In September the possibilities of summer have gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon. Skies turn grey, and many people turn inward, both physically and mentally. Personally I find that autumn is pretty, I like to watch the autumn foliage, and how the leaves change their colors and not negligible that the vegetables and grains are ready to be harvested for this time. Not unintentional that any cultures feature autumnal harvest festivals, often as the most important on their calendars. Still extant echoes of these celebrations are found in the mid-autumn such as Thanksgiving holiday in USA and Canada, the North American Indian festivals tied to harvest of autumnally ripe foods gathered in the wild, the Chinese Moon festival, and many others. The predominant mood of these autumnal celebrations is a complacence for the fruits of the earth mixed with a certain melancholy linked to the imminent arrival of harsh weather. While most foods are harvested during the autumn, foods particularly associated with the season include pumpkins (which are integral parts of both Thanksgiving and Halloween) apples, used to make the seasonal beverage the apple cider.
My grandparents had a grape vineyard so that each September or early October we harvested the grapes in order to make vine with the help of my uncle who was a pharmacist and at the same time a winemaker expert. Of course after the hard work we celebrated our small harvest with eating many heavenly dishes such kind of the quince cheese or quince jelly-candy was. I don’t know how many times I enjoyed when my grandma baked the fruits with sugar and lemon juice, and we loved to watch how they turned crimson after a long cooking time and became a relatively firm, quince tart, dense enough to hold its shape. The taste was sweet but slightly astringent.
When we finished our jobs in the garden, we children surrounded my grandmother, who spinned a yarn. What I liked the most among her fairies was when she talked about the origin of the spices and fruits. I think she was a kind of medicine-woman because she was well aware of the effect of many herbs. She told me about her quince recipe once that it came from the Roman time of the cookbook of Apicius, (not…a collection of Roman cookery recipes compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD gives recipes for stewing quince with honey) who named the quinces the golden apples.
All over the world there are 40-50 quince species, and only in Hungary 10-15 species exist, the most prevalents are from the village of Bereczk, then the pear shaped quince from Dunabogdány, the greenish-yellowish colored ones from Mezőtúr (the harvest is only in October) and finally the smallest, early ripened quinces come from Perbál and Gönc. In Hungary, quince cheese is called birsalma sajt, and it is prepared with small amounts of lemon zest, cinnamon or cloves. Péter Melius, the Hungarian botanist mentioned quince cheese as early as 1578 as a fruit preparation with medical benefits. The Hungarian word „birs” ‘s („the name of the hard-firm skinned apple shaped of fruits”) origin is unknown. In the 16th century it was called bis, biss apple.
In England historically marmalade was made from quinces. The English word “marmalade” comes from the Portuguese word marmelada, meaning “quince preparation” (and used to describe quince cheese or quince jam; “marmelo” = “quince”), but nowadays in English it refers mainly to jams made from citrus fruits, especially oranges.
In French cuisine, quince paste or Pâte de coing is part of the Provence Christmas traditions and part of the thirteen desserts which are the traditional dessert foods used in celebrating Christmas in the French region of Provence. Quince cheese, an old New England specialty of the 18th century, required all-day boiling to achieve a solidified state, similar to the French cotignac.
In continental Croatia, quince cheese is an often prepared sweet and it is named kitnkes, derived from the German Quittenkäse.
In Pakistan, quinces are stewed together with sugar until they turn bright red. The resulting stewed quince, called Muraba, is then preserved in jars. In Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish jello-like blockor firm reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo.
Quince with whipped cream serves for 4
2 medium quince
⅔ c superfine (baker’s) sugar
⅔ c water
1½ T lemon juice
Preheat oven to 250˚F (120˚C).
Peel and halve the quince. Using a melon peeler and a paring knife, carefully core the quince halves. They are incredibly hard, so be careful when using the knife to remove any stray bits of stem. Reserve the peel and trimmings. Combine sugar, water, 1 clove and lemon juice in a shallow baking dish, such as a casserole (preferably one with a lid). Stir with a whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add the reserved trimmings and the quince halves, cut side down. Peel the apple. Using the largest wholes on a box grater, coarsely grate the apple over the quince halves. This will prevent the quince from drying out while baking.
Cover and bake for 5 to 7 hours until over 160 degrees the fruit softens and turns pink or, if you’re lucky like I was, crimson. According to Paula Wolfert, who is an expert of how to cook quince, not all varieties of quince turn quite so red. She recommends serving the quince halves with clotted cream and toasted almonds. Although I tried it both I preferred my quinces with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Either way, strain and then spoon the sweet cooking juices over the fruit.
By the way leftover juices make a great spritzer mixed with water or, even better, a great version of a Bellini or Kir Royale mixed with Prosecco or Champagne!
Quince tart Tatin
- 4 quinces (about 2 pounds total), trimmed
- 5 1/2 cups sugar
- 5 cups water
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Bring quinces, 1/2 cup sugar, and the water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer gently until quinces are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer quinces to a plate to cool, reserve cooking liquid. Return coarsely chopped quinces to pot (including seeds, cores, skin). Bring to a boil. Slowly stir in remaining 5 cups sugar and the lemon juice. Cook with constantly stirring it until preserves are thick, orange, and register 220 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 25 minutes. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve; discard solids. Let it cool.
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 piece star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3 quince, peeled, cored, and seeded
- In a medium saucepan bring sugar, star anise, cinnamon, and 4 cups water to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, using a 1/2-inch melon peeler scoop out 12 balls of quince.
- Add quince to liquid and reduce to a simmer. Cook until quince is tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool completely in liquid. Store quince in poaching liquid in an airtight container, refrigerated, until ready to use.