The quince is a hard yellow beauty, an archaic fruit of the mighty Aphrodite. Perhaps it is meant to tell us that true love can be found and preserved the hard way. It's astringent and tarty just like how love feels when it brings us down (not to mention you don't want to be down under when shaking the tree, so to speak, for receiving a quince in the head is just like a love blow), yet the same taste brings a special flavor in the mouth, reminding us that love's true sweetness is mostly found within and after lots of chewing and it is forever piquante (just like what love needs to endure: on the edge). An edgy fruit. There's also the other down (the quince fluff), as gentle as makeup moments, when the pain begins to heal. It may grow in Aphrodite's garden, but I would call the quince tough love and if I may be allowed to introduce an astrological analogy here, I would compare the quince with Saturn ennobling Aphrodite:
Some see only you,
Others see only me,
We overlap so perfectly
That no one can see us at the same time
And no one dares to stay on the edge
From where both of us can be seen.
You see only the moon,
I see only the sun,
You miss the sun,
I miss the moon,
Our bones have united,
The blood spreads rumors
From one heart to the other.
How do you look like?
If I lift my arm
And I stretch it so much backwards
I discover your beautiful collar bone
And going up, my fingers touch
Your holy lips
Then suddenly they come back and they crush
My mouth until it bleeds.
How do we look like?
We’ve got four arms to defend ourselves
But I can strike only the enemy in front of me
And you can strike only the enemy in front of you,
We’ve got four legs to run
But you can run only on your side
And I can run only on the other side.
Every step is a life and death battle.
Are we equal?
We’ll die at the same time or one of us will carry
For a while
The body of the other one stuck on them
And slowly, too slowly contaminating it with death?
Or maybe it won’t even die as a whole
And it will carry into eternity
The sweet burden of the other one
Like a hump,
Like a wart,
Oh, only we know the yearning
Of being able to look each other into the eyes
And thus, being able to understand everything,
But we are back-to-back,
Grown like two branches
And if one of us tore oneself away,
Sacrificing for just one glance,
They would see only the bleeding, cold back
From which one had torn oneself away,
Of the other one.
by Ana Blandiana
More poems by Ana Blandiana here
We've always had quince trees in the garden, since I was little, so the quince gives me the opportunity to begin a series of childhood recipes that mostly come from my paternal grandmother, of mixed Greek and Turkish descent. Many of them, just like the ones I present in this article, are essentially Romanian, as having entered in the Romanian cuisine, but they encompass the influences the many visitors have brought to us throughout history. They have been in my family culinary tradition for many generations, and the cultural relay can only go on, just like the golden quince announces autumn every year, and we all try to both preserve them, but also to take the innovation further, to look for the perfect recipe. And enjoy them. Just like I hope you will enjoy four of my essential childhood recipes, dancing around the discreet, yet compelling yellow quince.
They bring hard work, these yellow beauties, even starting from picking them: they mostly fall by themselves, in the morning, and you need to be there soon enough, for they start to decay quite quickly, especially if the weather is humid. And they mostly fall one by one, keeping you on your toes. And then everything is hard about them, including the bite.
Dulceaţă de gutui (quince jam)
1 kg grated quinces
1 l water
The recipe is for just a kilogram of prepared fruit, while of course most times we use a larger quantity when we want to prepare the jam for winter.
One important thing we want to do with the quince when making this jam is to keep its rather distinctive tarty flavor while sweetening it. We don't want to drown it in sugar which is the danger with this jam. That's why I prefer to break the 1 kg fruit/1 kg standard proportion for syrup-based jams and we will use a little less sugar. The lemon will also help with keeping the special flavor, apart from its other purpose that you will discover soon.
We start by washing the quinces pretty well, removing the down and then we grate them on the large grating side, while being careful to not let seeds and little worms and worm houses slide in. The quinces are quite wormy, especially ours, which are not treated in any way. While grating roughly 1 kg 1/2 in order to get 1 kg of prepared fruit, after we grate about half a quince, we put the grated fruit into the jam pot, in about 1 liter of water for this quantity, mixed with the squeezed lemon. The purpose of putting the quince into the water/lemon juice is preserving both the taste and especially the color of the quince, otherwise it turns brown while being caramelized as jam. So the trick is to grate and add in the water, in small quantities, and to keep the fruit covered by water/lemon at all times.
After grating the pulp, it's time to cut and clean the rest of the fruit, the fruit cores, and put them aside, for our next recipe. Make sure to keep the seeds and the seed core too. We don't throw anything from the quince (except for the little worms, their houses and galleries :D )
After we finished grating the entire harvest, we put the jam pot on medium heat, we add the sugar and we just let it cook, following jam rules: low to medium heat, removing the foam when it forms, testing the syrup on a small plate - when the jam makes lots of small bubbles on top - until we get the caramel cord, if you wish, although I prefer this jam to be less thick, so I turn off the heat when after putting a little syrup on a small plate, it turns like runny honey when cooling. Since we also have water in the mix, it should take about an hour for this quantity to be ready.
You will get a colorful, delightful and especially aphrodisiac jam, with lots of perfume and flavor, to be enjoyed all winter with a couple of salted crackers, a good cup of coffee, tea or milk, or to be heavenly tasted on pancakes or crêpes.
Peltea de gutui (quince peltea - jelly)
1 kg quince cores
2 kg sugar
3 l water
From Turkish pelte, peltea is perhaps the most refined quince produce, and the one we most enjoyed as kids, undoubtedly because of its magical light and color qualities and its candy-like taste.
It's a simple recipe, and I love that it uses everything of the fruit (another Saturnian quality, isn't it?), already a bridge to winter, when we will need to preserve all our resources. It does require a bit of skill when it comes to timing.
You might need 2-3 more quinces, depending on the size, to have 1 kg of cores. After you roughly cut and cleaned well the quince cores - remember to keep the seeds and seed sheets, that's where the pectin making the jelly lives - you put them in your designated peltea pot with 3 l of water and you boil them normally, until they turn soft when you pierce them with a fork. The liquid that remains in the pot is what interests us, and we will measure it.
You let it cool a little, you remove the boiled cores and you strain the liquid. You will measure the strained liquid and put it in the same (cleaned) pot or another one. For every liter of juice, you add 750g of sugar (the classic principle would be 1kg of sugar per l of water, but again, I prefer to preserve a tangier taste to the peltea). After the proper boil of 1kg of fruit cores, you should have about 1 1/2 to 2 kg of juice. So you will either put about 1130g or even 1500g of sugar added.
Then you start boiling the jelly until ready, while mixing in the beginning, until the sugar is melted.
The readiness point can be determined by using the jelly point (with a candy thermometer, the jelly is set to be ready when the temperature reaches 220F (104 °C)) or you can use a granny method, by testing the jelly on a plate until it sticks to the finger, like honey, when cooling a little. Just like with the jam, at some point, it will foam and you need to remove that foam in order to keep its final clarity. Don't forget it on the stove, for it can burn, as all caramel dishes. It takes about 1h 1/2 for this quantity to be ready on medium heat.
The result is the essence of quince perfume, its precious golden color becoming translucent and alchemical red gold.
Plăcintă cu mere şi gutui
(Quince and apple pie)
For the Carolina fine pastry dough (French pastry dough)
125 vegetable oil
a pinch of salt
For the apple and quinces filling
2-3 medium quinces
I am not even going to try to convince you how delicious the pie is, I am sure you already feel the quince flavor in your nostrils. The dough is a tasty buttery pastry dough bearing the name of the lady aunt who introduced the recipe to many generations. It's basically a French pastry dough, the result being a crusty, breaking, yet consistent pie dough. And all buttery. Did I say butter enough?
At first, you grate the apples the same way you did with the quinces for the jam, on the large grater. You put them in a pot where you will boil them with the quinces and the sugar (no water added, though, just stewing the apples and the quinces with the sugar). You grate the quinces too and you boil it all on low heat, while stirring continuously, so that the filling cooks uniformly. I don't recommend adding other flavors such as the traditional cinnamon, since it can interfere with the quince taste and perfume.
It is ready when it turns uniformly golden brown and all the fruit is cooked, at which point you can turn off the heat and add and mix the raisins, covering the pot.
For the first part of dough making, you mix the flour, water, oil and the pinch of salt with your hands, just like with bread dough, you mix it well for about 10 minutes until it turns smooth. You cover it and let it rest for another 10 minutes. Before that, you might want to play a little and make Alien hands :P
After E.T. rests a bit, it is time to roll the dough, with enough flour to not let it stick. You roll it just once on the shape of your baking tray (since this dough is elastic, you can use both a larger or a medium tray, like I did here, obtaining a thicker pie crust).
You break the butter with your hands and you distribute it evenly (keep the butter paper for greasing the tray), and then you start a move you will do 4-5 times. You fold the dough, over the butter, from down up, up down, left right, and then finally right left, to make a pouch with it. It's important to remember the order for you will use it each one of the 5 times.
You fold and you roll once, then you fold again, you roll, 5 times.
For the 6th, you just fold and make an uniform ball and you put the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes (or in the refrigerator for up to 24h if you plan to cook the pie the next day).
After the cooling time, you remove the dough from the freezer and you split it in half. You roll one half to make the bottom crust, and you put it in the baking tray, after greasing it with the butter paper. Then it's time to add the filling, and then to roll and place the last layer of crust, on top.
Before putting the pie in the preheated oven (which should be immediately, being a butter dough) you cut it in pieces all the way to the bottom, with a large knife (it will make it easier to cut and serve it when cooked).
The cooking takes about 45 minutes at 210°C. It doesn't necessarily turn golden on top when cooked, so make sure to test it with a toothpick, after 45 minutes. It's ready when the dough is hard all through the bottom and non-sticky.
After it cools a little bit (it most certainly is delicious when hot, too), add the icing sugar on top (you can use a tea strainer if no fancier devices).
A trick for getting an icing is using a plain clean A4 paper and pressing it on the sugar, after straining the sugar evenly on the surface.
Ahh the smell of apple pie, right off the oven is already a killer on the plains of nostalgia, but this quince addition will create a new realm of memories for you.
I don't like to add a lot of sugar in this type of apple pie, especially with the quinces (sugar compliments their perfume and taste, but too much of it can be a bit of an overkill for the delicate quinces), but you are free to add more sugar in the filling, from the beginning, to taste. However, I recommend to save the sweetness for a hearty sugar icing.
Enjoy with...everything and everywhere.
Mâncare de gutui (Quince stew)
INGREDIENTS ( for 4 servings)
1 kg cleaned and cut quinces
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 full tbsp flour
I saved the best for last. A dish that is perhaps the best way to taste quinces. A dish that can hardly be categorized, it can be a main meal, a sauce or side dish, but also a dessert. A sweet and salted memory of my grandmother, a bridge through time, a bridge of love.
It's simple. You cut and clean the quinces, cut them in rough pieces, or even cubes if you feel up to (see above image), not long before you want to cook them (to avoid their speedy oxidation). When ready, heat the oil in your cooking pot and throw in the quince pieces, that you will continue to stir for about 10 minutes until they turn a little soft. This way, they release their flavor and absorb the oil, for better cooking under water. After about 7 minutes of the 10, you add the sugar and you mix it well and let it caramelize a bit among the quinces (I prefer to let it melt, mix, but keep it light golden, for a final white result of the sauce).
At which point, you will add water enough to cover them, but do not drown them. This dish does not have a lot of sauce, in the end. They will cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. At some point, after about 10 minutes, you add the salt (about half of teaspoon) and a few black peppercorns. Make sure during the boiling, to keep the water even, almost as in the beginning.
They are ready when you pinch them with a fork and find them soft, yet not mushy, don't let them turn mushy.
As I said, this is a sweet-salty-sour delicacy, so you can actually adjust the sweet salty proportion to your taste, during the boiling stage, especially now, by the end, when the final sauce is ready.
You need that final liquid that you have carefully preserved to mix it with the flour. For this, you mix the flour with cold water in a separate bowl and mix it well for it to not have lumps, and then you add the mixture to the quinces and their sauce, in the pot, and you mix it evenly, stirring continuously and lowering the heat, in order to keep the sauce smooth and you keep stirring and cooking for another 6-7 minutes or so. (Romanian rântaş cooking technique)
You can eat it hot, you can eat it cold; as a simple vegetarian dish, being all veggie; as a snack; a dessert; or accompanying other dishes as side dish, as we did here with veal steak (served with butter and summer savory, a traditional way to eat beef steaks); it's a quirky outsider, a lovable loner, with its special place in my heart and I am sure it will make you taste and see quinces in a different, new, tasty light if you try it.
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!