I whooped with delight when I realised that I still had a few of my Mama’s beautiful quinces left in my cold store (also known as a tray in the frozen wastes of our garage).
Quinces mean membrillo as they say in Spanish. Or for us English folk, a quince cheese with its origins in our deepest darkest culinary history – wonderful as an accompaniment to any fromage on a cheeseboard. With their resemblance to pears in the looks department only, the honeyed fragrance and taste of a quince is hard to beat. They make a wonderful alternative to poached pears if you fancy a fruity dessert with a difference. Quinces are not hard to find these days and are often on the shelves in farm shops and good greengrocers in late autumn.
Do give these furry-skinned fruits a go; a homemade quince paste on a cheeseboard is a real Christmas cracker!
How to prepare
* Wash the fruit thoroughly. There is no need to peel or core them, so chop into chunks and add to a large saucepan – the peel and core add valuable pectin which helps the cheese to set. Don’t be tempted to use a metal saucepan – go for a heavy bottomed pan. Add enough water to barely cover the quince, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit has become pulpy and soft. Do add a little more water if you feel that the quince is beginning to catch on the bottom of the pan.
* Once softened, push the quince pulp through a fine sieve using the back of a spoon or better still, now would be a great excuse to employ that forgotten kitchen gadget, the mouli.
* Measure the resulting purée and weigh out an equal amount of granulated sugar.
* Put the quince purée and sugar in a pan over a low heat. Stir the mixture until all the sugar has dissolved. At this point, turn up the heat a little and bring the liquid to the boil. Stir the mixture frequently. Do watch out as it does have a tendency to spit.
* It is ready once the liquid has become so thick that one can use the spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan and see it for a couple of seconds before it disappears until the mixture again.
* Prepare some small dishes or jars. I use ramekins if I haven’t got any jars. A very good tip from the queen of preserves, River Cottage’s Pam Corbin, which I have used with huge success is to brush whatever vessel you intend to use with a little glycerine as it makes turning out the cheese a good deal easier.
* When the mixture is ready, pour it into the prepared dishes or jars. Jars can be sealed with their lids but if using a ramekin or dish, then cover with greaseproof paper once cold. Cheeses which have been covered in this manner will need to be kept in the fridge.
* Allow the cheese some maturing time – the weeks we have between now and Christmas Day should be ample for the flavour to mature and deepen. That way, you will have something deliciously homemade to go on your festive cheeseboard. The quince cheese can be stored for up to a year.