I’ll just be honest and say that the main point of this recipe is to have quinces cooking in your kitchen all afternoon, making the house smell amazing. But the end product is actually delicious too, though not quite as delicious as the aroma – it’s heady and sweet and fruity and all the things you want from quince, and it tastes fabulous with yoghurt and maybe some pomegranate seeds or pistachios sprinkled over the top, so it’s not solely a somewhat expensive room perfumer…
Also, you can use the syrup over ice-cream, or to poach other fruits, or probaby even as a basis for a sorbet. It’s beautiful, perfumed stuff. And wonderfully, glowingly red.
Your Shopping List4 quinces 375 g sugar (plain white sugar is fine, and it’s generally the cheapest option, too) 750 ml water (which you can in fact get from the tap) 1 vanilla bean 1/2 tsp cardamom pods, squashed with a heavy knife to split them partly open, and pods and any escaped seeds added to the mix
Now what will you do with it?
Put the sugar, spices and water into an oven-safe saucepan large enough to hold all the quinces, and heat slowly, letting the sugar dissolve before it comes to the boil.
Preheat the oven to 150°C.
Peel the quinces and quarter them. Mind your fingers, because quinces are like slippery rocks, and they want you to shed blood as the price of that gorgeous aroma. Add the quince quarters to the syrup as you prepare them – they discolour very fast once exposed to oxygen.
Bring everything to the boil, and simmer for a few minutes, before transferring to the oven.
Bake at 150°C for about 4 hours, or until the quinces are deep red.
Check them every hour, like this…
Once the quinces are beautiful, use a slotted spoon to remove them very gently from the syrup (they will be very, very soft by now), and place them in a bowl. I recommend using a red glass bowl or similar, to enhance the glorious redness of the situation. Put the saucepan back onto the stove (please remember to use oven mitts, because that saucepan has been in the oven and it’s all too easy to forget this and burn your hands), and bring the syrup to a fast boil until it’s reduced by about half – really what you are watching for is the bubbles coming more slowly, and when you ladle out a little syrup with a spoon and drizzle it back into the saucepan, it should fall in a shining thread, not droplets. I’m sorry, I don’t have a photograph of this, because I would probably have dropped my phone into the syrup if I had tried, and candied iPhone is not palatable.
Add the syrup back to the quinces or the quinces back to the syrup.
You can either serve this hot, or bring it to room temperature, or chill it in the fridge (if you keep the quinces submerged in syrup, they will keep for weeks). I’d serve a couple of pieces of quince with a little syrup spooned over them, and a dollop of Greek yoghurt, garnished with some pistachios or pomegranate seeds. I might also add a little rosewater or cointreau to the syrup after it is reduced but before adding the quinces back into it, because I’m just that sort of Catherine.
Honestly, this is poached fruit – you can do just about anything with it. I’ve just thought of doing mulled quinces, for example – use red wine instead of water in the syrup, and add a cinnamon stick, some cloves, shaved nutmeg, and a curl of orange zest. Glorious. Diana Henry has a version with red wine and rosemary syrup, and that would also be very, very good.
And of course, there’s no reason why you have to use quinces – pears or apples also work, though they won’t smell nearly as amazing (and one hour should be more than sufficient to get them poached, I would think), and you won’t get the glorious colour change which is the magical thing about quinces in my view.
This time last year…