Five huge quince from the Italian deli: time for a serious look through the recipe books for some ideas. My grandmother Buzz made quince jam every year, and her manuscript book - parts of which date back to the 19th century - is still my best source of inspiration on all things quince. Their scent takes me back to her kitchen in Oxford, to the enamelled kitchen table where she taught me how to bake.
Two have gone into the Christmas mincemeat instead of apple; one's flavouring some cheap brandy; the last two are going to be membrillo by the end of the day, and the peelings will be boiled up into a syrup*. When all that's done, I'm going straight back to the deli for some more, before the fleeting season ends. (And, no, I'm not going to tell you the name of the deli, in case you get there first. Sorry.)
I don't make many individual mince pies (too fiddly, wrong ratio of pastry to mincemeat), but a standard December pud here is an open mincemeat tart, sometimes using filo pastry, sometimes lovely egg-rich flaky. I've often bought the best mincemeat I could find, and added a little orange zest and a drizzle of brandy. Not this year. Easy peasy, you just need time for all that chopping. And a big sharp knife.
Mincemeat with quince ... or what Nigella calls quincemeat
for 3-4 big jars
Peel, core and chunk 1kg quince - that's two huge shop-bought ones, but would probably be six or seven of the smaller ones I grow in the garden (when I can get a crop). Toss them in a little almond oil (or melted butter?) and bake in a low oven for up to an hour until they're soft.
Meanwhile, chop 850g of mixed dried fruit - I used big fat muscat raisins, golden sultanas, a few Turkish apricots and a box of Italian crystalised lemon and lime peels. Put these in a large bowl with 250g muscovado sugar, 4 teaspoons of the best mixed spice you can find (I used The Spice Shop's Christmas mixture, which is FABULOUS all year round), and 100ml of spirit. Brandy would be the usual thing here, but I've got some home made eau de vie de coing, aka quince vodka & so I used that. Add 250g shredded suet (I forgot to ask the butcher, so I used a box of Atora; don't use the vegetable sort, it's the margarine of suets).
When the quince is both tender and cool, chop it finely and add to the bowl. Mix well and bottle. Leave at least a couple of weeks to let the flavours develop.
When it's time to make mince pies, I'll add a little grated orange zest, and perhaps some more spirit.
PS don't throw away the peelings, they will scent a *syrup made with equal quantities of water and caster sugar boiled down to half its volume. If I was really thrifty, I'd do this with orange peelings, too (there are never any lemon peels here, as I always find some use for the zest). For glazes, to sweeten tea, etc etc.
Wet wood, old books and dried roses - I'd have sworn that it was much more recently than five years ago that Narcissus poeticus or Pheasant's Eye Narcissus appeared on these pages, but apparently...
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