Quinces are such a beautiful and mysterious fruit. Tempting as a perfectly perfumed apple but unapproachable raw (although this is not the case in some food cultures I believe). A bowl full of heavy, downy, golden fruit from my Mum’s tree wafts apple blossom scent down our hall way throughout autumn.
Baked or roasted quinces, slow cooked for a couple of hours have a deep pink, soft but shapely lusciousness that is heavenly with custard; or in a cake; mixed with apple in a crumble; or with a vanilla panacotta (that I was lucky enough to have made for me on my birthday recently but more on that in another post). However my very favourite use for quinces (apart from scenting my house) is to make my Mum, Jeanette’s quince chutney. I can’t live without this chutney. Paired with cheeses of all kinds but especially with Indian food (hot curries in-particular) it is transformational. Better than any mango chutney or fruit relish I’ve ever tried.
However if you’ve ever dealt with quinces you’ll know that they can be a bit hard on your hands if you’ve got to peel, core and dice more than 3 or 4 in a sitting and I did about a dozen last time I made chutney. The core in particular is very hard and difficult to remove and you can end up with red and hurty hands. For the last two years I haven’t done anything with them except smell them and look at them but a few days ago I ran out of my Mum’s quince chutney and I had reached crisis point.
My Mum made me the last batch I had stored away (just after Lola was born – it was a much appreciated gift when I was pretty well in la-la land with a new-born baby) but clearly the time had come to make some more. This time I took it easy and made just one quantity. I may make one more batch before the quinces in my bowl have to be thrown out but I feel much more secure knowing I have four (and a half) new jars in the pantry.
I also discovered that the secret to making them with less pain is to opt to use the grater on the food processor instead of hand chopping them into fine dice (this really is a labour of love – and a great way to form those workers calluses you’ve always wanted).
It’s hard to beat a quince tree for pretty too. Lovely soft lime green leaves, dainty pink blossom and ornamental as well as practical fruit waiting to be transformed into decadent desserts (and of course chutney). So if you want a pretty ornamental but really want it to work for you too, it’s a great choice for your garden. If you’re interested in planting one check out the Gardening Australia website for an information sheet on the quince. Here’s a snippet of information from the site
Quinces originated from Persia, now Iran, and then spread throughout the Mediterranean. Many ancient Greek myths refer to ‘golden apples’, which could be the quince. The lumpy appearance of the fruit is quite ornamental, and the tree after many decades develops great character with a gnarled and twisted form to the trunk and lower branches. Since ancient times the quince has been a symbol of love and fertility.
If you know someone with a quince tree they’ll probably be happy to give you some as it’s hard to deal with all of them. If not I know they are still available at the Central Market in Adelaide and very likely at other farmers and fresh produce markets around the country. You’ll never go back to any other chutney for Indian curries.
Jeanette’s Quince Chutney
1.5 kg quinces (weighed after peeling and coring) finely diced or grated in food processor
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of white vinegar (I’ve tried it with cider vinegar and white wine vinegar but can’t tell the difference in the taste of the final product so now I just go with the cheaper option)
2-teaspoons of juniper berries lightly crushed
Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for about two hours to reach a deep pink colour and a good thickness so that it is no longer soupy - more like a loose jam.
Stir regularly, and watch carefully when it starts to thicken or it will stick to the bottom of the pan and scorch (you need a rainy Sunday afternoon for this).
This amount fills about 4 jam jars or so (but best to have a smaller jar on hand for the leftovers).
To sterilise jars the easiest method I’ve found is to run them through the dishwasher – this will make sure they are clean and sterilised as long as you fill them while both the chutney and the jars (and lids) are still hot (a bit of tea-towel action is needed to handle the hot jars).
Once filled (and still hot) screw lids on loosely then place them all in the microwave together and heat on high for 1 minute. Take them out and screw lids on tight. Generally the lids will then vacuum seal themselves (the little button on the top will eventually go down – if you have those kind of lids).
Store in pantry indefinitely. Once opened keep refrigerated.
It’s a great excuse to buy some beautiful cheese or make a fabulous Indian curry!