The Old Quince Tree,
A French Cheese Platter
Elizabethan Quince Cheese ~ Membrillo
Ruby red and perfumed, she sat provocatively on the table, and without a quiver of embarrassment she glowed and embraced the French cheeses that shared the same platter in the Autumn sunshine…. Yes, I am waxing lyrical I know, but I will always be poetic when discussing quinces, they are my favourite orchard fruit and I’m very privileged to be the current caretaker of an old quince tree in my French garden. The tree is not pretty ~ it is gnarled and crooked, it leans against an old stone wall as if it is chatting to its neighbour and yet it has a beauty that none of my other fruit trees possess, as amongst its crooked branches nestles the perfumed golden orbs of fruit that I love so much.
Quinces have been grown in France and Britain since Mediaeval times and were very popular and highly regarded for their musky, fragrant flavour and rosy red flesh. They were often served poached or baked with honey and were also made in little sweeties (candies) called comfits ~ a sweet delicacy that was popular in Elizabethan times. The first marmalade to arrive in Britain was made from quinces, in fact it’s the fruit that gave its name to marmalade, Marmelo being the Portuguese word for quince.
I have had a bumper year for quince in 2011 and have decided to make various preserves and desserts with my amazing fruity haul ~ I shall be featuring them over the next few days. The first preserve I decided to make was a batch of Quince Cheese, called Membrillo in Spain and a firm favourite with me and my family. It always makes an appearance on my Christmas cheeseboard and by the time the New Year has started, it has all been devoured! Quince Cheese is not a cheese at all, but is closely related to jams and jellies, but with a firmer texture and is usually stored and served moulded, then cut into slices as an accompaniment to cheese and cold meats.
Most fruits make wonderful cheeses, I particularly like blackberry, but quince makes such a pretty ruby~red coloured version……it’s really rather Gucci! Plus, I am always amazed how the rather dull looking creamy flesh turns into such a staggeringly beautiful colour, and then there is the musky almost honey rose flavour too……it’s true alchemy.
This recipe is very easy, but you must be extremely careful when cutting the quinces, as they are cruelly hard and difficult to manage with a weedy knife ~ so, you will need a sharp knife that is man enough for the job. The results speak for themselves though and all of that chopping and stirring is well worth it. A note on how to store and serve them; I always like to keep and serve mine moulded, the cheese in featured in my photos was stored in an old jelly mould and when turned out displays a pretty pattern and shape. I also use small glass yoghurt pots and straight sided jam jars, anything that makes un~moulding the cheese easy and attractive to serve.
I hope you enjoy my first quince recipe, I have a “quartet” of quince recipes to share this week….some are preserves and some are naughty little pudding ideas. If you don’t have access to a quince tree, you will often see them for sale in Middle Eastern, Cypriot or Turkish shops in the UK ~ in France, most people in the country have a quince tree, so it’s not a problem.
Elizabethan Quince Cheese
- 1.5kg quince
- Juice of 2 lemons
- About 1kg granulated sugar
- vegetable oil
- Wash the quince thoroughly and, if necessary, rub off any furry down from their skins. Chop them without peeling or coring them into medium-sized chunks and put in a large saucepan. Be very careful as they are very hard to cut. Add the lemon juice and enough cold water to just cover them – about 1.5 litres. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours or until very soft and a dusky, rosy colour. If necessary, add more water while cooking to ensure the quince cook evenly and don’t catch on the bottom of the pan.
- Once very soft, push the mixture through a fine nylon sieve with a ladle. This takes time but rids the quince of any remaining debris. Measure the resulting purée and allow 450g granulated sugar for every 500ml puréed quince. (For every 1 pint of purée you need 1 lb sugar.)
- Prepare some suitable jars, moulds or containers. You can use plastic food boxes: wash in a dishwasher and leave to dry. Alternatively, use Kilner jars, jelly moulds, small glass yoghurt pots or small jam jars: wash in hot, soapy water and leave to dry in a cool oven. Whatever you choose, make sure it will be easy to cut or turn out the quince cheese.
- Put the quince purée and sugar in a large saucepan over a low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then bring up to the boil and cook, stirring all the time, until the mix is so thick that the spoon leaves a clean line when drawn across the bottom of the pan. This will take about 30 minutes to one hour ~ it is a moveable feast! As the purée thickens it will spit violently, so protect your arms and watch your eyes too.
- Lightly oil the sterilised containers and fill them with the piping-hot quince cheese. Seal once cold. Store for up to a year. This is delicious with cheeses and charcuterie but can also be cut into squares, dusted with sugar and served as a sweetmeat.
See you tomorrow with my second Quince recipe……and I could not leave without showing you my old quince tree……