Monday, 19 September 2011


My mother grows a quince tree in our garden in Ireland. As a child, the tree flowered and produced fruit every year and my mother fretted and fussed that she had no clue how to cook this curious fruit and what a shame and waste it was to let a fruit die rotting on the ground when "thousands of black babies were dying in Africa" when she did at last find a recipe, not one of her seven children appreciated the result. That quince tree still produces fruit that falls flat on its face every autumn with nobody to harvest or acknowledge it.
So why have I planted both a "Wranja" and "Portuguese" quince tree in my orchard? The simple answer is that dining at the Baratin in Paris one evening, I was served a most delicious roast, buttered quince for dessert and since then I  knew that its charms were well concealed under its tough flesh and bulgy disguise.

Each spring their pale pink blossoms exude the most heady and charming perfume. The fruit follows at a lazy snail pace until (in our case) they turn suddenly from green and downy to yellow in less than a week and just fall off the trees in September. Of course this is unfortunate as they bruise easily and once bruised its just a matter of time before the whole fruit is rotten brown and ready for the compost heap  (in late August a massive quince fell on Yaya, our rooster's, head and since then he is a little bit more bewildered and impotent than before).   And now I have 10 kilos of bruised quinces in the kitchen meaning quince for dessert every evening and a lot of brain power working to discover alternative recipes that might last a little longer than the two weeks of bruising and chicken bashing.
Surprisingly the trees grow well in my garden considering their aversion to alcaline soils but then again if I had followed some of the initial advice given to me by a local farmer on what varieties to grow in my soil, I'd be eating onions, leeks and green peppers all year round. I've had no attacks of blight, no rot, the trees are growing in the line of our ferocious west sea winds but they don't seem to mind and apart from a mulching of nettles in the spring, get no other favours.

Its still easy to find quinces for sale on the market around here as every old lady still has a quince tree somewhere in her garden. In Paris its another story. Apart from my local organic store, quinces are as rare as hens teeth but considering their perfume, taste and versatility, they should be more popular.
Cooked slowly in the oven with butter and sugar, the hard flesh turns a reddy-pink - succulent and sweet. Make a crumble with the baked fruit mixed with fresh blackberries. This year I've made slabs or Membrillo which marries wonderfully with the local, aged sheeps cheese. I've also pickled slices of their fruit in cider vinegar to serve with cold meats in the winter.... but I still can understand my mothers frustration...

Roast Buttered Quince

6 people

60g Melted Butter
6 ripe Quince
60g Acacia Honey
15cl Sweet White Wine (Juran├žon for me)

Preheat the oven to 150°c.
Butter a large oven dish (big enough to fit 12 quince halves in one layer).
Peel, core and cut the quince in two (pop them in acidulated water until needed, to stop them going brown).
Place the quince halves cut side down in the dish and pour over the rest of the butter and the honey. Add the wine to the dish without covering the fruit.
Cover the dish with some grease-proof paper and put into the oven. After 2 hours, turn the quince and cover again with the paper. Bake again for another 2 hours. Serve warm when they are tender and reddish and the juice is perfectly caramalised with some whipped cream or ice-cream.

Membrillo or Quince Cheese

Makes about 1kg

1kg Quince
600g Cane Sugar

Roughly chop the quince without peeling or coring them. Place in a large pan and cover with just enough water. Simmer and cook until soft then leave to stand for 12 hours.
Pass the fruit and water through a mouli  or a sieve. Weigh the pulp and return it to the pan with the same weight in sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Simmer gently for an hour or until the mixture is thick and glossy.
Whatever, you are using jars to store the membrillo, you need to rub the sides with a little oil beforehand so you will have less trouble turning out the mixture when its ready.
Pour the mixture into pots or shallow trays and cover.
Use after a month and keep it for a year.


  1. Thank you. I haven't eaten fresh figs until recent years so I must try quince. I will look for them in Fallon and Byrn in Dublin

  2. I think I will try your roast butter quince--sounds nice. I tried making membrillo last year, but it molded on top after a week or so! I'm not sure why. It was quite annoying, as putting all the quince through a mouli is somewhat labor-intensive! I ended up using the rest of my quince for liqueur, which turned out fine.

  3. I have a Vranja in my garden in Edinburgh but can't imagine it ever having enough sun to fruit. I love quince cheese but this roasted buttered dish sounds perfect!

  4. i am so happy you mentioned membrillo...

    it is perhaps the one after dinner treat with good basque sheep or goat cheese

    that won my heart completely when i first moved to spain.

    we find it here now in america...but not all membrillio is created equal!

    it is worth finding a good spaish one to by, but better still, to plant a quince tree

    as we did over my friend phillips ashes and now the fruit reminds us to him in it'
    s specialness.