Recipe, photography and styling by Tanya Zouev.
I don’t normally look forward to summer’s end. I love the warmer seasons and revel when the temperatures are high. This year however, for the first time in years, I actually felt that I’d had my fill of summer and that I looked forward to welcoming autumn. Strange perhaps, and quite unlike me, but sometimes the best surprises are the ones we give ourselves.
Along with cardigans and jumpers, and finally wearing closed toe shoes, autumn in Australia brings the quince with it. I’ve written about this unusual fruit in a previous post, musing about it’s velvety yellow skin, and flesh that must be cooked and cooked and cooked before it relinquishes the most incredible perfume and flavour. Though the quince is native to south west Asia (Turkey, Iran and Syria are just some of the countries in the region), quince paste is thought to have originated in Italy. In the ancient Roman cookbook of Apicius (a collection of Roman recipes compiled in the 4th and 5th century AD), the ingredients call for stewing quince with honey, much like in this recipe of mine.
Quince paste is probably one of the best known uses for the fruit and it is commonly part of a cheese board. Once I started researching it’s origins, I found it was a confection enjoyed in many more countries than I expected. Quince paste is known as dulce de membrillo, carne de membrillo and ate de membrillo in Spanish, codonyat in Catalan, marmelada in Portugese, cotognata in Italian, birsalma sajt and birsalma zselé in Hungarian and membrilyo in Tagalog (a dialect spoken in the Philippines). There are also versions made with guava, plum and pear to name a few, but for this post we’ll concentrate just on quince.
Though it may be a labour of love, this paste lasts months in the fridge (honey is a great preservative). I keep it especially for the Friday night cheese board to be enjoyed with wine, and it’s particularly good with brie or a crumbly cheddar. So whilst Friday night drinks with my husband and friends may no longer take place on the beach, or outside on my deck, instead we enjoy them accompanied by earlier sunsets, falling leaves and golden autumn light. It’s one of the many things that make me realise that each season really does bring it’s own version of beautiful, you only have to open your eyes to see.
Makes approximately 1.5 cups. Prep time: 20 mins, cooking time 2.5 hours.
three large quinces, peeled, cored and chopped into 2cm (1”) pieces, reserving the seeds (they will make the paste a deeper pink)
¼ cup water
one tablespoon lemon juice
four cardamom pods, slightly bruised
two star anise
one whole vanilla bean (do not cut into it and scrape out the seeds as this will make the paste too vanilla in flavour, you only want a hint of it)
1. Place the chopped quince into a heavy based saucepan over low heat with the water, lemon juice, vanilla bean, star anise and cardamom pods and cook for two hours stirring occasionally and checking often to make sure the fruit isn’t drying out and sticking to the base of the pan. If the fruit looks dry add small amounts of water to keep it slightly moist.
2. At the end of two hours take out the seeds, vanilla bean and spices. Push the cooked quinces through a sieve and weigh the total purée. Add ¾ of this weight in honey. For example if your purée weighs 400 grams, add 300 grams of honey.
3. Cook over low heat stirring constantly until the honey has combined with the fruit and the purée has thickened. You will know it’s ready when it thickens and begins to come away from the bottom of the pan as you stir it.
4. Divide paste evenly into ramekins lined with cling wrap, cover in more wrap and refrigerate when cool to set. The paste will set overnight.
Photography and styling notes:
Seeing as quince paste has been around for so many centuries, it seemed only fitting that the vessel chosen to feature it be something that looked equally as old. The pewter platter is an antique and I found it at the bottom of an old box of silverware in a local charity shop. I can’t remember where the knife came from, but I do remember the surface was an old sheet of metal discovered in the roof cavity of the building which is now my studio. Equipment used was a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 24-70mm zoom lens, only light used is window light.