Quinces always take me by surprise. It's not that I don't notice the early batches in the shops. They tend to arrive while the weather is still pleasantly warm and, as they sit next to the late peaches, I don't pay them any attention, or if I do it's a cursory sniff of what turns out to be not much of anything.
Each year it's the same. After that first premature encounter, I forget about them, more interested instead in apples straight off the trees and juicy mandarins and clementines.
Then, when I least expect it, there's that perfume. It's low and subtle but also penetrating, floral and heady. It's unmistakably quince and I have to scour the shop, following my nose, to find the box.
Put a bowlful of quinces on the bench and their scent will fill the kitchen. They'll last 10-14 days unrefrigerated.
Quinces can be treated in a similar way to tart green apples. But while apples cook and break down quickly, quinces are best when cooked slowly for a prolonged period. They're meatier than apples, with more texture.
Once prepared - as in the ''slow-baked'' method on this page - quinces can be used in sweet or savoury dishes. They can be quickly pan-fried in butter or olive oil as an accompaniment to roast pork, or served in a reduction of their cooking juices with poached meats.
200g Italian rice (arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli)
100g castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
25g unsalted butter
6 egg yolks
60g candied lemon peel
60g candied orange peel
1 slow-baked quince (see recipe below)
700g sweet shortcrust pastry
2 tbsp brown sugar
Place rice in a saucepan with sugar, vanilla, milk, butter and salt. Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Stir well and keep simmering for 20 minutes or until milk has reduced and rice is cooked. Remove from heat and let mixture cool for 15 minutes. Stir in egg yolks, sultanas and peel and set aside. Slice baked quince into enough thin wedges to cover each tart. Grease and flour two 20cm-wide by 3cm-high tart cases. Preheat oven to 160C. Roll out shortcrust pastry and line each tart case. Spoon in mixture evenly between the two cases. Place quince slices on top of mixture, sprinkle brown sugar on top and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature before serving.
Makes 2 tarts of 6-8 servings each
Wine Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.
Quantities given here can be multiplied according to how many quinces are available. The amount of wine should not be automatically multiplied. Instead, use enough to just cover the quinces. Adjust sugar and spice quantities in proportion to the wine.
1kg quinces, well washed and dried
750ml white wine
150g castor sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole black peppercorns
Cut each quince into 8 wedges, top to bottom, leaving skin, seeds and core intact. Place in a baking dish that fits pieces snugly. Whisk wine, sugar and lemon juice together then pour into dish, covering quinces. Add water or more wine if required. Scatter spices in the wine and cover loosely with foil, poking some holes in it with a skewer to let steam out. Place dish in a preheated 100C oven for 8 hours. Remove from oven and cool, then they can be peeled and cored easily. Great for breakfast, with cream or ice-cream, and as an accompaniment to pork or other rich meats.
Wine Grappa or marc.