Quinces bring memories of Autumn. They also bring memories of soothing tummy upsets. “Eat this, it’s good for your tummy,” I remember my mother telling us – and true enough, even if we simply had a few gratings of the raw, sour quince, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, our tummies would always feel better.
The quince fruit has, in fact, been used for years in local tradition to relieve intestinal discomfort.
From the same family as apples and pears, quince isn’t normally eaten raw, but there are so many different ways that we’ve traditionally used it in cooking or preserves.
Quinces (known as ‘kydonia’ in Greek) are in season from October to end of January, so as we were growing up in Cyprus, Autumn was time for our mums to make ‘glyko tou koutaliou’ – or traditional Cypriot preserved sweets – using big, beautiful, yellowish quinces.
As children, we’d wait to taste the warm sweet preserves every year when our mum would make them. The aroma of the fruit boiling would fill the house. The only other ingredients added would be sugar and a couple of the fragrant kiouli or arbaroriza leaves. Otherwise known as ‘pelargonium odoratissimum’ of the Geraniaceae family, these fragrant leaves are found in many Mediterranean gardens and are often added to fruit preserves for a touch of aroma.
As the quince would slowly simmer in its syrup, the fruit would change colour and become a wonderful velvety red colour.
An easy alternative to glyko tou koutaliou if you’re short on time, is to simply peel, core and boil quinces until soft with just enough sugar to sweeten them. They turn into a delicious, aromatic, unique stewed fruit desert.
QUINCE JAM AND SWEETS
Our mums also used to make ‘kidonopasto, jam and ‘peltes’ from quinces.
Peltes is a jelly-like jam that can be used as a jam or as a spread on meat, or it can be used instead of apple sauce, for example, to accompany a dish.
Kidonopasto (also traditionally known as ‘tjionato’ in Cyprus) is a paste made from quinces, which hardens as it dries and is then cut into chocolate-sized pieces for a delicious and nutritious sweet. Kidonopasto was one of the favourite sweets of the Byzantines.
The fruit’s popularity has reached far and wide - in the Middle Ages in France, Portugal and Spain the quince was considered the best confectionery ingredient. Quince jam was even offered as a present amongst the nobility.
COOKED QUINCE DESSERTS
Anna Synodinou, a well-known Greek actress, once mentioned in an interview that she loved eating fried pieces of quince which she would later dip in ‘petmezi’(grape molasses) and then sprinkle cinnamon on top!
A similar recipe I came across in Crete suggests grated quince, which is left to simmer with petmezi and a couple of kiouli leaves. Roasted nuts are added at the very end.
There are many variations of quince dessert that you can make, based on your preferences and imagination!
I sometimes use quince as I would potatoes. I peel and core and slice them in four, place them in an oven dish with a bit of oil and water, and bake. Roast quince is an ideal accompaniment to roast pork or lamb. Apricots and almonds can be scattered in, too, for a more special meal.
An old Roman recipe uses unpeeled quinces cut into cubes. These are added with some sweet wine to fried leek. Some honey is added to it too. As a sauce this is divine with any roast meat or game.
Yummy Cyprus has its own quince sauce recipe – made with Koumandaria, the Cypriot sweet red wine. The recipe will soon be posted under the ‘Recipes’ section of the site, so check back if you’re interested! This makes a great sauce for poultry or game.
Quinces can also be boiled or mashed. In fact, in Roman recipes we find quince being boiled or roasted, often mixed with honey, then served with meat.
As they keep their shape when boiled, and their aroma does not override that of other ingredients, quinces makes it the perfect fruit for casseroles as well. An Autumn casserole dish we do is 'kidonato', made with shoulder of lamb and quinces – see the recipe here. One of my friends says that her grandma from Polis (Istambul) used to do a similar dish that she called Kydonato but added apricots and almonds to it too.
This Christmas I could not get cranberries to complement our turkey and quinces came to my rescue. Everybody loved them and my children’s friends all left with the recipe.
In fact, one of our guests mentioned that quinces were served with turkey in Britain a few centuries ago. They later were not available and shortly afterwards cranberries made their way to Britain from America.
In Greece, our ancestors used quinces not only in cooking but also in order to extract their aroma The best is considered to have been produced in ancient times in the Greek Island of Kos. According to one of our ancestors, Poseidonios, this quince fragrance had the power to protect the brain from wine’s potency. Another ancestor, Filarhos, argued that the quince aroma can get rid of the power of even the most deadly poisons. He claimed that a poison stored in a trunk together with quinces had lost its power completely!
Nowadays, though, apart from their culinary use quinces are still used in a lot of Greek villages to scent laundry, and are added to lingerie drawers much as lavender would be.
So when you next see quinces at the greengrocer’s, maybe you will be tempted to buy a couple to try them boiled, mashed, baked, fried, stewed, or casseroled. You might even try making jam, glyko tou koutaliou, preserve or kidonopasto.
If none of the above appeal, then maybe you can place them in your lingerie drawer!