Friday 27 August 2010

Quince Curiosity

Some months ago I listened to Aboriginal elder talking about passing culture down the generations. She said that she never expected to become like her mum but now she finds herself following in her footsteps. I feel the same way about quinces. When I was a child they were the mysterious fruit that my mum transformed into quince jelly. They were hard, ugly and inedible fruit that I could never imagine wanting to buy or cook. Yet here I am telling you about my kitchen experiments with quinces.

No quince jelly has been made in my kitchen but perhaps there will come a day when I truly turn into my mother and begin to cook up huge pots of beautiful rose coloured jelly. My mother was given her quinces by my dad’s boss’s wife who had a quince tree. Mrs M was a kind lady who seemed very old to us. My sister Fran and I loved visiting her to help make toys for charity.

The yearly quince jelly day involved a my mum stewing quinces in her huge preserving pan for ages, straining the pulp from the quinces (that I have read somewhere can make quince paste) and then filling the kitchen with jars of ruby-colored quince jelly with my mum’s handwritten labels. It was sticky and messy but the jelly had a sweet seductive fragrance. There always seemed to be jars of quince jelly in our pantry for eating on toast at breakfast. I don’t think I have ever eaten a quince jelly that my mum didn’t make. Even today the smell fills me with nostalgia.

My mum still makes quince jelly, though she no longer gets her quinces from Mrs M. She is a connoisseur when it comes to quince jelly. Sometimes we see quince jelly in shops that are selling home made jams.  My mother holds the jars up to the light to see if they are clear enough to reach her high standards. Not all are.

I read somewhere that quinces are not produced commercially. We keep them alive in our home kitchens. My mother gently persuaded me to start cooking with quinces by bringing me some of her poached quinces last year. I experimented with baking quince in cakes. I tried Stephanie’s Quince Cake, with nuts and spices. I would try this again, though maybe sticking more closely to her recipe. I also tried quinces in place of apples in a low fat vegan brownie but wouldn’t bother repeating this because it was too cakey.

I then bought some quince paste and was inspired by Haalo to use this in a cake recipe instead of dried fruit in an apple cake. This was a success. The studs of quince paste were pleasingly soft fruity bursts in the cake. However, the caramel apple cake I tried was a bit intense. I think the chopped quince paste would be better in a plain buttery cake with apple, or an olive oil one like Haalo’s.

By far the best use of quinces was in an apple crumble earlier this winter. I first tried this with some syrup from a large jar of poached quinces that I bought in a specialty store. It gave such wonderful flavour that I tried it again when I finally poached some quinces myself. I loosely followed David Lebovitz’s instructions.

I made an apple, quince and rhubarb crumble that we all loved. Sylvia loves the fruit crumbles I have been making and this was one where she sat opening her mouth for more like a little bird. It is so lovely to have peace and quiet while feeding her. Quince brings out the best of apple flavour and fragrance. I decided on a buttery crumble from Smitten Kitchen using mostly butter, flour and sugar but I think I would prefer it with an oaty crumble.

So in my beginning is my end and the quince is now my friend. I have had it baked with honey and it is exquisite but for now I think I will stick to cakes and crumbles. Maybe one day you will find me making quince jelly or baking quince to eat with icecream for dessert. And maybe one day Sylvia will learn about quinces from me, just like I have from my mum.

Below I have listed some quince recipes that have interested me. I am sending the Rhubarb, Quince and Apple Crumble to Astrid of Paulchen’s Foodblog for Weekend Herb Blogging (#248), overseen by Haalo and founded by Kalyn.
Previous on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Accidental Plastic Tart
This time three years ago: WTSIM ... Beggars Burgers

Poached quincesAdapted from David Lebowitz
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup castor sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ lemon, cut in half
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 3 large quince (I got between 1-2 quinces because mine were brown inside), roughly chopped
Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until cooked (This can take up to 2 hours but mine took much less).
Banana and quince smoothie
  • 1 banana, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 kiwi fruit, peeled and chopped (or a generous handful of berries)
  • 1 cup quince poaching liquid
  • ½ cup apple juice
Rhubarb, quince and apple crumble
serves 4-6

Stewed fruit:
  • 2 cups quince poaching liquid
  • 2 cups poached quinces (see above), sliced
  • 3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 300-400g rhubarb
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
For the topping:
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
  • 1 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 110g butter, chilled and chopped
Simmer the apples in quince poaching liquid for 10 minutes. Add the quinces and simmer another 10 minutes. Add rhubarb and cook another 5 minutes until it just starts to soften. Set aside to cool for a bit and the rhubarb will continue to soften. Check sweetness and add sugar as required (I added 2 tbsp brown sugar).

To make crumble, place all ingredients into bowl and use your fingers to rub butter into flour and other ingredients.

Place stewed fruit in a greased baking dish. Scatter with crumble. Bake at 180 C for about 40 minutes or until crumble is golden brown.
Stephanie’s Quince Cake
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion via
  • 187g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 heaped teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 heaped teaspoons ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup roughly crushed walnuts
  • ½ cup poached quince, mashed
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 1 tbsp quince jelly
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup oil plus 1 tbsp
  • ¼ cup poaching liquid
  • icing sugar to dust
Grease a 15cm square cake tin. (NB I halved the recipe to fit a small tin instead of the 23 cm round springform pan originally called for). Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place dry ingredients into a large bowl. Mix the mashed quinces with remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and gently stir to combine.

Spoon into the prepared tin. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool the cake in the tin. Remove from tin and dust with icing sugar before serving. Mine was a little dry so I serve some with yoghurt and some with leftover cream cheese frosting.

Caramel Apple Cake with Quinceadapted from Australian Women’s Weekly cakes and slices cookbook
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • ¼ cup wholemeal self raising flour
  • 1½ cups dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • 60g butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 apples, peeled and grated
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 100g quince paste, chopped (instead of raisins)
Mix flours, sugar, cinnamon, butter, eggs and vanilla with electric beaters or by hand (I can’t remember which I did). It will be quite a stiff batter. Stir in apples and walnuts and then gently fold in quince paste lumps. Spoon into a greased and lined 20cm round cake tin. Bake in a moderate oven (180 C) for about 50 minutes (and if you have a dodgy oven like mine you will need another 30 minutes on the bottom shelf of the oven.) Cool on a wire rack.

On the Stereo:Tigermilk: Belle and Sebastian


  1. Oh oh oh, I want to try all of these - what fabulous cakes and puddings. I think quinces are great fruit and would love to get my hands on them. They are really hard to get hold of here unless you know someone who grows them - I don't. Johanna, do turn into your mother and make quince jelly - I found it so satisfying having such lovely jars of beautifully coloured quince jelly when I made it a couple of years ago. I've never used them in cakes before but have in apple crumbles. Also added them to apple chutney where again they gave an additional golden ruby glow.

  2. Now that's a lotta' quinces ;)

  3. Thanks for this, Johanna! I have a quince tree, but last year all the fruit went to waste as I had no idea what to do with them!! To be honest I had no idea what the fruit even WAS! (I did find out eventually last year)
    Now I know what I can do with it this year.


  4. Oh wow, I loved the sound of the cake with quince paste in it when you first mentioned it, then I looked at the recipe and I'm even more enamoured! Wholemeal flour, dark brown sugar, cinnamon... sounds right up my alley!

  5. I could relate to the quince jelly making, I had the same experience with my folks making apple jelly.

    The last time I bought quinces, one was rotten, so I think I may have missed the season. Will try quinces next year with the your crumble I think.

  6. All your creations look wonderful. I love the flavour of quince but have hardly ever used it - its hard to find round here

  7. Thanks Choclette - I hope you find a quince source - the colour of them is reason enough - and I confess there is less motivation to make quince jelly when I can get some from my mumlp

    Thanks Sarah - I don't have quince that much but this is my write up of experiments over two seasons of them

    Thanks Tahn - you are so lucky - while quinces probably are not much good in a raw diet, they are delicious with a wonderful flavour - or I have even heard about people having them in a bowl in the house as a room freshner - or send some my way

    Thanks Hannah - I loved the quince paste in cake - this one is quite rich so is good in small slices

    Thanks Deb - I left my quinces too long this year and they were a bit brown inside when I came to cooking with them so I had to chop out the yucky bits

    Thanks Katie - we really need a movement to plant more quince trees in local gardens :-)

  8. Wow - what a wondreful recap of quinces. It is even more poignant for me because I bought them on a whim from an ethnic grocery store, but had no clue what they were. When I originally got them, I tried to eat it like an apple. It kind of looked like an apple and pear but it wasn't edible! Now I know what to do next time I get some!

  9. I a m scared of quinces, although I adore quince jelly. What an array of marvellous dishes you have made!! I definitely want to try the apple and quince cake - it looks and sounds marvellous.

  10. great post Johanna. The cakes look especially appealling as I have a tub full of quince paste from last year sitting in the fridge feeling bereft of a purpose!

  11. Quinces are such an unfamiliar fruit for me. I never see them in the regular markets here but I'm sure that they're at specialty stores at some time of the year. I've always wanted to try them! I love all the different ways you've used quinces.


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