Just when you thought the best of the autumn fruit was over, this knobbly, fragrant relative of the pear is ready to pick. Quinces are a lost seasonal culinary treasure, harvested in October and November when they turn golden.
As the pace of things slows down in autumn, quinces are just right for slow cooked seasonal dishes, both sweet and savoury. Add to apple crumbles or pies, serve with game, casseroles or tagines; a very versatile treat.
Perfect poached or baked, they cannot be hurried as in their raw state they are very hard and a little bitter.
The longer they cook the more of a mellow honey scent they release, becoming tender with a deep sienna hue. Honey-baked quinces are beautiful with a simple madeira cake or baked custard, with plenty of sweet syrup from the roasting pan to drizzle over.
Alternatively, simply poach in white wine with spices to serve as part of a dessert or alongside some salty cheddar.
Their high levels of pectin make them ideal for jam and chutney making. Membrillo is an easy to make traditional Spanish solid preserve of simmered, sweetened and set quince paste that can be sliced and served with cheese such as manchego.
If you are looking for a new festive tipple which makes a great gift, now is the time to make this really simple recipe for quince gin or vodka.
Quince trees were originally ancient mountain forest trees so are less prone to disease, have hardy fruit and blossom beautifully with a gorgeous scent.
Rediscovering foods that have fallen out of favour as farming became more reliant on less varieties could be key to food security in a changing climate, too. According to Friends of the Earth: "Biodiversity is intrinsically linked to human wellbeing. The continued drop of our plants and wildlife would also leave a huge void in what makes us happy and healthy.”
Speaking at the Abergavenny Food Festival recently, food writer Bee Wilson said that 95 per cent of what we eat comes from 30 crops, out of a total of 7,000 crops in the world. In her new book, The Way We Eat Now, Wilson talks about how there’s been a “homogenisation of diets", and that we can increase health if we increase the variety of what we eat.
And this doesn’t just mean the kind of choice on supermarket shelves, which all contain essentially the same ingredients, but the real joys of organic, non-uniform, slow grown, heritage fruit and veg that are full of flavour.
The National Biodiversity Network estimates there are around 5,000 fruit varieties growing in the UK, many of which are rarer varieties unique to a specific area they come from and no longer commercially grown.
To find everything from medlars to mulberries and rare cider apples, they suggest using the Peoples Trust for Endangered species Fruit Finder to locate which native fruits are from where you live, and where to buy them.
If you would like to try growing your own quince, you don’t even need a whole orchard – they are self-fertile and there are dwarf varieties that would be great in smaller spaces.