With a scent at once floral and of exotic fruits, the Quince is more akin to the Guava it seems than to any fruit of local cultivation. Originating in South West Asia, it grows readily in our climate and was once a popular element of the English diet. In the last years this most regal of fruits is enjoying a revival. When asked to describe it, for it has not quite entered the domains of common parlance, I often find myself sketching medieval still-lifes: think on a painting thus, against a dark 'ground, a hare hanging long, a goose splayed over a table, to its side a bowl of shapely, knobbly yellow fruit, no, not pears… Indeed it is often a surprise that a fruit of such stoic mien have such delicate flavour.
Still Life with Quince
I desired thus to try capture these heady scents redolent of Carribean dusks, of Medieval banquets, in a bottle. The Quince can however be prepared in many manners (more to follow on this subject): besides Membrillo, a Hispanic Quince Paste, it can be made into jellies, popped in crumbles and compotes, baked and stewed, or at best served with meats, whether stuffed in Pheasant, as I did here or popped in a casserole or Tagine. It is very good with Lamb, and I have a little plan to cook it soon with Mutton.
The difficulty with the Quince is that it is a hard fruit, demanding a lot of preparation, and its dreamy flavours are hard to extract. I was determined to try it in an alcoholic infusion, but long deliberated over which alcohol to infuse and how best to capture those scents. There was talk of Gin, Vodka, of grating, stewing, mashing the fruit. Eventually I decided on a Spiced Brandy, wanting to make a warming winter drink to keep me company by the fireside. With two months ‘til Christmas, I sensed this the apt time for infusion – it will toast in the festivities of Christmas Day!
I eventually decided to try one batch cooked and one raw, so see which gave the best flavours.
Stewed Spiced Quince Brandy
Chop four small Quince into chunks. Place in pan with a dash of water and (if possible) some of Drove Orchards Quince Juice (quite the essence of Quince). Bring to the boil then simmer gently over several hours until the Quince has turned deep pink.
Top up with liquid as necessary, there should be just enough to stop it from drying. You could add the Sugar and Spices to the pan when cooking. I, however, added them later. Spoon half of the Quince into each of 500ml wide-necked bottles, add Spices of choice (Cinnamon, Allspice, Cloves, Star Anise, Nutmeg etc) and two level tablespoons of Sugar per bottle. Don’t go too overtop on the spices, as they will be in the alcohol for a long time and only the tiniest amount will give flavour. Fill to the brim with Brandy, close. Store in a cool dark place, shaking occasionally. Serve on awakening Christmas Day.
Raw Spiced Quince Brandy
Wash and slice one very large Quince thinly and layer in 1 litre Kilner Jar with Cinnamon, Cloves, Star Anise, Allspice, and three level tablespoons of Demarara Sugar. Cover with Brandy. Leave to infuse until Christmas morn’.