing with seared duck breast, but we’ve eaten quite a lot on its own, with our hands. We also mixed some of the poaching syrup with a little white rum and a splash of tonic to make a cocktail that tasted like the nectar of a tropical flower. A teaspoonful in a flute of sparkling wine is also, in a word, lush. Martha Stewart’s quince jelly with star anise – our first ever jelly (not so gel-y) – was a sensational foil for chicken liver mousse. We’ll surely be bringing home more before the season’s through, even if it’s just to look at and smell them.