Years ago whilst studying down in Wellington I spent an evening in a beautiful old home perched high on the slopes of Mt Victoria. My host for the evening was a family friend, a quirky yet kind woman who shares her home with a collection of flatmates, each equally as quirky as the next. As the evening progressed and conversation relaxed, we found ourselves sharing tales of romantic gestures. I am unsure whether or not I contributed to this conversation however there is one story which sticks in my mind. It is a simple story, without extravagance, a modest gesture which I have recounted to various people over the years and one which garners mixed responses. I however think it is hopelessly romantic.
It goes a little something like this…..
It is a wintry day in Wellington, a cutting wind sent from the snow-blanketed south blows in across the Cook Straight tousling freshly coiffured do’s and lifting freshly ironed skirts. A young man, coat buttoned against the cold, carefully looks over a pile of quinces stacked on the shelves of a small fruit shop. He selects three perfectly formed fruit, pays for them and then heads back out into the cold.
A young woman sits at her desk in a low rise building, gazing out across the slate-grey sea awash with frothy white-caps. She reaches for a package sitting on her desk, a package which sat awaiting her arrival. The package is heavy, its contents wrapped in brown paper tied with string. She carefully unties the string to reveal 3 perfectly formed quince, their floral perfume filling the air.
I had always suspected that quince might be an historically significant fruit, and digging around I have come to learn that this in fact so. Ancient texts suggest that Eve’s fruit of temptation may have been a quince rather than an apple. In ancient Greece quince was a wedding offering and the story goes that a bride, before entering the wedding chamber, would nibble on the fragrant flesh of a quince to perfume her breath. And if this is not proof enough of the romanticism that surrounds quince, I must point out that quince was a fruit sacred to Aphrodite.
In all my thirty years I had never, until last month, cooked quince. I had intended to poach it and serve it with homemade crumpets but I cooked the fruit for too long and it began to lose its shape. So I cooked it for a while longer until it became gelatinous and blushed a deep red and set in perfect little rounds. I urge you to try this recipe. It is easy to make and when wrapped up and tied with string it makes a perfect autumn offering, especially when accompanied with cheese and wine.
Makes 8 wee rounds--
3 quinces, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
Juice of one lemon, plus 2 strips of the peel
1 tbsp rose water (this is optional)
Sugar (the amount of which is determined whilst cooking)
1. Place the quinces and lemon peel in a pot, cover with water and cook until tender.
2. Drain and then process (lemon peel included) until a smooth puree is formed. Measure this puree and add to it the same volume of sugar that you have of puree. So if you have 2 cups of puree, add 2 cups of sugar.
3. Place this mixture in a heavy bottomed pot with the rosewater and lemon juice, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to simmer over a low heat, until it becomes very thick and pulls away from the side of the saucepan. It will bubble and spurt hot puree so to avoid this I put a lid over the mixture, leaving a gap for the air to escape. It can take at least 2 hours to reach this point. Make sure to stir from time to time to avoid the mixture catching to the bottom of the pot.
4. Once the mixture has reached the correct consistency line the bottom of your ramekins with greaseproof paper and then grease the sides. Spoon out the mixture into the ramekins and leave to set.
5. Invert the ramekins, peel off the greaseproof paper and serve with cheese and bread.
The paste will keep in the fridge for up to a year.