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Quince Quince Glorious Quince...

My first encounter with Japanese Quince was as a child. There was a particular house, with a low-down brick wall bordering its garden and each year it would produce these small green fruits (as you will soon learn, I never actually saw them ripen!), I thought they were a strange species of lime and they were great for random acts of mischief; if only I'd known and if only I'd cared!


Japanese Quince - Chaenomeles japonica - are one of several species of ornamental quince in the family, Rosaceae. They're much smaller than the pear shaped quince - Cydonia oblonga - that grow on trees. They're generally found randomly tucked away in suburban gardens or as border and screen plantings in and around municipal buildings and their grounds; though not solely and exclusively at these aforementioned locations. Regardless of where they reside, providing there is no risk of contamination, to stumble upon a decent crop of ripe n ready quince, is in my opinion an absolute joy, a total bonus. I love them! I can't get enough of them! Every winter, or, as occasioned this year, late autumn, I look forward to my quince mission - I say every winter, it wasn't until last year that I actively and knowingly stumbled upon a huge swathe of quince bushes and truly fell in love with these delicious little knobbly fruits.  

In spring, the small and treacherously thorny branches, begin producing their startlingly red coloured, 5 petalled flowers (5 petals = Rosaceae family), these flowers are edible, have a sharp, citrus zip to them and look great scattered on top of spring green salads. Once the flowers have been pollinated, they begin to form the fruits. The fruits attain various sizes, the smallest akin to the size of a greengage and the largest akin to a decent sized lemon. Unripe quince are green, ripe ones are a muted golden/yellow, sometimes a bronze/brown colour and you may detect a pink/red hue on some, this is all fine n dandy. The best time to pick quince is when they are fully ripe, however, a few unripe fruits making it into your basket isn't going to bring about the demise of the world or yourself - I often take unripe windfalls providing the bugs and beasts haven't made too much of a dent in them - and even these can be used for certain culinary purposes. 

Fully ripe quince have the most deliciously aromatic and heady perfumed fragrance going and that is one of the reasons I love them so much and historically they were even stored near clothing to imbue items with their delicious fragrance - better than that nasty febreeze! Taste wise, well, they're off the scale and 'absolutely delicious' will suffice here. When out picking quince I now use cotton bags, being able to place these bags, each equally crammed with up to 6kg of fruits, one on either shoulder, enables me to retain a better sense of balance and distributes the collective weight more evenly, using two baskets, as I previously did, just hurt my wrists, lengthened each arm by several centimetres and, well, the knuckle dragger look just aint cool! Another reason I prefer cotton bags, as opposed to baskets when harvesting quince, is the closer proximity to my nose they have. 

So, apart from the aroma and flavour, the other reason I love quince so much is their versatility. Whether it be sweet or savoury, quince provide the goods! They can be transformed into and included in such a plethora of kitchen creations, it's really quite ridiculous - you could write an entire cook book on quince alone, now there's a thought! When I first stumbled upon my now regular quince patch, in early December 2016, I was in the throws of organising the second annual Association of Foragers meet up being hosted at, Mr Nobody, a restaurant and bar in, Leeds, co-owned by my friend and chef, John Farrar. The same evening I was meeting up with John to discuss the menu, I walked in with two baskets full of freshly picked japanese quince, "these have to be on the menu", I said, and they were, they became the dessert, a quince trifle with wood ants - nice one John! In winter 2016 I had so many quince it was ridiculous and I quickly set about making whatever popped into my head at that time.

Here's what I made in 2016: 
Quince & Douglas Fir Jelly, 
Quince Wine (best when blended with Crab Apple Wine), 
Roasted Quince Brandy (to which I later added heather honey - a delicious liqueur!), 
Quince Vodka  
Membrillo (a quince cheese, excellent with certain cheeses). 

With this years harvest I've made: 
Quince Curd
Quince & Vanilla Ice-Cream, 
Quince Frangipane
Quince & Apple Leather 
Quince & Ginger Jelly 
Pickled Quince




I'm currently fermenting quince in order to make a pickle akin to lime pickle (bring on the curry) and that will be ready in another 14 days time, dehydrated a quantity for adding to herbal tea blends and pureed some (that is in freezer for later use). Further plans are to make bitters for adding to foraged cocktails and adding some quince into a wild game tagine. 
I still have approx 4kg remaining and despite picking those over 3 weeks ago they are absolutely fine, another accolade for quince, their long-term resistance to decomposition, unlike many other fruits, and the fact that they retain their delightful aroma and flavour over such a period of time. 

The following recipe makes an exquisite curd!

Recipe: Organic Quince Curd

I'll give two quantities with regards to sugar content and let you decide on your preference. If you opt for the greater quantity then your curd will have a longer shelf life than the lesser quantity version and obviously the sweetness will be effected. I used organic ingredients.

                          

400g Japanese Quince 
125g or 350g Golden Granulated Sugar
4 Large Eggs
75ml Lemon Juice
75g Unsalted Butter

Wash and chop the quince, discarding the seed (alternatively, keep seed, freeze and plant up the following spring) and place in a pan with enough spring or filtered water to cover, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until soft (5-10 mins tops). 
Strain (reserving the cooking liquor  for making a batch of jelly) and pass through a large sieve and then through a fine sieve to remove larger granules. 
Place egg yolks in a metal or glass bowl (keep the whites for making meringues), with the sugar and lemon juice and whisk until lighter in colour and fluffier.
Add the slightly cooled quince puree - make sure the puree has cooled sufficiently so as to not split the eggs.
Place the metal bowl over a pan of boiling water (bain marie stylee) and as it heats stir or whisk continually until you reach a temperature of 83 degrees C.
Once adequate temperature is reached remove bowl and gradually add the butter, ensuring it's well melted and mixed in.
Pour curd into clean sterilised jars. If you opted for the lesser quantity of sugar, let jars cool fully before placing in fridge, consume within 4 days. If you opted for larger sugar quantity use curd within 4 weeks.

Tip: You can add quality vanilla paste or extract to the mix for an extra lovely flavour profile or even finely ground fresh hogseed. Spredd this on your morning toast for a slightly lip puckering hit or add this curd to slightly sweetened shortcrust pastry (petit foncer) cases to make quince tarts or use to flavour my No Churn Organic Quince & Vanilla Ice Cream recipe below...

The following ice cream is utterly divine, so forget your diet...

Recipe: No Churn Organic Quince & Vanilla Ice Cream 

250ml Whole Organic or Raw Milk 
250ml Organic or Raw Double Cream 
100g Golden Granulated Sugar
8 Large Organic Egg Yolks - keep whites for making meringues
250ml Quince Curd

Put milk & cream in a pan and bring to the boil, remove from heat the instant it boils.
Whisk egg yolks & sugar in metal or glass bowl until lighter in colour and fluffier.
Allow milk/cream to cool to approx 60 degrees C and then start pouring into egg/sugar mix while continuously whisking, once all ingredients are combined, place bowl over a pan of boiling water (bain marie stylee) and stir/whisk until it reaches a temperature of 83 degrees C, the mixture thickens as it heats and when ready will coat the back of a spoon. Once optimum temperature is reached, remove from heat and leave to cool before transferring into a container and placing in the freezer. Check it after 3 hours, scraping frozen mixture away from edges and mix it up with a stick blender, return to freezer. Check again 3 hours later and repeat. It should now be ok. If necessary repeat the stick blend once more. Leave in freezer until required. Take ice cream out of freezer for approx 30 mins to soften and make it easier to scoop/spoon out when you want to eat it.

Tip: Infuse sweet woodruff into boiled milk/cream mixture to add a foraged vanilla/tonka bean flavour instead of 
using shop bought and expensive vanilla paste/extract. You can use this ice cream to create a Japanese Quince Knickerbocker Glory (above right).

Recipes such as these are served at pop up dining experiences that I host and also feature on my Cooking with Wild Food Courses. For more information on upcoming events and courses visit my 'courses' page: https://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/wild-food-and-foraging-courses-2017.html To keep up to date with articles and recipes published on the Edible Leeds website, you can subscribe to it and receive email notifications of new content, in which case head to the 'home' page and click the 'subscribe' link. Happy foraging and creating. And if after reading you would like to leave a comment, please feel free to do so, it's always nice to know what folk think of these articles. 

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