JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Do you ever do that little word puzzle on the back of the Times, by the crossword? The one where you have three definitions for an obscure word, and you have to guess which one's right?

Yesterday, one of the words was quiddany. Does it mean, a) whosoever, b) fruit jelly, c) a suspect? I so wanted it to be fruit jelly, please let it be fruit jelly ... and it was: Quiddany, a thick fruit-syrup or jelly. Originally, and properly, one made from quinces. Adaptation of the Latin cydonia. 1695: "Sloes in the form of a Quiddany, or Marmalade."

Well, it's not mentioned in Elizabeth Raffald's cookery book published in 1814, even though she gives two recipes for quince, one boiled whole, the other for what she calls quince marmalade (& not a hint of another name). So I turned to the Oxford Companion to Food, where Alan Davidson gives several different spellings, none of them the same as in that little puzzle.

Cydonia turns out to be the Latin for Kydonia, a region of Crete where a strain of quince was grown, superior to the common strythion. This must be the one we grow, because the botanical name for quince is cydonia oblonga.

Davidson says that the various names for quince paste all come from ancient classical languages: In ancient Greece, quinces were known as apples of Cydonia, mela Kudonia. The French contignac, Italian cotognata, and Greek kidonopasto along with the 17th century English words quidony or quidoniac, can be traced back to this Greek origin. The Portuguese word marmelada (from which the English word marmalade is taken) and the Spanish membrillo derive from Latin melimelum (honey apple ..).

Davidson goes on to say that all these recipes preserved the quince in honey, sometimes with the addition of vinegar and spices. The same method was also used for other fruit and - wait for it - turnips. They were all put into the honey raw, and, after long storage, softened enough to eat. Only the quinces didn't soften, they just carried on being hard, so they were cooked to a solid gel (the first use of pectin). But it was a long time before other fruits were cooked ... actually, you can see that it's a lot less trouble just putting them into the honey and waiting for them to soften. I suspect the invention of jam came when two things were discovered: that (stored) cooked fruit is more delicious than raw, and that fruit stores more reliably cooked than raw - Davidson hints at this.

It's not the quince time of year here until late summer, although our quince tree has set plenty of fruit. Claudia Roden says in Arabesque that you can buy quinces all year round in Cypriot shops, but I'd have to go to London for that (and then there'd be a lot of agonising about whether or not they'd been air-freighted). I think they must be a year-round crop in Turkey, too, because, when we were there last spring for the total solar eclipse, I ate fresh poached quince every day for breakfast. Great start to the day.

Our quince tree is getting pretty ancient, and we need to replant ... can anybody recommend any particular cultivar? There seem to be quite a few, and I don't know how to set about choosing the best.


Susan said...

What an interesting post. I learned something new, which is always fun. Sorry, I don't have suggestions about the re-planting.

Joanna said...

Thanks, Susan

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