Quince – the fruit of Gods and Heroes

Hercules stealing the golden apples

Quince – a divine offering to the gods of the fall.

There are those who believe that the quince was the golden apple of Greek and Norse mythology.

Hercules stole golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides.

Atalanta outran all the suitors who raced her to win her hand in marriage until Hippomenes distracted Atalanta by throwing golden apples on the ground.
It was a golden apple that Eris, the goddess of discord, rolled into a wedding banquet, bearing the inscription: καλλίστῃ or, “to the fairest,” leading three goddesses; Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, to claim it.  Paris was chosen, being the most handsome of mortal men, to judge the resulting contest.  Each of the goddesses tried to buy his favour, but it was Aphrodite’s inducement, to give to him Helen of Sparta, that secured for her the apple and in turn started the Trojan Wars.
Perhaps the origin of the golden apple legends lies simply lies with the ‘humble’ apple, but as some versions of the legends have it that the fruits were quince, I’m going with the latter.
There is something about the quince that is magical.  In part it’s their scarcity.  This year has been a good one yet, even so, our two trees have yeilded barely a dozen fruits.
They really are golden in colour and hide amidst the yellowing leave on the tree so that it’s easy to miss the last of these elusive fruits.
Then there’s the scent.  Quince smell marvellous.  They also taste extraordinary.  They’re not the easiest things to cook.  They’re harder than apples and need grating (before being added to apple for apple pie for instance) or cooking separately.  However they add a wonderful perfume to other dishes.
Jane Grigson’s wonderful book ‘English Food’ has a handful of recipies including apple pie with quince (grate the quince, add to the apple, cook as normal) and quince comfits; sweets that were apparently served at the coronation of Henry IV in 1399.  Presumably that was in the days before coronation chicken.
So for those of you who have come over all mediaeval here goes; To make quince comfits you start by cleaning the downy fluff from the skins of six or seven fair sized fruits.  You chop them roughly and simmer them in about an inch of water until they can be pulped.
Weigh the pulp and add the same weight in sugar.  Bring to the boil in a heavy pan and simmer until it has become very think.   This could take an hour or more.
Pour the gloop (that’s a technical term) into shallow baking dishes and put in a warm, dry place for three or four days.  You could pop the trays next to a boiler or by the cooker or range.  Airing cupboards serve this purpose well – though don’t get quince gloop on your towels.
Then cut into squares with a knife that you keep dipping into boiling water so it melts the quince comfits as much as it cuts.
Pop them into an airtight box with caster sugar and give them a good shake.  Now the difficult bit; store them away for Christmas. 
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