We’ve lived in our present house for 20 years but the quince tree in the garden has only fruited three times in that entire period and I came close last year to hacking it down in total disgust. Perhaps every quince tree just needs a good talking to (and a saw brandished at it for good measure) as this year it’s a different story. I wouldn’t say its quaking branches are dripping with fruit – they hide demurely amongst the wilting foliage, as if embarrassed by the vulgarity of their sudden reappearance. But there are ten times as many quinces nestling among the boughs than I’ve harvested over two whole decades.
In Greek myth it was this ‘golden apple’ that Priam’s son Paris presented to Aphrodite when he judged her the fairest in a beauty competition alongside Hera and Athene. Paris’ reward for his choice was, naturally, the lifelong enmity of the two other goddesses, but also the hand of Helen of Sparta. By making her Helen of Troy he brought about his own violent death at the hands of the Greek warrior Philoctetes and the utter destruction of his home city state, Troy. It only goes to show that it’s safer to keep your quinces to yourself rather than start handing them out willy-nilly. But what should I do with them? If it’s going to be another 20 years before they deign to make another appearance on the tree it has to be something special.
I leaf through Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book. Quince Paste or membrilo as the Spanish call it. Hmmm. This is tempting as I have come across it every now and then and know it to be delicious with cheese. But then I scan through the recipe and come across the phrase ‘the stirring can be laborious’ and I start to waver. I’m intrigued by ‘it will explode and pop with an occasional fat burp’ but then totally discouraged by ‘only by stirring and constant attention can you prevent the paste burning.’ I have the attention span of a 3-year-old. I move on through the chapter.
Pheasant or guinea fowl with quince. This sounds delicious, but rather complicated as it involves referring constantly back to the previous recipe. This always throws me. I resolve to suggest this one to Mike in the Ox kitchen as it requires a terrine dish that I don’t own and don’t feel like buying. I will take him some of the quinces. Result.
Nor am I going to attempt ‘Stuffed Quinces’, however delicious the recipe looks. If life’s too short to stuff a mushroom, then I’m never going to get round to any recipe that starts: ‘Hollow out six perfect large quinces’. These fruits are hard. The knife is sharp. My hands are clumsy.
But then I come to her last recipe and I am suddenly very excited. Quince vodka. Now this sounds more like it. No stirring, no fancy equipment needed and the only stuffing involved is pushing grated quince into big jars, sprinkling in some sugar and topping up with lots of vodka, which I just . . so . . happen . . to . . have. Two months in a dark cupboard and it’s ready. Oh, how I love cupboard cooking!
So I’m planning a little tasting session at the Ox in the dark days of January as we hunker down around the fire in the old bar. Perhaps a little home made sloe gin as well. You know… just to compare. Anyone care to join me?