I love quince. I’m sure others do too, but I’ve only ever met one fan of the bulbous fruit in the UK. In France, however, it’s a different story. On sale in supermarkets, windfalls gathered by the armful, or taken directly from the tree, the quince is a magical fruit. Hard as a rock, one can smash a pair of glasses from a drop of a few feet (believe me) and it is sour to the taste. Its grey furry coat will cling to a sweatshirt with the tenacity of a leech, and the skin is greasy when the fur is washed away. It doesn’t sound like it’s got much going for it, does it? But when ripe and ready for picking and cooking, the aroma is heady and intoxicating. Any room or garage is transformed by the honeyed perfume of a stash of quince, and when washed and piled high on a plate they are a superb table centrepiece.
I use a hefty knife to cut, core and peel them, and it’s when cooked in a little water and sugar that alchemy takes place. Pale yellow soon becomes a peachy, orangey hue. Unyielding flesh softens and the aroma deepens and strengthens. The unique taste and soft, grainy texture teams well with apples in a pie, but my favourite manifestation is the transformation into glorious translucent jelly.
This year’s harvest has been especially good, branches bowed with golden globes, some up to six inches in length. French neighbours’ eyes light up at the sight of a box of quince coming their way, the prospect of gelée or pâte de coing now on the cards for Christmas.
The one UK fan I know decided, once, to share the haul from her tree by leaving a box of fruit for passers-by to help themselves, until dented car doors became common place. She makes gelée on a large scale and was delighted to share my enthusiasm.
Following this bumper harvest, my work is cut out for the next few weeks. Let the magic begin…