Monday, March 19, 2007

another one for the owl and the pussycat

“They dined on mince, and slices of quince, Which they ate with a runcible spoon; And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon”

There were a number of times during the day that I thought that making quince paste was Not A Good Idea.

The first was even before I had begun. Just looking at the recipe which used terms like – ‘wrap your arm in a dishcloth to prevent burning from the molten like splashes of the bubbling puree’. This was the same puree that needed to be stirred “every few minutes for 3-4 hours”.

So I ditched Stephanie Alexander and I went on the web and found a Women’s Weekly recipe that mentioned nothing about 1st degree burns and estimated the lava would only need to bubble for 1.5 hours and the stirring would only be demanded every 5-10 minutes.

Next was tackling the actual fruit. A have never cooked quinces before and about half way through hacking apart the first one I considered giving up. I valiantly made it through peeling, coring and chopping 4 of the little rocks before I retired due to the rapidly increasing blister on my knife hand.

The WW recipe niftily suggested getting the needed pectin boost from the seeds and cores by putting them in a muslin bag and hanging it in the pot for the first round of cooking. I knew I had a roll of the cloth hiding somewhere and half an hour later I found it and carried on with the process.

Strangely I wasn’t deterred.

After simmering the roughly chopped fruit for about half an hour (siphoning off some of the excess juice and giving it to the sick one in the house to drink) I made the executive decision to puree the fruit by pushing it through a sieve. Stephanie had muttered something about a food processor but had used terms that I had never associated with my machine – something about certain types of blades, that I dared not do it the modern way. First sieveful into the chore, I had another serious NAGI moment. This process was almost as labour intensive as the peeling, coring, dicing ritual. Just when I had almost finished this seemingly endless job, I had another epiphany that this was a really dumb idea when I inadvertently dumped half the sifted out bits of core into my beautiful bowl of puree. I looked at the food processor but even then didn’t trust it. So instead I spent more time plucking out bits of not smooth quince with my (clean) bare hands.

By now I was really having a NAGI moment.

But I carried on.

Having weighed the pulp I consulted the 2 recipes as to how much sugar to add. WW said weight for weight, while Stephanie suggested the sugar could be only 3/4 of the weight of the puree. But when I found that what remained of the 4 quinces weighed in at well over 2 kg I stumbled. There was only 1 kg of sugar in the cupboard. How vital was the sugar to set the paste I wondered? I really can’t tolerate sweet food much any more, so I blundered on pouring in the packet of raw sugar that seemed enormous.

Now the stirring would begin.

I added my own twist, the heat diffuser mat and stoically set the timer for 5 minute intervals. The puree really did have a lot of lumps still in it. Could I just give up at this point and dump the lot? No, while the mixture grew in heat, I fished out a fair few of the now sugar coated lumps and absentmindedly sucked on them. Ten minutes later the sweetness was making me nauseous and a very serious NAGI moment ensued.

I looked optimistically at the clock – if the WW was right on the time estimate the paste would be in the oven drying by bedtime. If Stephanie’s longest estimate was correct – it was going to be a very long night.

After over 2 hours of stirring every 5 minutes, concerned that I was tempting fate cooking a pot of curry on the same stove (that’s all I needed, to stir the paste with the wrong spoon) I was finally convinced that the now ruby coloured concoction was pulling away from the sides of the pot on stirring.

As much as I suspected that Stephanie was right and another hour or two would produce a thicker, richer mass – quite frankly I’d had enough having already muttered “If I ever talk about making quince paste again – stop me!” to the Significant Eater, twice over the last handful of hours. So I went ahead and poured the couple of kilos of sugary fruit pulp into a pyrex loaf dish and some small silicon mini muffins moulds and put them in a very low oven til bedtime. Over night I turned the heat off but left the fan running and by morning the paste had dried (despite my fears that the lower sugar content would prevent them from setting).

So the proof is in the pudding, or the paste in this case. They are sweet and fruity set to a dry-ish jelly. Of course they would be perfect with sheep’s milk cheese – but for now I might just have it as an occasional sweet hit on crackers.

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Anonymous Stephanie said...

I am so impressed!!! Looks fantastic. Peeling a quince uses up about all the energy I have for that ingredient, divine as it is.

3:29 pm  
Blogger GoAwayPlease said...

I used to have a house which came with about 4 big quince trees and they looked so good in full fruit.

I am reminded of Harvest Festival at Sunday School by quince tree branches, which seemed to be the annual decoration.

this link is to a very readable food story in today's Guardian,,2038091,00.html


2:20 pm  
Blogger hedge said...

They are tough going, no doubt about it. I use a mezzaluna to chop mine, and a very fine, flexible global vegetable knife to cut out the hard cores. You DO get better at it if you persist - I eat them all through winter.

Or you could use a can opener to crack a tin of spanish imported mebrillo!

A friend of mine's Italian mother makes the best quince paste I've ever tasted - and she scrapes hers on a marble slab for hours to make it smooth, after all the torture you describe!

Italian cooking sometimes feels connected to undertaking penance to me - very Catholic...

9:54 pm  

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